- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 3, 2004

At our great national birthday party, let us think with more than ordinary attention about independence, and about freedom, and about the demise of tyranny.

At a bumpy time like the present one, remembering how we came to be a nation could clear minds all too evidently in need of clearing.

It can’t be said too often, as Iraq tiptoes deeper into the sunshine of freedom, that independence and freedom are good things, and that we should feel proud rather than ashamed to be exporting them to Iraq.

The reason one can’t say such things too often is that large numbers of us, remarkably, have trouble with the notion a free Iraq is better than an enslaved one. These, instead of enjoying the spectacle of self-government and self-expression taking shape, see only shattered buildings and bodies, and headlines advertising American misdeeds. What are nice people like us doing in a place like Iraq? So goes the angry demand. The gall of it all. The arrogance. How could we?

The likelier question is: How could we not, in consideration of the circumstances? It is much more than a matter of doing the Iraqis a favor. It is a matter of doing ourselves — and most of the rest of the world — one as well. We are ridding the Middle East of a great malignancy and substituting not democratic perfection but the hope of something better than the old state of things — anti-Western, anti-human, anti-everything but power and violence.

There is a temptation here — one I will resist mightily — to go all misty-eyed and Wilsonian about other countries’ freedoms. Woodrow Wilson vowed in 1917 to make the world “safe for democracy,” and though our visionary president’s intentions were excellent, the human obstacles proved insuperable. In other words, you can’t free people for whom freedom isn’t a priority. Uncle Sam enjoys no divine commission to ride forth, outfitted in boots and stirrups, looking for nations to liberate. It would cost too much money, for one thing.

Iraq, on the other hand, posed a different opportunity. The wish of the regime to hurt America wherever and whenever possible was never in question, though the hairsplitting debates about the regime’s al Qaeda connection will likely continue.

A still more fundamental reason for desiring democracy in Iraq was an incontestable truth — namely, that free nations are kinder and gentler (as an earlier President Bush might put it) than are dark, squalid tyrannies.

It isn’t so much that the democratically minded are just plain good folks as that the institutions they have painstakingly crafted for themselves — courts, legislatures, open pulpits, free presses, free markets — automatically check the more baleful aspirations of despots.

The dear old boys with the epaulets and assault rifles find they can’t do as they would like. The laws won’t accommodate them. And if questions should arise about this particular incompatibility, here come the reporters and cameramen to find out and tell about it. The judges, the lawmakers, the reporters don’t need Jeffersonian profiles; it’s the quality of the system that counts.

The new system in Iraq is clearly not as our Founding Fathers might have designed it, but then, the Founding Fathers weren’t 21st century Iraqis. Not a few Iraqis, it is clear, hate the very idea of freedom, a concept they see as non-Iraqi. They’re right: It’s a Western idea and a great, transformative one, outside as well as inside the West. It is the idea that releasing human energies, unmanacling human hands and hearts, outdoes every other concept in sight. If this is so, shouldn’t we promote freedom wherever its acceptance would enhance prospects for peace and tolerance?

On June 28 — six days before July Fourth — Iraq accepted the first dose of freedom and self-government. The haters of freedom and self-government have demonstrated the awful alternative: bombs, bloodshed, hatred, tears. Who needs it? Not the children of the Declaration of Independence, dwelling along the Potomac or the Euphrates.

William Murchison is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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