- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Oh, bless you, Abu Musab Zarqawi — you lousy, misbegotten son of a skunk-oil bootlegger.

As Iraq prepares for its first democratic election, Abu defined precisely the monumental stakes, saying in al Qaeda’s name: “We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology.”

As if we hadn’t known. Still, it’s good to have one’s intuitions ringingly confirmed. “This evil principle of democracy … this wrong ideology” — it gets no plainer than that.

Whoever still doubts that homicidal maniacs should be allowed to run the civilized world into the ground will be gratified by any democratic, quasi-democratic or just hazily democratic result of Iraq’s opening venture in democracy.

The stakes are clear: on the one side, Iraq’s long-oppressed people; on the other, the cutthroats and nut cases trying to bomb Iraq back to the Stone Age.

It’s hardly necessary to think the war a top-shelf blessing — going just as it ought to go, winning friends for America right and left — to hope much good comes of this election.

Much bad would have come from postponement. That much seems certain.

If Abu Musab and the cutthroats see democracy as evil, why suppose his war against it would have slackened had we agreed to deny Iraqis a little longer the right to choose their leaders?

Zarqawi would merely have gained time to blow up a few more of those putative leaders. He will kill as many potential voters — “infidels,” he calls them — on Election Day and afterward, but that prospect hardly refutes the moral superiority of the franchise over the bomb and the knife.

George W. Bush’s rhetoric in his second Inaugural address has been challenged for the way he depicts the United States as international tribune of democracy.

“So,” said Mr. Bush, within a few minutes of beginning, “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”

“In every nation,” if you please. “Ending tyranny in our world.” We’ll see.

No American president, I think, has spoken so since Woodrow Wilson led his country into the War to End Wars. Tyranny, as it happens, is the oldest form of human organization: The will of the tyrant — whether Ramses, Julius Caesar or Josef Stalin — shaping the will of his subjects.

The tyrannical impulse grows in fertile ground, enriched by the human attraction, as old as Eden, to exerting power over others. Mr. Bush may believe he has found some way to lessen that attraction. We certainly may hope so, but can hardly be blamed for doubting any president, or collection of presidents, can do as much as our Mr. Bush has suggested we can.

Fully understanding as much, we take moral nourishment from the presidential description of freedom’s attributes. For instance, “In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.”

No less to the point: “Division among free nations is a primary goal of freedom’s enemies. The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies’ defeat.”

No argument from Zarqawi on that one. He knows an enemy when he sees one. An enemy, from al Qaeda’s morally parched perspective, is anyone who denies the possibility a few humans may impose their notions of rectitude and duty on others without asking permission.

A parallel opportunity exists: For Zarqawi’s enemies to understand what he is up to and why and how, and to respond with the means peculiar to democracy — the exertion of free choice. Only not quite in the vacuum Zarqawi would wish: with friends, rather, helping out and protecting insofar as they can the right of free choice.

George W. Bush has named himself one of those friends. And his countrymen have the right to be proud.

William Murchison is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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