- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Soon Iraq will hold its first free elections in almost 50 years. Like Salvadorans in 1984, and Afghans in 2004, Iraqis will vote under an explicit threat of violence.

By contrast, December’s electoral revolution in Ukraine was peaceful, even joyous. That key win for democracy reveals important lessons for Iraq. Not because they share any similarities, but rather, recent events in the two countries have helped replenish moral clarity in the War on Terror.

For the first time in years, Ukraine’s election saga brought together the United States and much of the world. Viktor Yushchenko embraced freedom and transparency, and vowed to fight kleptocracy. Moscow’s candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, openly ran against the United States and President Bush, peddling a revanchist’s brew of fear and nativism.

A typical campaign poster depicted mosquito swarms, sporting the Stars and Stripes, draining Ukraine’s blood. Such Cold War agitprop likely sharpened the choice for any swing voters.

In response, Mr. Yu-shchenko’s supporters thronged Kiev’s Independence Square. These protests morphed into celebrations of youth, hope and being on the right side of history. The Orange Revolution spawned merchandising and its own anthem, a rap song blasting corruption and demanding freedom. Amidst the giant tent city, thousands of Ukrainians sang and danced nightly until dawn. The square became a meeting place for Jefferson, Woodstock and Madison Avenue.

It also reunited America with many erstwhile friends. At least in Independence Square, the world spoke with one voice above all — the voice of freedom.

During election week in Kiev, I met a cross-section of Ukrainians and foreigners, like the German students who asked me why President Bush scorns world opinion. Most people expressed familiar skepticism of the United States.

Strikingly, when talk turned from politics to principles, all became clear and consonant. Across the globe, it seems, notions of individual liberty and representative government have displaced muddled utopianism. The Germans were cheerful, most of them too young to remember the Berlin Wall. Although they also came as election observers, they appeared just as interested in drinking and flirting with local women.

In answering their question, I recalled that 20 years ago President Reagan was vilified for calling the Soviet Union the evil it was. Yet his towering legacy includes happy, carefree German kids who have known only peace and liberty.

In another 20 years, I suggested, they may discover newfound respect for what today, as then, looks to be mindless obstinacy in the White House.

The implications for Iraq are subtle but critical. First, Ukraine has reminded us that America’s organic mantra of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is indeed universal.

Forty nations sent 9,000 to monitor voting and to bless and partake of democracy’s sacred rituals. Second, freedom’s enemies eventually, inevitably, overreach. From the petty to the monstrous, autocrats usually believe their own press.

Adolf Hitler invaded Russia, Mr. Yanukovych threatened civil war, and Ba’athist/al Qaeda forces have declared open season on the Iraqi people. Every act of flamboyant cruelty, every televised atrocity, further crystallizes this conflict.

The war’s origins aside, there is no longer any serious debate over who is fighting for what in Iraq. Third, time can be our friend, provided America’s tenacity outlasts the terrorists’. Against monumental odds, legions of Iraqis continue working with us. The insurgents are a patchwork of goals and grievances, devoid of ideological cohesion, united only in the terror campaign itself. Though these forces are formidable and determined, divergent motives and priorities are bound to distract sooner or later, possibly when tangible progress begins uniting Iraqis. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but as long as Baghdad’s elected interim government holds, time will be more the terrorists’ problem than ours. Fourth, and most importantly, the world finally began choosing sides in Kiev.

Obviously, success is very uncertain in both countries. Ukraine’s challenges have just begun, and Mr. Yushchenko’s coalition could fracture as competing interests collide. We can hope Ukrainians will see true democracy is plodding and frustrating but highly resilient and dependable.

In Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi’s sadistic symphony plays on, with Syrian and Iranian complicity. Still, the war on terror devolves into a stark war of principles, and that provides an advantage.

America may be pilloried as the reckless, arrogant renegade, but from Kiev to Kabul to Baghdad and beyond, the masses quietly line up behind America’s timeless ideals.

Stephen Kaplitt, a lawyer with the U.S. Agency for International Development, served as an election observer in the Ukraine. The views expressed are solely his own.

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