- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 23, 2005

For three years, we have been reminded we are a country at war — first against al Qaeda and its global affiliates, then against Iraq’s bloody tyranny that was an integral part of transnational terrorism. Almost 1,400 American servicemen and women have given their lives in a war President Bush deliberately avoided mentioning in his Inaugural address. It was a classic case of censorship by omission. But why?

One former ranking national security specialist, a Republican, confided at one of the Inaugural bashes, albeit off the record, “I am beginning to smell disaster in Iraq.” Another Vietnam? we asked. “Worse than the Vietnam debacle,” he replied, “because the stakes are so much greater.” Six in 10 Americans told a Harris poll they did not expect the Iraq situation to improve.

This could also explain why Mr. Bush is trying to shift the blame to national leaders who deny their people freedom. The “fire of freedom” is the second Bush administration’s new global crusade that will dwarf Iraq as Iraq dwarfed Afghanistan.

One wise old European ambassador with a career that has spanned four continents commented, also not for attribution, “It took us Europeans 1,000 years to realize crusades were not a good idea. Now President Bush wants to embark America on a similar crusade for democracy.”

Democracy and freedom mean different things to different peoples around the world. For countless millions in Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and China, it means the freedom not to emulate America’s anything-goes freedom — where surveys show the rich getting richer and the poor standing still, and almost daily mega swindles on Wall Street. For almost half of humanity, which survives $2 a day per person or less, it means freedom from want, hunger and disease.

Britain’s Tony Blair, in a recent three-page essay on the world’s most urgent and critical problems, listed (1) man-made world climate change and (2) the agony of sub-Sahara Africa.

If freedom, mentioned 27 times by Mr. Bush, means authoritarian governors must learn to trust their people and allow them to vote leaders in and out of power, that is precisely what Algerian leaders did in December 1991. A free election gave a majority to Islamist extremists. Algeria’s military declared the results null and void and a civil war broke out that killed some 100,000 people in the following 10 years.

A free Western-style election in Saudi Arabia would almost certainly give a majority to extremist slates that see Osama bin Laden as a freedom fighter. In Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf had to rig free elections to prevent pro-Taliban and pro-al Qaeda emerging as a majority in parliament.

As it was, the clandestine fixing didn’t prevent extremist politico-religious parties — whose leaders are friends of Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar and Osama bin Laden — from winning majorities in two out of Pakistan’s four provinces. They also happen to be the two provinces that share a common border with Afghanistan.

Lest there be any doubt we wouldn’t like the results of free elections in countries now in the friendly-to-U.S. column: The Pew Foundation’s survey on global attitudes found bin Laden voted as more trustworthy than George W. Bush by huge margins in Jordan and Morocco. In Muslim countries with a total population of 450 million, bin Laden also edged out Mr. Bush on the trust scale.

The White House keeps forgetting that for all Muslim countries, America and Israel are look-alikes. And when Vice President Dick Cheney warned in an interview on the day of Mr. Bush’s second Inaugural that Israel “might well decide to act first” and bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, the Muslim world believes in a nanosecond this is a green light for Israeli bombs away.

Librarian of Congress James Billington, just back from Tehran, speaks of a thriving underground press, almost 100,000 bloggers in Iran alone, and about the only country in the world with a pro-American youth fed up with decaying theocracy. But one bomb dropped either by the U.S. or Israel or both would rejuvenate the aging ayatollahs. Any kind of military action against Iran would guarantee a friendless U.S. on the world stage. Britain and Italy and other European governments, increasingly disaffected by an Iraqi campaign gone sour, would stop resisting the anti-Bush public mood.

The administration is justifiably proud of its accomplishments in Afghanistan where free elections were held without major incident. But Afghanistan is now a narco-state where the opium poppy, virtually eradicated by the Taliban regime, is now the principal source of income in all 32 provinces.

China is an ancient civilization that has struggled through 5,000 years of history without any conspicuous American advice. If China followed Mr. Bush’s remedy of freedom and democracy, a unitary state of 1.3 billion people would fall apart and communist-style warlords would be back in business.

Mr. Bush indirectly referenced Iran, Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar (where the U.S. Central Command has its advance headquarters), Pakistan, China, and most of sub-Sahara Africa as countries that must opt for free elections and democratic institutions or our own freedoms will be imperiled. One can argue, equally convincingly, that if these countries followed Mr. Bush’s prescription, our freedoms would indeed be imperiled.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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