- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 5, 2005

“Explosion kills former prime minister.” “Suicide terrorist kills five at nightclub.” “Car bomber kills 125 police recruits.” “Iraqi judge assassinated.” These recent headlines describe bloody events in Lebanon, Israel and Iraq, where improvised explosive devices (IEDs), or “body bombs,” have killed and maimed hundreds.

Though true, the above reports have apparently distracted many in the “mainstream media” from a discomfiting reality: Freedom is on the march down the “Arab street.”

Since U.S. troops first went to Afghanistan in October 2001, our supposedly more experienced “betters” in Europe and the “prudent potentates of the press” have said U.S. military action against an Islamic nation would cause the “Arab street” to rise and crush us. This theme was widely replayed in the build-up for Operation Iraqi Freedom — and has been reiterated many times after Saddam Hussein’s capture.

Since his second Inaugural address, President Bush has been repeatedly castigated for his “naivety” on one hand and for his “aggressive arrogance” on the other — because he boldly tells those who suffer tyranny: “The United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”

Yet, despite the carping critics — and the carnage caused by those who would rather die than see freedom flourish — any objective observer must conclude George W. Bush is right — “the call of freedom” indeed comes “to every mind and every soul.” Freedom is on the march — even in the “Arab street.”

It was evident last October in Afghanistan, in the ballots cast by Palestinians in early January and again in late January on the ink-stained fingers of Iraqi men and women, raised in proud defiance of murderous thugs who would return them to brutal bondage.

Whether the America-haters and Bush-bashers want to acknowledge it or not, the “call of freedom” is being heard in places where American “influence” has long been deemed by “experts” to be minimal, at best:

• In December, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians peacefully protested to force a new election when a rigged vote installed Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked presidential candidate. Today, reformist Viktor Yushchenko governs in Kiev. The Bush administration needed do little more than lend its voice to the calls for a free and fair election.

• Last week, in long-suffering, Syrian-occupied Lebanon, 25,000 unarmed, Christian and Muslim civilians, protesting the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, forced the resignation of Syria’s puppet government in Beirut. Afterward, the new Iraqi government — and even the French — have joined our call for the Syrians to withdraw their forces from Lebanon and deport the residue of Saddam’s regime hiding there. Though they haven’t yet fully complied, the Syrians have arrested and turned over the former dictator’s half-brother, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan. And to ensure that those in Damascus who support terror don’t think that is enough, Mr. Bush has since told them to “get your troops and your secret services out of Lebanon and give democracy a chance.”

• In Cairo, Hosni Mubarak, never known as a friend of liberty or democratic institutions, has announced opposition candidates will be allowed to run for office in the coming Egyptian elections. Mr. Mubarak has been the only presidential “candidate” since taking power in 1981. While questions remain about who will be “allowed” to run, a taste of liberty in a democratic election may ignite the “fire of freedom” among the “people of the Nile.”

• And now, even the royal family in Riyadh seems to be getting the message. Though the recent Saudi “municipal elections” were more show than substance — the elected councilors wield little power, the ruling House of Saud appoints as many councilors as were elected, and only men could vote — the taste of democracy has intensified the call on the “Arab street” for real elections. Last week Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, said the heretofore unthinkable: In future elections, women “may” have the right to vote. Unfortunately, he added, “We know we want to reform, we know we want to modernize, but for God’s sake leave us alone.”

And therein lies the first problem: The prince doesn’t get it. It’s not just Mr. Bush’s promise, “When you stand for your liberty we will stand with you,” at work in Saudi Arabia — it really is a quest for freedom sweeping his “Arab streets,” past minarets preaching repression and hatred of all things “Western.”

But Prince Saud al-Faisal isn’t alone in misunderstanding what freedom really means — and from whence it springs. Last week, when Mr. Bush confronted Mr. Putin about Russia’s freedom of the press, Mr. Putin shot back: “We didn’t criticize you when you fired those reporters at CBS.”

Thus the second problem: Prince Saud al-Faisal and Mr. Putin apparently believe holding an election is enough. It’s not. We learned from Hugo Chavez’s “election” in Venezuela that there is much more to freedom than casting a ballot.

Liberty also means a free press; freedom to worship — or not; rule of law and justice tempered with mercy; freedom from fear — of government, criminals or outsiders — and the freedom to come and go, speak politically, work and create wealth.

All this — and more — is what freedom is about. Elections are not the end, just the beginning. That’s what’s wrong with the argument of some in Congress to start withdrawing American forces from Iraq now that an election has been held.

Whether it’s the “Arab street,” or elsewhere, liberty doesn’t march to the beat of a cadence: It arrives to the sound of many drummers, and impatience is never its friend.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist and founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.


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