- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

On a dark, moonless road, in rural anywhere, a light appears. It is approaching with speed. Somewhere behind the brightness, there is a distant, dimmer light.

You remain focused on the close threat. What can the other matter, when the bright one is upon you? You move out of its glare, safe in the distant light’s path. Too late, you see the two lights ride on one chassis.

Such is our awkward preoccupation with body counts in Iraq, when the battle-space is really two parallel and equally important fronts. One brings freedom to the streets of Baghdad. The other brings freedom to the much-contested Muslim mind. In short, the second front involves persuading the Iraqi, Palestinian, Saudi, Iranian and wider Muslim people that the idea of freedom is both theirs and worth embracing.

As Americans, we understand the power and privilege of living in a free society. Our Republic is the greatest example in human history of faith, hope and hard work producing an outcome utterly beyond imagination, breathtaking in its breadth.

But pre-1776, the future looked pretty rough to some. Many who lived on these shores fled to Canada, the Caribbean and Europe, rather than fight.

Only with farsighted encouragement by leaders like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, James Monroe and George Washington did a majority of future Americans say “freedom is the way.” After seven hard years of war, the young nation prevailed. Yet in 1812, and again in our Civil War, we had to rescue the torch of freedom. In each case, the choice was not easy, the victory not swift.

So, is it any wonder that freedom has misty meaning in Iraq? Or that the decision to stand up is hard? How do we help those who live without freedom to see its value? How do we convince them ? and others in the Middle East — to make the leap, seize the moment, for an idea? That is why there is a second front — a battle over ideas.

Why is victory on this second front proving so hard? For one thing, many of the more inspired leaders in Iraq, those with a religious anchor but who wanted self-determination, whether Shi’ite, Sunni, Kurd or Christian, have been killed. They were targeted by Saddam. They have been cross-targeted in the rise of sectarian hatred, resentment, blame and recrimination.

Second, a few bad apples can spoil the barrel. One sniper in the nation’s capital was enough to scare freedom-loving Americans. How much harder is it to keep your commitment to freedom when there are several thousand snipers and homicidal bombers littering your city? The clarion call for freedom — and a full understanding of what it could mean — must be louder, clearer, more consistent and must emerge from within.

Third, Iraqi patriotism is challenged by an implicit call to abandon everything in favor of sheer vengeance, to walk away from the rule of law and uncertain promise it holds for the gratification of score settling. There is a nearly irresistible pull toward violent engagement, especially when family members have been killed and sacred religious places destroyed.

Yet my own experience with Iraqi police candidates in Baghdad and Jordan was altogether heartening. They were consistently committed to democracy. Even when targeted and outgunned, they have generally stood their ground. So, how do we help believers communicate to their countrymen the sweetness of freedom? How do we help them to convey that freedom is not a curse, but their last best hope?

The answer is in our own breast. We must urgently expand the discussion of freedom, deepen it — across the Middle East. Private and public diplomacy are no longer secondary. They are primary. Lasting change comes from within and depends on indigenous leadership. We must find freedom’s leaders in the Middle East. If India had Mohandas Gandhi, Poland had Lech Walesa, and Czechoslovakia had Vaclav Havel, Iraq needs its own voices of quiet thunder, to make folks stop, watch, listen and act rationally.

At home? Maybe we need to take a page from Winston Churchill’s book, create a sort of “Ultra Project” for winning on this Second Front, “breaking the code” that prevents freedom’s advance in the Middle East. It is not just about money and religion, not just about oil and land and blood vendettas.

The real enemy, beyond deepening heartache, are those who wish to destroy hope and kill idealism, defiling the God-given right to freedom. Perhaps it is time we get to know the enemy better, stop them with arms, but finally defeat them with ideas.

In the end, both threats — senseless violence and a desire to kill the faith in freedom — are coming toward us at speed. They originate in darkness and ride on one chassis.

Robert Charles, former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, 2003-2005, is president of the Charles Group, in Washington and Maryland. His responsibilities included establishing training schools for the Iraqi Police in Baghdad and Jordan.


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