The Washington Times

Try looking at it this way: Country X, a large multi-ethnic state, was ruled for a generation by a brutal dictator from the smallest ethnic group. Finally, however, the dictator lost his grip and the government fell, propelling Country X into conditions verging on anarchy.

Nascent democratic forces in Country X were able to assert themselves, however, first forming an interim government. Rejecting the temptation to seek to settle old scores by civil war, they managed to get hold of the wreckage left in the wake of the dictator and begin the process of rebuilding.

Meanwhile, however, some of the members of the ethnic group of the former dictator of Country X decided that their best hope for the future would be to try to fight their way back to power. They launched an insurgency targeting the institutions of the new, weak government, especially those closely related to its ability to preserve public order: police and military. Their campaign of violence claimed thousands of lives and is ongoing. It has also drawn international support from fanatical outsiders known for their aggressive tactics, especially suicide bombings and the beheading of captives. These outsiders are bent on imposing their own vision of society on a populace that is overwhelmingly opposed to that vision.

Although the cost in blood has been high, the political process has continued apace. First, the interim government, with support form the international community, conducted an unprecedented free and fair election in extremely adverse circumstances to empower a body to draft a new constitution for the country. The draft constitution included extensive provisions for the protection of human rights and minority rights, including provisions for regional self-government designed to defuse ethnic tension by allowing substantial decision-making power to devolve to the local level.

Again in adverse circumstances, the people of Country X turned out at the polls in huge numbers and overwhelmingly approved the new constitution, though not without pockets of high no-voting in some of the provinces in which the former dictator’s ethnic group was dominant. The political process in Country X then turned to the elections scheduled for two months after the approval of the constitution. This vote, vigorously contested among numerous political parties in a free-wheeling media environment, would put in place the first constitutional, democratically elected parliament and government Country X had ever known. In fact, it would be the first democratic government in the entire region (excepting one small country widely despised by others in the region).

The insurgency continues, however, with no sign of dying out spontaneously. The state institutions of the new democratic government are still too young and too weak to cope with it on their own. So, let’s say, the president of Country X picks up the phone and calls the president of the United States, who has recently pledged a reorientation of his administration’s foreign policy and U.S. policy more broadly in favor of the promotion of democracy.

OK, you’re the United States. Do you: 1) tell the new democratic government of Country X they’re on their own – best wishes and all that? Or 2) offer assistance to the nascent democratic government of Country X, including military help in defeating an insurgency that threatens democracy not only in Country X but also the prospects for democratic change throughout the region, an area of great strategic importance to the United States?

Well, I know where I stand: I’m for helping the democratic government.

This isn’t like the old days when you had to choose between supporting an autocratic government or turning your back on the prospect that the communist guerrillas would win and start setting up re-education camps and block committees. This is a choice between democracy and legitimacy on one hand and a bloodthirsty gang of autocrats and holy warriors on the other.

For anybody who thinks the United States has a reasonable basis for believing that democracy is worth defending and promoting, the choice is a no-brainer. This would be an easy choice, I hope, even for an administration that had not explicitly announced a commitment to the cause of furthering freedom around the world, let alone for one that has.

So what’s the difference between my scenario and the case of Iraq? Only how we got to where we are: The United States is already committed militarily. Oh, and the military commanders on the scene think they’re doing pretty well.

Sure, we could start planning our exit without regard to achieving our objectives. Thereby, we could turn our back on the political process we helped initiate by getting rid of Saddam Hussein, betray the Iraqi democrats, empower reactionary forces there and throughout the region to crack down on liberals and reformers, and vindicate the view of our main enemy that we have no staying power.

Or we can reaffirm a choice I think we would make if we confronted the situation de novo: Defend democracy in Iraq against its brutal enemies.