We Made a Difference: Americans Can Be Proud of our Role in Afghanistan and Iraq by Gregory Hilton

For the past two days my Wall has been filled with comments from libertarians and liberals. They both advocate the same isolationist foreign policy, and a significant part of their anger is directed towards the U.S. missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
They believe the United States intervention made no difference, and this “nation building” by “neo-cons” was a huge mistake. I disagree, and it was imperative for our national security to respond to 9/11 and to be rid of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. The critics ignore the following:
Our terrorist enemies live in Afghanistan. The Taliban claims to be a religious organization but they proudly take credit for spraying battery acid in faces of little Afghan girls. They have disfigured thousands of these children. They are intent on stopping their education, and they have already destroyed 478 schools. A typical threat letter from the Taliban reads: “We have warned you. If we now kill schoolgirls, you shouldn’t be surprised.”
Many schools have been set on fire or endured attacks from mustard gas rockets. In 2001, only a million Afghan children were enrolled in school, all of them boys. The education of girls was banned. Today, approximately 7 million Afghan children attend school, of which 2.6 million, or roughly a third, are girls.
All of the children receive a free hot school lunch from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). There are 23 year old young women in elementary school because they never were given that opportunity earlier in life. Practically all of their parents are illiterate, but we are witnessing the birth of a new and democratic Afghanistan. The reforms have been slow to take hold, but this is the change we can believe in.
Iraq has now completed its fifth election since 2005 and there will once again be a peaceful transfer of power. Over 13 million people went to the polls and the turnout was 62%, which is better than the 52% average of Americans who participated in presidential elections over the past century.
The cross-sectarian Iraqiya alliance of former prime minister Iyad Allawi backed by Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority won the most seats, coming just ahead of the mainly Shi’ite State of Law coalition headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Neither coalition won a majority in the 325-seat parliament.
The lead editorial in the Washington Post noted “Iraq held a competitive election that puts most of its neighbors to shame. On Iraq’s borders are, among others, a despotic theocracy in Iran, a despotic monarchy in Saudia Arabia and a despotic hereditary fiefdom in Syria. In Iraq, more than 6,000 candidates vied for 325 legislative seats. They represented parties of wide ideological range. Turnout was higher, proportionately, than for U.S. presidential elections. The voting and counting, according to international observers, were generally free and fair.”

From a U.S. viewpoint, the election was a huge success because Americans want a broadly based Iraqi government. The outcome is still not certain, but Iraqi’s are showing a willingness to compromise and the new government will be secular and it will not be based on sectarian or geographical considerations. It could well be a coalition which includes Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

The top two vote-getters were coalitions which rejected ethnic and sectarian politics in favor of a national, multi-sectarian vision.

A significant difference between the 2005 and 2010 election is that this time there was no Sunni boycott. In 2010, there was a very high turnout in the Sunni provinces (Anbar, Nineveh and Salahuddin). The Sunni’s ran Iraq under Saddam Hussein by now they have adapted to the new system.

Iran was the big loser. As the Washington Post notes, the “results are a defeat for Iran’s efforts to unify Iraq’s Shiites into one bloc and then control Iraq through that bloc. The vote is at least potentially a victory for an Iraq in which members of all sects believe their voices can be heard.” The Iraqi National Alliance (which included Muqtada al-Sadr) and the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq both did poorly in the election. They lost many seats and their dream of a monolithic Shiite bloc has fragmented.

Newsweek said the election “most certainly is a watershed event that could come to represent a whole new era in the history of the massively undemocratic Middle East.”

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times says “Former President George W. Bush’s gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right.”

Many liberal politicians in both 2004 and 2006 claimed the United States was “imposing democracy on Iraq.” The results of this fifth election demonstrate that Iraqi’s are enthusiastic participants in the democratic process.

Vice President Joe Biden is now saying Iraq “could be one of the great achievements of this administration.” However, the credit clearly belongs to the Iraqi people and the Bush Administration.

Peter Wehner of Politics Daily noted: “We might be able to agree, too, that the new counterinsurgency strategy announced by President Bush in January 2007 — a strategy that was fiercely opposed by Messrs. Biden and Obama, by virtually the entire Democratic Party, the political class, and almost all of the foreign policy establishment — was a wise and politically courageous decision. . . But it’s clear, I think, that the commonly held view that Iraq was ‘probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history’ (Joe Klein) was wrong and foolish.”

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