The New York Times
Creeping Democracy
By WILLIAM SAFIRE              March 22, 2004

WASHINGTON — "Democratic creep" is not a derogation of a liberal candidate.  On the contrary, it is the process — now well under way — by which free nations will win the world war on terror.

In Afghanistan, once a hotbed of Qaeda training and Taliban tyranny, nobody can deny we helped bring forth the beginnings of democratic government.  Afghans, including newly liberated women, are helping track down fugitive killers.

In Iraq, we mourn our losses this past year, which now approach 2 percent of U.S. casualties in the Korean conflict.  Many Iraqis died, too, but literally tens of thousands are alive today because Saddam did not have the power to torture and execute them — as mass graves tell us he did every year of his savage misrule.

Nobody can be certain that Iraq will remain whole and free after we turn over sovereignty on June 30.  But prospects look far better than predicted by defeatists who claimed a year ago that political freedom had no chance of taking root in hostile Arab soil. 

Free electricity keeps TV sets and air-conditioners humming, oil is flowing, schools and businesses have come to life.  Unemployment, now over 30 percent, will surely drop as the $18 billion appropriated by the U.S. Congress — part of the $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan — begins to flow heavily next month into reconstruction by Iraqi workers. (The W.P.A. lives.)

We are training a civilian defense corps, twice the size of a joint Shiite-Sunni-Kurdish army, to take over free Iraq's battle against the Ansar-Qaeda terrorists and Baathist diehards.  With the transfer of political power to a transitional Iraqi government, public fury at the mortar and rocket attacks on "soft target" civilians will be a nationalizing, not a destabilizing, force — directed not at occupiers but against the terrorist invaders.

Next year, a trio of local politicians will emerge to lead the country.  "Three John Edwardses are out there awaiting their chance," says one observer.

Optimistic?  In the grand design to uproot the causes of the rise of radical Islamic terrorism, defeat is no option.  We have to believe in the popular success of a combination of democracy and prosperity.  In this generation, the world has seen the power of the human desire for freedom.

From Kuwait to Qatar, the coalition's overthrow of Saddam has been a political tonic.  Libya's dictator is making weaponry concessions lest his economy be wrecked and he be ousted.  Repressive Iran is ripening for revolution. Egypt's boss and Saudi Arabia's princes are nervous because an arc of democracy bids fair to extend from Turkey through Iraq to Israel, with literate, enterprising populations blazing a path to liberating prosperity in the greater Middle East.

Syria's sullen Bashar al-Assad is feeling the heat.  He benefited most from Saddam's corruption, probably provided a hiding place for Iraqi weapons and a route of entry into Iraq for Qaeda killers.  His troops illegally occupy Lebanon; he supports Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists in rocket attacks and suicide bombings.  His so-called intelligence sharing has been singularly unproductive.

A million and a half Kurds live in Syria, despised by the rulers in Damascus.  After Syrian Kurds saw the blessings of freedom flow to their ethnic comrades in Iraq, some were emboldened to respond to Arab taunting at a soccer game.  Bashar's goons, remembering his father's bloody "Hamas rules," shot a score of the unarmed protesters as a warning to the quarter-million Kurds the dictator keeps stateless.

Congress, more hawkish than President Bush on this state sponsor of terror, passed the Syria Accountability Act four months ago with large majorities; this week, he is expected to put some of its authorized economic squeeze on Bashar.  He should consider that Step One.

This unified American message — substantial largess for free Iraq contrasted with the start of serious sanctions for despotic Syria — will not be lost on the Arab League meeting in Tunisia.

Success of democracy in Iraq is the key to democratic reform throughout the greater Middle East.  When that reform dawns in Ramallah, there can be an independent, contiguous Palestine.  When creeping democracy gradually brings a better life to people of the region, the basis for hatred and terror will erode and the suicide bomber will pass from the scene.