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President Bush compares Iraq struggle
with America’s own quest for democracy

PHILADELPHIA (BP)–A few blocks from Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the U.S. Constitution was debated, President Bush called upon Americans to “keep this history in mind as we look at the progress of freedom and democracy in Iraq.”

“No nation in history has made the transition to a free society without facing challenges, setbacks and false starts,” the president said in a Dec. 12 address to the Philadelphia World Affairs Council, noting that the success of America’s democratic experiment did not seem obvious at the time when it was conceived.

Bush recalled that the eight years from the end of the Revolutionary War to the election of a constitutional government were a time of disorder and violence with uprisings, attacks and even a planned military coup. The Articles of Confederation, America’s first attempt at a governing charter, failed.

It was years later before the Constitution was ratified and the first president was elected, he said, and later, a four-year civil war and an additional century of struggle had to be overcome before the promise of freedom granted in the Declaration of Independence was a reality for all Americans.

The reflection was part of Bush’s continuing effort to win support for the nurturing of democracy in Iraq just two and a half years after the initial invasion to remove Saddam Hussein. A 38-page “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” was released by the White House last month, with Bush detailing the strategy in subsequent speeches.

During his address in Philadelphia, Bush discussed the political element of the strategy, which includes efforts to help the Iraqis build inclusive democratic institutions that will protect the interests of all Iraqi people. “From the outset, the political element of our strategy in Iraq has been guided by a clear principle: Democracy takes different forms in different cultures,” he said. “Yet in all cultures, successful free societies are built on certain common foundations — rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, a free economy and freedom to worship. Respect for the belief of others is the only way to build a society where compassion and tolerance prevail.”

Bush recounted the short history of establishing democracy that Iraq has experienced since March 2003, including the establishment of the Coalition Provisional Authority, followed by the Iraqi Governing Council and the National Assembly. He noted that the Transitional Administrative Law set forth four major milestones to guide Iraq’s transition to a constitutional democracy. Three of them have been met, and the fourth will be set in place with the Dec. 15 elections.

“By pressing forward and meeting their milestones, the Iraqi people have built momentum for freedom and democracy,” the president said. “They’ve encouraged those outside the process to come in. At every stage, there was enormous pressure to let the deadlines slide, with skeptics and pessimists declaring that Iraqis were not ready for self-government. At every stage, Iraqis proved the skeptics and pessimists wrong. At every stage, Iraqis have exposed the errors of those in our country and across the world who question the universal appeal of liberty.”

As Iraqis go to the polls to choose a new government under a new constitution — which Bush called the most progressive, democratic constitution in the Arab world — they will continue to face many challenges in four specific areas, he said.

The first key challenge is maintaining security amid threats from the enemy; the second is forming an inclusive government; the third is establishing a rule of law and a culture of reconciliation; and the fourth is preserving newfound freedoms in a nation bordered by Iran and Syria.

“A free Iraq is not going to be a quiet Iraq. It will be a nation full of passionate debate and vigorous political activity. It will be a nation that continues to face some level of violence. Yet Iraqis are showing they have the patience and the courage to make democracy work, and Americans have the patience and courage to help them succeed. We’ve done this kind of work before; we must have confidence in our cause,” Bush said, recalling hard-fought and time-consuming victories in Germany, Japan and the nations of Central and Eastern Europe.

“Not far from here where we gather today is a symbol of freedom familiar to all Americans — the Liberty Bell. When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public, the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, and a witness said: ‘It rang as if it meant something.’

“Today, the call of liberty is being heard in Baghdad and Basra, and other Iraqi cities, and its sound is echoing across the broader Middle East,” Bush said. “From Damascus to Tehran, people hear it, and they know it means something. It means that the days of tyranny and terror are ending, and a new day of hope and freedom is dawning.”

During a question-and-answer session following the Philadelphia speech, Bush estimated that 30,000 Iraqis, including civilians, military, police, insurgents and translators, have died as a result of the invasion and ongoing violence. About 2,150 American soldiers have died attempting to secure freedom for Iraq.

Last week, on the 64th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Bush again drew a parallel to history as he recalled how America, led by a great generation, pulled together despite setbacks and battlefield defeats and did not waver in freedom’s cause during World War II.

“On Sept. 11, 2001, our nation awoke to another sudden attack. In the space of just 102 minutes, more Americans were killed than we lost at Pearl Harbor,” the president told the Council on Foreign Relations Dec. 7 in Washington. “Like generations before us, we accepted new responsibilities, and we confronted new dangers with firm resolve. Like generations before us, we’re taking the fight to those who attacked us and those who share their murderous vision for future attacks. Like generations before us, we’ve faced setbacks on the path to victory, yet we will fight this war without wavering. And like the generations before us, we will prevail.”

Bush went on to describe how coalition forces are working with Iraqi forces and elected leaders to improve security and restore order, to help Iraqis rebuild their cities and to help the national government in Baghdad revitalize Iraq’s infrastructure and economy.

He cited two cities that have shown much promise in recent months on the road to recovery — Najaf and Mosul, which were overtaken by violent resistors of freedom after being liberated by American troops in 2003. While the challenges for these two cities are far from over, legitimate Iraqi leaders have regained control, their infrastructures and economies are quickly improving and hope is on the rise.

The president also cited some statistics marking improvements that have been made throughout Iraq in a span of two and a half years. Coalition forces and aid organizations have helped Iraqis conduct nearly 3,000 renovation projects at schools, train more than 30,000 teachers, distribute more than 8 million textbooks, rebuild irrigation infrastructure to help more than 400,000 rural Iraqis, and improve drinking water for more than 3 million people.

“This is quiet, steady progress,” Bush said. “It doesn’t always make the headlines in the evening news, but it’s real and it’s important and it is unmistakable to those who see it close up.”

Bush kicked off his series of speeches outlining the strategy for victory in Iraq with an address at the Naval Academy Nov. 30.

    About the Author

  • Erin Curry Roach