Why Millions Say, Softly, God Bless America
Paul Johnson, Forbes:
Democracy has many enemies, and the terrorist is only one of them. It also has many hypocritical and humbugging pseudosupporters, which is one of numerous lessons to be drawn from the situation in Iraq.
When America--having smashed Iraq's 40-year-old Baathist tyranny and captured its blood-soaked leader, Saddam Hussein--promised to hold democratic elections with all deliberate speed so that Iraqis could decide their own future, the hope and expectation was that democratic nations and peoples the world over would come and help. But that did not happen. With the notable exceptions of Australia, Poland and Britain (whose prime minister, Tony Blair, has taken huge political risks to back America 100%), most other democratic nations have looked the other way.
The worst example is Spain. On the eve of elections there, terrorists detonated bombs on trains in Madrid, panicking the nation. In a spasm of fear the Spanish--not normally lacking in courage--voted in a Socialist government. The new government took the coward's way out and withdrew its troops from Iraq.
In Ukraine voters took to the streets to reverse a crooked election. Thanks to the backing of the U.S., Ukrainians won their point, and their true, democratically elected president took office. But even though it has tasted the sweets of democracy itself, Ukraine is also withdrawing its troops from Iraq--a case of cowardice compounded by selfishness that bodes ill for the country's future.
Spain and Ukraine expect to enjoy democracy but will not lift a finger to help the Iraqis, who have never had such a luxury.
France and Germany have remained on the sidelines, greeting America's costly efforts to bring democracy to the Arab world with a mixture of vicious criticism, sneers and obstructive tactics. But then, neither nation has much of a democratic record.
The Germans have had democracy imposed on them twice by the victorious Allies, each time after a world war Germany started. German democracy is a superficial growth, and if the Socialists there continue to mismanage the economy and impoverish the people, who can say whether freedom in Germany will survive?
The French have had 12 written constitutions since 1789. None has given ordinary French people the feeling that they are really in charge of their affairs. If they have a real grievance they take to the streets and block the roads and ports, knowing from bitter experience that force is more likely to get results than arguments or votes.
Italy has had democracy of a sort since 1945, but it is so corrupt that Italians don't put much faith in it. They know that family and business connections--based on favors given and reciprocated--are the only way to obtain justice and their rights.
The European Union itself is the epitome of the Continent's pseudodemocracy. There power is distributed among masterful bureaucrats and permanent political elites. The resulting lack of freedom for individuals and businesses means that economic growth is almost nil and the future is bleak.
As for European intellectuals, who command so much power in the media, universities and opinion-forming circles, they have done everything they possibly could to abuse America's initiative in Iraq and to prevent the installation of freedom. Some make it clear that they would much prefer Iraq to be run by men like Saddam than by American-backed democrats. Of course, intellectuals pay lip service to free elections but in practice have a profound (if secret) hatred of democracy. They cannot believe that their votes should count for no more than the votes of "uneducated" people who run small businesses, work on farms and in factories and have never read Proust.
The intellectuals wanted the Iraqi elections to be defeated by terror. But now that the elections have actually taken place, they want the new government to fail. They want democracy to fail in Afghanistan as well so that they can smile smugly and say, "We told you so." For if democracy were to triumph everywhere, what role would there be for the intellectual critic? As Shakespeare put it, "Othello's occupation's gone."
Despite all these false friends and hidden enemies, however, democracy is taking its first faltering steps in the Arab-Muslim world. It may well be that in history's long perspective, America's success in turning Afghanistan and Iraq away from tyranny, fear and murder toward the peaceful rule of the ballot will seem a historic turning point. Other successes may well follow, and the chariot of democracy will gather momentum.
Just as the appalling 20th century was the age of the totalitarian state, the Gulag and Auschwitz, so the 21st may come to be seen as the age of government "of the people, by the people, for the people." If so, the U.S., by its courage and persistence, will be able to take primary credit. It has certainly led from the front, and it has shown that it knows how to use its position as the world's sole superpower with judgment, honor and unselfishness.
I think Abraham Lincoln would be proud of what George W. Bush and the U.S. forces have done. After the freeing of the slaves, what more logical and benevolent step could there be than to free millions of Arabs from the slavery of terror? So I say, God Bless America. And I'm confident that countless millions throughout the world say so, too, even if they do not dare--yet--to say so aloud.
Paul Johnson, eminent British historian and author.