Allied troops should stand firm in Iraq as democracy takes root

You've got to hand it to Tony Blair, the British prime minister. He's got guts. He displayed this again last week when he told his Labor Party conference that British troops will stay in Iraq, and Britain's place is alongside America.

This is not a popular position with many Britons, even within his own party, who believe otherwise.

It is eerily reminiscent of the lonely stand Winston Churchill took in the 1930s, warning many disbelieving Britons of the coming threat from fascism.

Mr. Blair has been steadfast in his view that the war in Iraq is a noble cause, which if successful will open the way to democratic reforms in the Arab world.

Mindful of the casualties, he told his supporters last week: "The way to stop the innocent dying is not to retreat, to withdraw, to hand these people over to the mercy of religious fanatics, or relics of Saddam, but to stand up for their right to decide their government in the same democratic way the British people do."

Then to critics of his alliance with the Bush administration: "I never doubted after Sept. 11 that our place was alongside America, and I don't doubt it now."

This Anglo-American alliance has been a long-standing thing, linking assorted Republican and Democratic American presidents with assorted Labor and Conservative British prime ministers, irrespective of ideology. It has endured throughout the confrontation with fascism. And then communism. And now terrorism.

In 10 days time, the Iraqi people, who earlier this year defied the death threats of terrorists and went to the polls in their millions, will decide on a new constitution. It may be an imperfect document. The political aftermath may be messy. But what emerges will be their first venture into democracy since the harsh years of Saddam Hussein's autocratic reign.

Blair and Bush are at one in their understanding that the war against terrorism is a long haul. Bush has underlined this since his first post-9/11 speech. It is a tough concept for some Americans, eager for quick fixes, to embrace.

This war demands not only the defeat of the terrorists, but the reeducation of an upcoming generation of Arabs who must reject the hate-filled curriculum of the madrassahs, or Islamist schools, and work for the political reforms and economic growth which are their road to a successful future.

As Karen Hughes found out in her first foray into the Muslim world last week, this will take time and patience and a lot of listening. As the new undersecretary for public diplomacy at the State Department, she met with groups of women in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Their emancipation may be the key to the transformation of the Arab world.

Their cool response to her praise of democracy must have been a surprise to her. "We're quite happy as we are," was the reaction of some.

One does not know how her audiences were chosen or programmed, or how cautious they felt they had to be. (On my first visit to China after the Cultural Revolution I asked to meet with some of their American- educated professors who had survived that upheaval. My discussions were held with communist officials listening. I could not give much credibility to the accounts of these scholarly men, who had earned doctorates from Columbia and Stanford, when they told me how much they had enjoyed, and how valuable were their reeducation experiences working down coal mines and shoveling manure for several years in remote villages).

What is clear is that there is a stirring and ferment in the Islamic world that is coming from the ground up, from the people of those lands themselves. It is evident in Lebanon and Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and even Syria. It surely is evident in post-Saddam Iraq, where the terrorists who fear it are trying to stifle it.

We do not know how long this will take to come to fruition, nor how it will ultimately play out. It may not be democracy with the structure that the West would know or like to see. But in many years of reporting on countries around the world, from Indonesia to South Africa, from Russia to China, I have found freedom to be an instinctive universal desire even among peoples who have never known it. It is something for which humanity yearns. When unleashed, it is a formidable motivation for change. Hopefully the process is nurturing in the lands of Islam.

John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret Morning News.

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