Helping democracy take root may be tougher in Iraq than elsewhere
Regarding John Hughes's March 29 Opinion column, "With patience, the US can help democracy take root in Iraq": As a soldier on my second tour of Iraq, I noticed Mr. Hughes's appeal for staying the course there is long on rhetoric but short on solutions.
Hughes first takes issue with the comparison between the conflicts in Vietnam and Iraq. As he notes, the Vietnam War was fought largely in jungles, while much of the fighting in Iraq is in urban terrain. From a strategic standpoint, however, this makes hardly a difference. Both jungles and cities are considered complex terrain by the military, meaning they provide opportunity for the enemy to conceal its operations.
Hughes goes on to describe the enemy in Iraq as "motivated by a perversion of Islamic dogma and with a fanatical intent to impose it upon the entire region." In fact, the Sunni insurgency seems to be motivated primarily by fear of losing political prominence, while the Shiite and Kurdish militias are intent on seizing territory and political power. Balancing these agendas has become the central struggle in Iraq. Only one element of the insurgency, namely Al Qaeda adherents, are intent on imposing a religious dogma on the region, and they're increasingly marginalized in Iraq.
Hughes is correct that the strategic aim of insurgents is to degrade the will of the United States and trigger a withdrawal of US forces. What he fails to recognize is that this strategy is highly effective. Unless the American people can be convinced that the increasing costs of this war are justified, the insurgents will continue to shape the fight. Only an honest debate among Americans can address these issues. We cannot paper over the problem of Iraq with sloganeering.
Christian E. De Leon-Horton
Captain, US Army
There is a flaw in Mr. Hughes's March 29 Opinion column. Hughes points out a US survey in which the majority believe that countries come to democracy "on their own and when they are ready for it." To counter this view he cites countries that moved to democracy with US support or under US pressure, including Poland and South Africa. This misses the fact that the US did not launch an all-out attack on these countries or overthrow their governments.
Certainly the leadership of Poland and South Africa would affirm that democracy came to their countries because they made it happen. Citing Nicaragua is curious since a major part of US history there was to fund and support a long-ruling dictatorship. Hughes also cites South Korea. Indeed, our involvement there was a major factor in establishing democracy. And though not a result of US presence, the country ended up split in two - something we're told the US wants to avoid in Iraq. These examples reaffirm that democracy came to these countries because they were ready for it, and it was primarily by their own hands. Hughes writes as though "support and pressure" are the equivalent of waging war. They are not.
I was pleased to read of the new ideas taking root in the wake of Katrina, as mentioned in your April 3 editorial, "After the deluge, creativity in the Gulf." This may sound far-fetched, but I wish somebody would enlist the help of folks from Disney. Disney puts their creativity to good use in theme parks; I know they could come up with some beautiful ideas for New Orleans, replete with monorails, footpaths, and beautiful gardens.
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