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  Paul's Column Archive

March 19, 2007

Give Iraq a Chance


As far as the American mainstream media and the antiwar crowd are concerned, the invasion of Iraq was a major blunder and continues to be an irreparable mistake that will forever tarnish the image of the United States. This, to them, is a fact. They are convinced that the debate over the worthiness of the war has long been over and won by those who believe that the Bush administration misled the coalition into a conflict that has now developed into a civil war, exacerbated terrorism and probably somehow contributed to global warming.


But the reality on the ground is not as disheartening. True, we certainly have not progressed to the point we had hoped to reach in four years. And yes, terrorist activity and sectarian violence continue to be more widespread than we expected. Many Iraqi civilians and coalition troops have died, and the Sunni triangle remains unstable. Simply put, the current situation in Iraq is far from perfect.


That said, the discouraging news makes for only part of the story – and it just so happens to be the part that we hear about on television and in the newspapers. Despite gloomy reports coming out of Iraq on a daily basis, there are in fact many developments about which we can be happy and should be proud.


The Iraqi economy is thriving. Estimates put Iraq’s average GDP growth in the last couple of years at 15 percent. The number of registered companies has more than quadrupled in three years, and the number of cell phone users has quintupled in merely two. Construction, real estate and trade are flourishing in the face of violence. Pro-growth economic action by the government has allowed for the elimination of major subsidies and tariffs, all of which used to choke competition and development.


Freer trade has allowed for cheaper imported goods, and at the same time, the Iraqis have more money to spend on these goods. In four years, salaries have more than doubled, and thanks to the smart reduction in income tax rates, the Iraqis can contribute more to the growth of their own economy. The Iraqis’ willingness to invest in their own country demonstrates their trust in their government and the coalition – something that cannot be said about the American populace.


Increasingly successful military operations are also complementing the strength of the Iraqi economy in painting a picture of Iraq that is both more realistic and more optimistic than the one we usually hear about. Though in its early stages, the latest operation to secure Baghdad, going hand in hand with the recent U.S. troop surge, appears to be working well. In an important development, General David Petraeus has noted that there have already been fewer sectarian attacks since the beginning of the campaign.


Progress is also being made in areas that had been previously written off by U.S. and Iraqi authorities. One example is Sadr City, the highly populated northeastern district of Baghdad that has for years been home to Moqtada al Sadr’s Mehdi Army. Since the recent arrival of U.S. troops into the district, the militias that used to control it have largely disappeared. The Shiite reception of the Americans has been positive, in what is understood to be a crucial step in the effort to reduce sectarian violence and improve Sunni-Shiite social and political relations.


Another measure of progress in Iraq is the Iraqis’ own perception of the situation in their country. They, of course, would know better than anyone else. In the biggest opinion poll conducted in Iraq since the coalition’s invasion in 2003, Iraqis indicated tremendous optimism. By a majority of two to one, and contrary to Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) who insists that Iraq would be better off under Saddam Hussein, Iraqis favor their current government over that of Hussein. The poll also found that Baghdad residents’ sense of security has increased since the U.S. announced its 21,000-troop increase in January. Consistently, only 27 percent of Iraqis believe they are in a civil war, compared to much higher numbers in the United States and its media.


But all of these facts do not matter to those intent on criticizing the war, regardless of the progress that Americans and Iraqis make in Iraq. Politicians such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid insist on calling the Iraqi invasion “the worst foreign policy mistake in the history of this country.” Similarly, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who oversaw four years of increased threats in the Middle East, allowed for the continued rape of Lebanon by Syria, and conducted policy based on the word of a certain North Korean leader, says that “Iraq is going to go down in history as the greatest disaster in American foreign policy.”


And the trend does not just exist among politicians. Americans who have been politically opposed to the Bush administration also tend to have a dimmer view of Iraq. A recent Gallup poll showed that Democrats tend to view the country of Iraq less favorably than Republicans view our ally by a margin of 10 percent. This is highly unfortunate for our troops on the ground, and most of all for the Iraqis. Iraq’s economy is booming, coalition forces are making great progress on the ground, and Iraqi civilians have an optimistic take on their future. The Iraqis need our help just a little longer; and our help must be both tangible and moral. Right now, they’re not getting the latter. Let’s give them a chance.


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