Thursday, December 15, 2005

Hope Keeps Progress Going in Iraq

There are a number of things that are essential to maintaining progress in Iraq - economic development, improved security, and so on. Economists, politicians, and polemicists can measure these those things day in and day out, make speeches about them, and lobby for more and more of them. In the end though, none of that would be enough.

There is something else. Something less tangible, something incalculable, that drives Iraqis to contiue to vote en masse in the face of threats to their life and leads patriotic men to daily return to the recruiting line outside of a police station that only yesterday was the sceen of death and mayhem.

It is something that did not exist in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and indeed, that Saddam knew must be eliminated in its entirety for him to maintain his death-grip. In doing so, Saddam managed to subdue, for almost 40 years, a nation of 25 million people who I can attest are some of the most intelligent, determined, and hard-working people on Earth.

It is something I witnessed first-hand on the road to Baghdad, April 20th, 2003. We had stopped our convoy on the side of the highway so everyone could grab a bite to eat. Slowly, the locals had gathered all around us, almost crowding us, anxious to speak to an American soldier or maybe just to see if we were really human. (Prior to the war, rumors were spread that U.S. GIs were robots or machines of some sort.)

An old man, probably in his 60s, joined a group of younger men huddled around our Humvee. I'll never forget the look in his eye, his shaking hands, or the words he said. "I love Bush!" he said. "I hate Saddam. With Saddam, no freedom. Now, we have freedom."

His English was limited and broken, and his statement obviously topical and simplistic to some degree. It was those last two sentences though that I can't forget. "With Saddam, no freedom. Now, we have freedom."

It occured to me that this man probably could not remember a single day of freedom in his life. As I stared at the frail old man, I imagined he might not live much longer. I wondered to myself, "If he and I both died tomorrow, would it have been worth me coming to Iraq?" Then I imagined living, myself, having never known a day of freedom. And it was then I felt that, if that old man and I had both died the next day, his one day of freedom would have been worth my dying for.

Two articles reminded me of that story and reminded me of what it is that truly drives Iraqis to get up every day and risk their lives on the chance that they might find something worth getting up for the next day.

It is hope. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for a better future for their children. Hope, now that the Butcher of Baghdad is no more.

This hope was most recently reflected in an ABC poll of Iraqis in which:

7 out of10 feel their lives are going well, 2/3rds believe life in
Iraq will improve in the next year, 76 percent of Iraqis said they were
"confident" the vote would produce a "stable government".

However, only 44 percent of Iraqis said they believe things are going well
in their country, while 52 percent said they felt the country was "doing badly."

In February 2004, 39 percent of Iraqis said they believed the U.S.
invasion was wrong, but that number has risen to 50 percent. Accordingly, the
percentage of Iraqis who now oppose the U.S. presence jumped from 51 percent to
65 percent. (UPI)

"To Saddam's prisoners, U.S. abuse seems 'a joke'" - The Daily Star of Lebanon
"Defying terror to vote for future" - The Boston Globe


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