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Wednesday, March 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Guest columnist
Bush, not Kerry, can drive Mideast democracy forward

By Matt Rosenberg
Special to The Times

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The cowardly terrorist bombings last week that killed at least 180 Shiite pilgrims in Iraq reflect fear of modernity. Yet modernity gained a strong foothold in Iraq with the signing of an interim constitution Monday. A rocket fired at a Baghdad police station minutes before recalled the old adage, "Any mule can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one."

The agreement means a transitional national assembly will draft a permanent constitution, and elect a president and two vice presidents. Those officials would then select a prime minister and Cabinet. A referendum on a permanent constitution would go to voters as early as the end of next year.

The interim constitution's bill of rights includes freedom of expression and worship regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender; and an independent judiciary. Rights formerly denied at gunpoint. The signing was a "historic moment, decisive in the history of Iraq," asserted the country's Governing Council President Mohammed Bahr al-Ulloum in an Associated Press report.

"Politics ain't beanbag," legendary Chicago alderman Paddy Bauler once said, referencing a popular child's game of long ago. That's certainly evident in Iraq these days, where the stakes are life, death and liberty.

Of course, within Seattle's liberal echo chamber, far more voters are hoping for change in the White House than in Iraq. They'll be disappointed.

It may be close, but George W. Bush will be re-elected. Here's one hint. Even perceptive non-Bushies know failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq isn't a winning issue; the coalition-led intervention was necessary.

Consider this post to the Democratic National Committee's popular blog, ironically named "Kicking Ass."

One Lisa Z. writes, "... I don't like to be an apologist for GW. I don't like the guy. But ... when your neighborhood is full of bullies, take one out in plain sight of all the others, and the others will tend to fall into line, and I think that's what we did in Iraq."

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., also supports our course in Iraq. The Rapid City Journal reports that in a recent talk with some of his state's business leaders, Daschle said, "I give the overall effort real credit. It is a good thing Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. It is a good thing we are democratizing the country."

America knows what Sen. John Kerry can never admit. Under Bush's leadership, the beginning of the war on terror is a success. Promoting democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere is a key component.

Let's review a few big developments, now that the presidential face-off is set:

• Though obstacles remain, Iraq is moving toward self-government by democratic principles. One effect of Saddam's trial will be greater concern about systemic abuses in Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

• Osama bin Laden may well be cornered. The captured son of his deputy Ayman Zawahiri reportedly has told Pakistani officials where bin Laden and top al-Qaida cohorts have been hiding. Reuters says that up to 2,000 armed tribesmen in remote Western Pakistan have joined the hunt. The Pakistani government has already turned over more than 500 al-Qaida suspects to the U.S.

• There have been no major terrorist strikes in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001. Islamic extremists within our borders have been caught, tried and convicted; our courts have ably balanced national security with civil rights.

• Libya's been brought to heel; Iran and North Korea are under increasing pressure.

• There's even a new and potentially damning connection between al-Qaida and Saddam's regime. According to The (London) Telegraph, a former Iraqi intelligence officer captured after last week's bombings admitted he was "paid by al-Qaida to carry out attacks on civilians." He's now in U.S. custody.

Creating a more secure world is essential, though daunting. In a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, Kenneth Pollack not only outlines successes and challenges in Iraq, but the larger implications of how rebuilding the country turns out.

Pollack, a former National Security Council member, says most Iraqis favor the reconstruction; and coalition forces have achieved much, working with them "in their villages and neighborhoods to restore basic services, rebuild schools, restart the economy and create new political institutions."

Yet Pollack warns the U.S. must still improve security, boost reconstruction staffing across the board, and provide diligent oversight of Iraq's self-government plans.

"... Iraq could be a stable, prosperous, and pluralist society within a period of 5-15 years ... (but) without a strong American role, at least behind the scenes," a "Lebanon-like chaos" would result and spread throughout the Middle East, Pollack cautions.

Bush has the resolve to drive Iraqi and Middle East democracy forward. Kerry doesn't. I'm ready to vote right now.

Matt Rosenberg is a Seattle writer and regular contributor to The Times' editorial pages. E-mail him at oudist@nwlink.com. His Web log is at www.rosenblog.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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