July 2, 2004 | Op-ed

Democracy Expanding, More People Living Freely

Authored by Andrew Apostolou   

A year is an unreasonably short span within which to measure progress. Yet, despite the confusion of daily events, the world is a safer place and more people enjoy freedom than a year ago.

As important as the greater number no longer living under dictatorships is the spread of democratic politics, of the growing willingness to resolve difficult issues through compromise and discussion, not with violence and extremism.

While the key focus has been the war against terrorism and the sometimes unsteady reconstruction of Iraq, there have been important successes elsewhere.

The democratic revolution in the former Soviet republic of Georgia was a triumph for the United States and Georgians alike.

Eduard Shevardnadze's attempt to steal the presidential election was thwarted and he was thrown out of office.

It would have been easy for the United States to turn a blind eye to Shevardnadze's dishonesty. He had been a good friend of the West and had defied the aggressive intentions of Russia for many years. Instead, the United States worked for his peaceful removal. In a final irony, it was Russia that desperately tried to save a man that it had previously sought to remove.

The message from Georgia is that the United States will put freedom before favors and that the shabby Cold War politics of winking at the abuses of corrupt, brutal but useful allies is coming to an end.

The effect of no longer tolerating excuses for repression has also been felt in Turkey, a vital ally that for years languished in economic failure and heavy-handed politics. Turkey has made significant progress toward meeting the criteria to join the European Union, freeing political prisoners.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan is moving gradually toward its first half-decent elections in decades.

For the millions of Afghans who are no longer refugees, the ability to return home is tangible benefit of liberation.

Libya, now without its nonconventional weapons programs, is finding its domestic conduct increasingly scrutinized. The fate of Libyan dissidents can no longer be ignored.

Sadly, the tide of freedom has ebbed as well as flowed.

Although Kurds in Iran and Syria boldly challenged their governments, their efforts were to no avail. Neither regime will crumble tomorrow.

Reformist elements in Iran lost rigged parliamentary elections. Iran's ruling clerics have exploited the willingness of the international community to talk, rather than to act, to advance their nuclear program. Their fear of their own people, and their nuclear weapons ambitions, pose challenges that we must soon confront.

The central battle for freedom is in Iraq.

The ousting of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was an achievement that is too often belittled. The cliche that Saddam was just another villain ignores his regime's depravity and resilience.

Guilty of genocide and aggression, Saddam had survived decades of attempts to overthrow him. Had the U.S.-led coalition not defeated him, then one of his sadistic sons might have succeeded him with all the horror that would have entailed. Freedom from Saddam's tyranny, both for Iraqis and for the rest of the world, is a great advance.

As important, Iraq's different communities have managed, through compromise and consensus, to agree on an interim constitution.

That remarkable document protects individual and communal rights, devolves power away from Baghdad and acknowledges the diversity that Saddam detested. The interim constitution is the start of civilized politics in Iraq.

The cause of freedom and the war against terrorism are two sides of the same coin. Liberty can only be enjoyed if there is also security.

There is little reason for Iraqis, or others, to ally themselves with the United States without the prospect of freedom, but no value to new-found liberties unless we can more rapidly learn the difficult and focused tactics required to defeat our ruthless terrorist foes.