Whatever the founding fathers had in mind as the definition of democracy when they approved the Declaration of Independence 228 years ago today, it cannot possibly have been the condition that has developed under American control in Iraq today.
There, under the mantle of democracy-making, a bloody, tawdry, secretive, tragic and sometimes farcical condition exists. The events of the past week demonstrated as much.
Iraq was made sovereign. But not really. The handover of authority from the U.S.--led coalition took place ahead of schedule and in secrecy. The American viceroy, L. Paul Bremer III, left quietly, with no accolade of gratitude for his service to America or to Iraq. His replacement, as the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, John D. Negroponte, presented his credentials to an Iraqi government handpicked not by the Iraqi people, but by Negroponte's government.
The Bush administration's appointment of Negroponte to this post is understandable because the administration needs a veteran diplomat with considerable experience in dealing with governments that have not much experience with democracy and are dealing with insurgencies.
But the appointment does not inspire a lot of confidence among those who hope a genuine democracy develops in Iraq, especially those who recall his tenure as U. S. ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s at the height of the Reagan administration's war against communism and its suspected fellow travelers in Central America.
A 1995 series exhaustively reported by two reporters from The Sun found that in that time, Negroponte knew about the kidnapping, torture and murder of suspected leftists by a CIA-trained Honduran unit. He supported its leader while human rights reports from his embassy concealed what was happening.
So much for America's new man in Iraq.
Then, the tyrant Saddam Hussein was turned over to Iraqi authority by the United States, but the United States keeps custody of him. Why? Because the sovereign Iraqis cannot be depended on to protect him while he goes through a trial, after which he will surely, and deservedly, be hanged. The need to keep Hussein in American custody is hardly surprising because the custodians of the new Iraqi sovereignty cannot protect themselves, which is why an American army of 140,000 troops must stay in sovereign Iraq indefinitely.
Finally last week, Hussein was brought before an Iraqi judge, also appointed with the imprimatur of the Americans, against whom he launched a torrent of abuse. Here in America, pundits already were speculating about how the appearance of Hussein in the dock will help President Bush. In some quarters in Iraq and elsewhere in the region, though, Hussein's demand to know why he was being questioned by an Iraqi quisling of the American occupation authorities will play differently.
The Baathists and the Saddamists resisting America's plan for a Democratic Iraq may well have been encouraged by the sight of their former leader denouncing the judge, the Americans and, for good measure, the Kuwaitis - "those dogs."
So where are we on this day that Americans celebrate their freedom and independence? We are in a bad place, led there by deception and the appropriation of the visionary American ideal by an administration that has squandered it on a corrupt proposition.
These people assured us that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which posed a threat to the security of the United States. Not true. They told us there was a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and that therefore the invasion of Iraq was a necessary part of the war against terrorism. Not true.
(Have those two points been endlessly belabored in this space? Yes. It's important that they not be forgotten. Ask Dick Cheney about the importance of repetition. His prepared remarks these days are as obscene as his unprepared remarks.)
Then, they said, Iraq is now full of terrorists attacking coalition forces and Iraqis. True, to some extent, but they wouldn't be if we weren't there.
And finally we are told the real reason we are in Iraq is to plant the seeds of democracy so they would flourish there and spread to the entire region of authoritarianism and despotism. That is not a bad idea, but - and here I'm repeating myself again - it is not why Americans were told they were going to war, why we would risk American lives and spend hundreds of billions of dollars of American taxpayers money in Iraq.
There were other ways to deal with Saddam. We know that. And these guys know that, but they came to office obsessed with getting rid of him and they have succeeded in that. But at what price?
Look at Iraq. Count the dead and the wounded - many of them very seriously - Americans and Iraqis. Look at the stature of America around the world. Calculate the destruction. Then, consider that it will be a long time before America finds a way to extract itself from the place the British before them called "Mespot," no matter how successful it is in persuading the very people shunned by Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to lend a hand.
Someday there may be real democracy in Iraq. If that day comes, it may be because a legitimate Iraqi leadership was inspired by the nobility and eloquence of America's founding fathers, the common sense and decency and honesty of their motivations.
Not much of that exists among their political descendants in Washington today.
© Copyright 2004, The Baltimore Sun