Colonels' Corner: Dreaming of a Democratic Iraq

October 13, 2006

The constant rumble of death in Iraq — most of it being spewed by Iraqis against Iraqis — makes the probability of true democracy in the near-term seem doubtful. And while the U.S. and other coalition forces continue to put their own lives on the line to bring about a reasonable semblance of peace and security, insidious agendas are being carried out by those with no respect for innocent life, and apparently without the intent to build a better society.

Against the backdrop of horror and despair, however, there are indeed Iraqis who yearn for the democratic ideals, which continue to elude them. I say this not because I'm hearing political types say it, or because I'm trying to support what, in many respects, can only be characterized as a failed policy in Iraq. Instead, I say it because that's what I read in a constant flow of e-mails from Americans in Iraq who have daily contact with Iraqis, and who continue to hear the words “thank you” for ousting Saddam and giving Iraq a chance. Those words still flow, even after the bloodshed and turmoil that have surrounded their lives these past three years, and it's those words that should give us hope and strengthen our resolve.

To be sure, there are serious grievances between the Sunnis and the Shiites, grievances that are played out daily in random and senseless killings. Even the Kurds, who have tried to sidestep the sectarian violence and normalize the northern region, which they populate and essentially control, are not free from the wanton bloodshed. And there's no question that U.S. forces alone will not be able to stop that violence. The burden for achieving democratic success is, as many have stated, in the hands of the Iraqis.

What I find most interesting is that while we know it's Iraqis who must make it work, most Iraqis have no framework around which to understand what democracy is truly about. I believe we add to that loss of understanding by failing to bring them over here, by the thousands, to witness democracy in action. We have no sustained plan to bring senior military or police officials to the U.S. for visits or seminars, to place young officers or non-commissioned officers in our best military schools, or to bring junior to mid-level bureaucrats over for training — no matter how limited. In sum, we have no sustained program to show the Iraqis what the democracy idea is all about, how it nurtures business and society, and who must be relied upon to make it work. Instead, we expect most of them to chase a dream whose reality they can't grasp because they have no real frame of reference. As violence swirls around them, daily survival becomes more important than the notion of democracy, no matter how noble it is.

What, then, about all those Iraqis for whom the dream still burns? Many of them realize that democracy is a tangible entity that often has to be fought for, and the fight certainly remains ongoing. But it's difficult to argue that it's being won, and if we can't find better ways to turn their visions into reality, we may indeed lose all we set out to achieve.

I'd propose a major effort to bring as many Iraqis of influence to the U.S. as possible. That group would include those at various levels in the military and government, together with key tribal and religious leaders. Let them see what our forefathers fought for so many years ago, and let them understand that a safe, secure, and prosperous environment offers a better future for Iraq and its peoples than what they are experiencing now. It seems clear we need to do something new. A program like this might be a start.

Lt. Col. Bill Cowan is a FOX News Channel contributor and internationally-acknowledged expert in the areas of terrorism, homeland security, intelligence and military special operations. He spent 11 years doing undercover operations in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Syria. Read his full bio here.