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Ukraine as future Iraq

By Bruce Walker
web posted December 6, 2004

Soon after the Western Christian Christmas, the world will know whether Ukraine is evolving into a real democracy like Poland or whether it is drifting toward the orbit of an increasingly undemocratic Russia. Ukraine, by size and by industrial potential, is equal to France, Britain or Italy. If Ukraine evolves into a genuine democracy with moderate prosperity, then the Russian Bear will never threaten the world again.

But it may be premature to make that leap. Ukraine may slip back into its traditional historical status as a vassal state of the Great Russian nation. Will the victory of the Cold War be lost? The question is pertinent today, because it is entirely possible that Ukraine today may be Iraq in a decade. Was Operation Iraqi Freedom worth it, even if Iraq over time becomes split by factions and contentious, as Ukraine is today?

Whatever ultimately happens in Ukraine, the victory of America in the Cold War is absolute. Thirteen years after the oligarchy of the Soviet Union imploded, the salient fact is that the streets of Kiev are, at best for the old Soviets, vigorously contended by friends of the West and friends of Moscow.

The largest minority within the Great Russian empires today has a population equal to one third of that of Russia. An Ukrainian generation has grown up now with satellite and Internet news services and with actual individual freedom. While it may be possible for Moscow, with the help of some Ukrainian Quislings, to impose a sort of undemocratic government on Ukraine, that government would be very weak indeed.

What Russia would discover in Ukraine is what China is discovering with Hong Kong: people who have lived in relative freedom for a significant number of years, particularly when those people are familiar with communist duplicity and utterly disenchanted with the its promises (and Putin is clearly a Leninist) resist the reimposition of oppression when they know that millions of their countrymen feel the same way.

Russia, ultimately, could not reimpose its rule upon Poland in the 1980s, and the glue in that case was the Catholic Church and a Polish Pope - and the knowledge of the workers in Gdansk that they were the majority, they were the voice of thirty million or so other Poles. Tens of millions of Ukrainians oppose the crushing of liberty in Ukraine and that, almost certainly, is enough.

We make a mistake when we assume that governments friendly or hostile to our government is what matters. America is vastly better off because there is genuine democracy and liberty in Germany, Spain, Canada and Sweden - all governments and even people who have been very unsympathetic to our military and political aims in Iraq - than we are by any dictator who supports us.

What we want is to plant democracy and plant the idea of individual rights in a society and then let the people themselves choose where to go with that. Almost always, the people will choose peace over war. If Iraq becomes like Turkey, for example, it does not matter that much if the Iraqi government a decade from now likes us or does not like us as it does that the elections are relatively competitive and relatively honest, as Turkish elections are.

Turkey is not a harbor for terrorists, like, say, Syria. The government of India and the people of India are not particularly affectionate toward America and Americans, but India has a functioning multi-party democracy. India is not going to sponsor terrorism or tolerate terrorism within India. It is not going to try to conquer Bangladesh or Pakistan.

Democracy, like free markets, looks very messy to Leftists. What it provides is a dispersal of power, so that parties compete against each other and politicians within parties compete against each other. With the single exception of Nazi Germany, people never elect governments to seek aggressive war with other nations.

So the victory in Iraq is already won, because Shia and Sunni are openly contentious, because Kurds are arguing with other Iraqi, because different clerics send out different messages, because the Iraqi people feel safe in complaining and griping. This emphatically does not mean that Iraq will have a democracy like, say, Switzerland or Norway in the next ten years.

What it does mean that the worst case scenario for Iraq a decade from now is what we have in Ukraine today - protests, squabbling, close parliamentary votes, constitutional crises and all the other indicators that sovereignty has come to the people and left remote and almost mythical potentates like Hussein.

Our victory is not the perfection of Iraqi democracy, but to shift the center of gravity within Iraq and within other similar nations away from a few brutal rulers and into the hands of ordinary people, whose husbands, sons and fathers die in reckless wars. Before Iraqi election, before new Ukrainian elections, it is obvious that the idea of democracy, even if the workings of democracy will always creak, takes root quickly, firmly and always when given the chance that Operation Iraqi Freedom has given the Iraqi people. Whatever happens, we have won.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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