President Bush Speaks in Philadelphia on Iraq’s Democracy

CNN has posted the transcript of President Bush’s speech this morning to the Philadelphia World Affairs Council. I haven’t heard the speech delivered but the text is quite powerful.

Some extended excerpts, interspersed with commentary, follow.

Today, I’m going to speak in depth about another vital element of our strategy: our efforts to help the Iraqi people build a lasting democracy in the heart of the Middle East. I can think of no better place to discuss the rise of a free Iraq than in the heart of Philadelphia, the city where America’s democracy was born. A few blocks from here stands Independence Hall, where our Declaration of Independence was signed and our Constitution was debated.

From the perspective of more than two centuries the success of America’s democratic experiment seems almost inevitable. At the time, however, that success didn’t seem so obvious or assured. The eight years from the end of the Revolutionary War to the election of a constitutional government were a time of disorder and upheaval. There were uprisings, with mobs attacking courthouses and government buildings. There was a planned military coup that was defused only by the personal intervention of George Washington. In 1783, Congress was chased from this city by angry veterans demanding back pay, and they stayed on the run for six months. There were tensions between the mercantile North and the agricultural South that threatened to break apart our young republic. And there were British loyalists who were opposed to independence and had to be reconciled with America’s new democracy.

Our founders faced many difficult challenges, they made mistakes, they learned from their experiences and they adjusted their approach. Our nation’s first effort at a governing charter, the Articles of Confederation, failed. It took years of debate and compromise before we ratified our Constitution and inaugurated our first president. It took a four-year civil war and a century of struggle after that before the promise of our Declaration was extended to all Americans.

It is important to keep this history in mind as we look at the progress of freedom and democracy in Iraq. No nation in history has made the transition to a free society without facing challenges, setbacks and false starts.

While this point has been made before, the symbolism of Philadelphia and the imagery here is quite well done. The overall point, I think, is a fair one.

On the other hand, the new United States was populated by a people who had a long history, at least philosophically, of what then passed for democracy, going back to Magna Carta. The United States was very much a product of the Enlightenment, too, and was founded on its principles. Further, while there were a few mini rebellions and some shedding of blood, there was nothing on the scale of the insurgency meshed with Islamist terrorism that’s underway in Iraq.

The past two and a half years have been a period of difficult struggle in Iraq, yet they have also been a time of great hope and achievement for the Iraqi people. Just over two and a half years ago, Iraq was in the grip of a cruel dictator who had invaded his neighbors, sponsored terrorists, pursued and used weapons of mass destruction, murdered his own people and, for more than a decade, defied the demands of the United Nations and the civilized world. Since then, the Iraqi people have assumed sovereignty over their country, held free elections, drafted a democratic constitution and approved that constitution in a nationwide referendum.

Three days from now they go to the polls for the third time this year and choose a new government under the new constitution. It’s a remarkable transformation for a country that has virtually no experience with democracy and which is struggling to overcome the legacy of one of the worst tyrannies the world has known.

Quite so. It is important to keep some perspective in assessing where the situation in Iraq now stands.

And Iraqis achieved all this while determined enemies used violence and destruction to stop the progress. There’s still a lot of difficult work to be done in Iraq. But thanks to the courage of the Iraqi people, the year 2005 will be recorded as a turning point in the history of Iraq, the history of the Middle East and the history of freedom.

I understand the desire to bolster the confidence of the Iraqi people. Still, as in the previous excerpt, it’s a bit galling to give all the credit to the Iraqis, given the high cost in American and Coalition blood and treasure that has brought them to this point.

The next parts of the speech rehash portions of the Annapolis speech. Bush explains the “nature of the enemy” –dividing them into rejectionist, Saddamist, and terrorist camps–and restates the broad outlines of the strategy for the future, focusing on economics, security and rebuilding the infrastructure. He then shifts to this assessment:

We’re making steady progress. The Iraqi forces are becoming more and more capable. They’re taking more responsibility for more and more territory. We’re transferring bases to their control, so they can take the fight to the enemy. And that means American and coalition forces can concentrate on training Iraqis and hunting down the high-value targets, like the terrorist Zarqawi and his associates.

Today, I want to discuss the political element of our strategy: our efforts to help the Iraqis build inclusive democratic institutions that will protect the interests of all the Iraqi people.

By helping Iraqis to build a democracy, we will win over those who doubted they had a place in a new Iraq and undermine the terrorists and Saddamists.

By helping Iraqis to gain a democracy, we will gain an ally in the war on terror.

By helping Iraqis build a democracy, we will inspire reformers across the Middle East.

And by helping Iraqis build a democracy, we will bring hope to a troubled region. And this will make the American people more secure.

From the outset, the political element of our strategy in Iraq has been guided by a clear principle. Democracy takes different forms in different cultures. Yet in all cultures, successful free societies are built on certain common foundations: rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, a free economy and freedom to worship. Respect for the belief of others is the only way to build a society where compassion and tolerance prevail. Societies that lay these foundations not only survive, but thrive. Societies that do not lay these foundations risk backsliding into tyranny.

I think most of us scan agree on these principles. Actually establishing them in Iraq, though, will be a tough trick and the evidence that we’ve been successful is at best mixed. (See this morning’s pre-election roundup for some background.)

When our coalition arrived in Iraq, we found a nation where almost none of these basic foundations existed. Decades of brutal rule by Saddam Hussein had destroyed the fabric of Iraqi civil society. Under Saddam, Iraq was a country where dissent was crushed, a centralized economy enriched a dictator instead of the people, secret courts meted out repression instead of justice, and Shia Muslims and Kurds and other groups were brutally oppressed. And when Saddam Hussein’s regime fled Baghdad, they left behind a country with few civic institutions in place to hold Iraq society together.

To fill the vacuum after liberation, we established the Coalition Provisional Authority. The CPA was ably led by Ambassador Jerry Bremer, and many fine officials from our government volunteered to serve in the CPA. While things did not always go as planned, these men and women did a good job under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances, helping to restore basic services, making sure food was distributed and reestablishing government ministries. One of the CPA’s most important tasks was bringing the Iraqi people into the decision-making process of their government after decades of tyrannical rule.

Three months after liberation, our coalition worked with the United Nations and Iraqi leaders to establish an Iraqi Governing Council. The governing council gave Iraqis a voice in their own affairs, but it was unelected, and it was subordinate to the CPA and, therefore, did not satisfy the hunger of Iraqis for self-government.

Like free people everywhere, Iraqis wanted to be governed by leaders they had elected, not foreign officials. So in the summer of 2003, we proposed a plan to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people. Under this plan, the CPA would continue to govern Iraq, while appointed Iraqi leaders drafted a constitution, put that constitution before the people and then held elections to choose a new government. Only when that elected government took office would the Iraqis regain their sovereignty.

This plan met with the disapproval of the Iraqis. They made it clear that they wanted a constitution that was written by elected leaders of a free Iraq, and they wanted sovereignty placed in Iraqi hands sooner. We listened and we adjusted our approach. In November of 2003, we negotiated a new plan with the governing council, with steps for an accelerated transition to Iraqi self- government. Under this new plan, a Transitional Administrative Law was written by the governing council and adopted in March of 2004. This law guaranteed personal freedoms unprecedented in the Arab world and set forth four major milestones to guide Iraq’s transition to a constitutional democracy.

The first milestone was the transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government by the end of June 2004. The second was for Iraqis to hold free elections to choose a transitional government by January of 2005. The third was for Iraqis to adopt a democratic constitution which would be drafted no later than August 2005 and put before the Iraqi people in a nationwide referendum no later than October. The fourth was for Iraqis to choose a government under that democratic constitution, with election held December of 2005.

The first milestone was met when our coalition handed over sovereignty to the Iraqi leaders on June 28, 2004, two days ahead of schedule. In January 2005, Iraqis met the second milestone when they went to the polls and chose their leaders in free elections. Almost 8.5 million Iraqis defied the car bombers and assassins to cast their ballots. And the world watched in awe as jubilant Iraqis danced in the street and held ink-stained fingers and celebrated their freedom.

The January elections were a watershed event for Iraq and the Middle East, yet they were not without flaws. One problem was the failure of the vast majority of Sunni Arabs to vote. When Sunnis saw a new 275-member parliament taking power in which they had only 16 seats, many realized that their failure to participate in the democratic process had hurt their chances and hurt their groups and hurt their constituencies. And Shia and Kurdish leaders who had won power at the polls saw that for a free and unified Iraq to succeed, they needed Sunni Arabs to be part of the government. We encouraged Iraq’s leaders to reach out to Sunni leaders and bring them into the governing process. When the transitional government was seated in the spring of this year, Sunni Arabs filled important posts, including a vice president, a minister of defense and the speaker of the national assembly.

The new government’s next political challenge was to meet the third milestone, which is adopting a democratic constitution.
Again, Iraq’s leaders reached out to Sunni Arabs who had boycotted the elections and included them in the drafting process. Fifteen Sunni Arab negotiators and several Sunni Arab advisers joined the work of the constitutional drafting committee.
After much tough debate, representatives of Iraq’s diverse communities drafted a bold constitution that guarantees the rule of law, freedom of assembly, property rights, freedom of speech and the press, women’s rights and the right to vote.
As one Arab scholar put it, “The Iraqi constitution marks the dawn of a new age in Arab life.”

The document that initially emerged from the committee did not unify Iraqis. And many Sunnis on the constitutional committee did not support the draft. Yet Iraq’s leaders continued working to gain Sunni support. And thanks to last-minute changes, including a new procedure for considering amendments to the constitution next year, a deal was struck four days before the Iraqis went to the polls.

The revised constitution was endorsed by Iraq’s largest Sunni party. It was approved in referendum that attracted over a million more voters than in the January elections. Many Sunnis voted against the constitution, but Sunnis voted in large numbers for the first time. They joined the political process and by doing so they reject the violence of the Saddamists and rejectionists. Through hard work and compromise, Iraqis adopted the most progressive, democratic constitution in the Arab world.

A fair summary of events to date.

On Thursday, Iraqis will meet their fourth milestone. And when they do go to the polls and choose a new government under the new constitution, it’ll be a remarkable event in the Arab world. Despite terrorist violence, the country is buzzing with signs and sounds of democracy in action. The streets of Baghdad and Najaf and Mosul and other cities are full of signs and posters. The television and radio airwaves are thick with political ads and commentary. Hundreds of parties and coalitions have registered for this week’s elections and they’re campaigning vigorously. Candidates are holding rallies and laying out their agendas and asking for the vote.

Our troops see this young democracy up close. First Lieutenant Frank Shirley (ph) of Rock Hall, Maryland, says, “It’s a cool thing riding around Baghdad and seeing the posters. It reminds me of being home during election time. After so many years of being told what to do, having a real vote is different.”

Unlike the January elections, many Sunnis are campaigning vigorously for office this time around. Many Sunni parties that opposed the constitution have registered to compete in this week’s vote. Two major Sunni coalitions have formed and other Sunni leaders have joined national coalitions that cross religious, ethnic and sectarian boundaries. As one Sunni politician put it, “This election is a vote for Iraq. We want a national Iraq, not a sectarian one.”

To encourage broader participation by all Iraqi communities, the national assembly made important changes in Iraq’s electoral laws that will increase Sunni representation in the new assembly. In the January elections, Iraq was one giant electoral district, so seats in the transitional assembly simply reflected turnout. Because few Sunnis voted, their communities were left with little representation. Now Iraq has a new electoral system where seats in the new council of representatives will be allocated by province and population, much like our own House of Representatives. This new system is encouraging more Sunnis to join in the democratic process, because it ensures that Sunnis will be well- represented even if the terrorists and Saddamists try to intimidate voters in the provinces where most Sunnis live.

More Sunnis are involved because they see Iraqi democracy succeeding. They have learned a lesson of democracy: They must participate to have a voice in their nation’s affairs. A leading Sunni who had boycotted the January vote put it this way: “The Sunnis are now ready to participate.” A Sunni sheik explains why Sunnis must join the process: “In order not to be marginalized, we need power in the national assembly.”

As more Sunnis join the political process, the Saddamists and remaining rejectionists will be marginalized. As more Sunnis join the political process, they will protect the interests of their community. Like the Shia and Kurds who face daily attacks from the terrorists and Saddamists, many Sunnis who join the political process are being targeted by the enemies of a free Iraq. The Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni party that boycotted the January vote and now supports elections, has seen its offices bombed. And a party leader reports that at least 10 members have been killed since the party announced it would field candidates in Thursday’s elections.

Recently a top Sunni electoral official visited the Sunni stronghold of Baquba. He went to encourage local leaders to participate in the elections. During his visit a roadside bomb went off, rattled his convoy, but it didn’t stop it. He says this about the attempt on his life: “The bomb is nothing compared to what we’re doing. What we’re doing is bigger than the bomb.”

Powerful stuff. Again, this elides some of the difficulties being faced. But, on the eve of elections, the president’s job is to take to the Bully Pulpit and cheer the process on. Ironically, in doing so, he both increases the chances of his being proven right and increases the political cost of it going wrong by raising expectations.

At every stage, Iraqis proved the skeptics and pessimists wrong. At every stage, Iraqis have exposed the errors of those in our country and across the world who questioned the universal appeal of liberty. By meeting their milestones, Iraqis are defeating a brutal enemy, rejecting a murderous ideology and choosing freedom over terror.

Again, the Iraqis aren’t exactly doing this by themselves. There is virtually zero doubt that Saddam Hussein would still be running the show if the Iraqis were left to their own devices.

This week elections won’t be perfect, and a successful vote is not the end of the process. Iraqis still have more difficult work ahead and our coalition and the new Iraqi government will face many challenges, including in four critical areas: ensuring Iraqi security, forming an inclusive Iraqi government, encouraging Iraqi reconciliation and maintaining Iraqi democracy in a tough neighborhood.

The first key challenge is security. As democracy takes hold in Iraq, the terrorists and Saddamists will continue to use violence. They will try to break our will and intimidate the Iraqi people and their leaders. These enemies aren’t going to give up because of a successful election. They understand what is at stake in Iraq. They know that as democracy takes root in that country, their hateful ideology will suffer a devastating blow and the Middle East will have a clear example of freedom and prosperity and hope. So our coalition will continue to hunt down the terrorists and Saddamists, will continue training Iraqi security forces to take the lead in the fight and defend their new democracy. As the Iraqi security forces stand up, coalition forces can stand down. And when victory is achieved, our troops will then return home with the honor they have earned.

The second key challenge is forming an inclusive government that protects the interests of all Iraqis and encourages more in the rejectionist camp to abandon violence and embrace politics. Early next year, Iraq’s new parliament will come to Baghdad and select a prime minister and a presidency council and a cabinet of ministers. Two-thirds of the new parliament must agree on the top leadership posts. And this will demand negotiation and compromise. It will require patience by America and our coalition allies.

This new government will face many tough decisions on issues such as security and reconstruction and economic reform.
Iraqi leaders will also have to review and possibly amend the constitution and ensure that this historic document earns the broad support of all Iraqi communities. By taking these steps, Iraqi leaders will build a strong and lasting democracy. It’s an important step in helping to defeat the terrorists and the Saddamists.

The third key challenge is establishing rule of law and the culture of reconciliation. Iraqis still have to overcome longstanding ethnic and religious tensions and the legacy of three decades of dictatorship. During the regime of Saddam Hussein, Shia, Kurds and other groups were brutally oppressed. And for some there is now a temptation to take justice into their own hands. Recently, U.S. and Iraqi troops have discovered prisons in Iraq where mostly Sunni men were held, some of whom have appeared to have been beaten and tortured. This conduct is unacceptable and the prime minister and other Iraqi officials have condemned these abuses. An investigation has been launched.

And we support these efforts. Those who committed these crimes must be held to account. We will continue helping Iraqis build an impartial system of justice that protects all of Iraq’s citizens.

Millions of Iraqis are seeing their independent judiciary in action as their former dictator, Saddam Hussein, is put on trial in Baghdad. The man who once struck fear in the hearts of Iraqis has heard his victims recount the acts of torture and murder that he ordered. One Iraqi watching the proceeding said, “We all feel happiness about this fair trial.”

Slowly but surely, with the help of our coalition, Iraqis are replacing the rule of tyrant with the rule of law and ensuring equal justice for all their citizens.

No, I know some fear the possibility that Iraq could break apart and fall into a civil war. I don’t believe these fears are justified. They’re not justified so long as we do not abandon the Iraqi people in their hour of need.

Encouraging reconciliation and human rights in a society scarred by decades of arbitrary violence and sectarian division is not going to be easy and it’s not going to happen overnight. Yet the Iraqi government has a process in place to resolve even the most difficult issues through negotiate, debate and compromise. And the United States, along with the United Nations and the Arab League and other international partners, will support these efforts to help resolve these issues. And as Iraqis continue to develop the habits of liberty, they will gain confidence in the future and ensure that Iraqi nationalism trumps Iraqi sectarianism.

A fourth key challenge is for the Iraqis to maintain their newfound freedoms in a tough neighborhood. Iraq’s neighbor to the east, Iran, is actively working to undermine a free Iraq. Iran doesn’t want democracy in Iraq to succeed because a free Iraq threatens the legitimacy of Iran’s oppressive theocracy. Iraq’s neighbor to the west, Syria, is permitting terrorists to use that territory to cross into Iraq.

The vast majority of Iraqis do not want to live under an Iranian- style theocracy and they don’t want Syria to allow the transit of bombers and killers into Iraq. And the United States of America will stand with the Iraqi people against the threats from these neighbors.

We’ll continue to encourage greater support from the Arab world and the broader international community. Many Arab states have kept the new Iraq at arm’s distance. Yet as more Arab states are beginning to recognize that a free Iraq is here to stay, they’re starting to give Iraq’s new government more support.

Recently, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan have welcomed the Iraqi prime minister on official visits. Last month, the Arab League hosted a meeting in Cairo to promote national reconciliation among Iraqis, and another such meeting is planned for next year in Baghdad.

These are important steps, and Iraq’s neighbors need to do more.

Arab leaders are beginning to recognize that the choice in Iraq is between democracy and terrorism, and there is no middle ground. The success of Iraqi democracy is in their vital interests because if the terrorists prevail in Iraq, they will then target other Arab nations. International support for Iraq’s democracy is growing as well. Other nations have pledged more than $13 billion in assistance to Iraq, and we call on them, those who have pledged assistance, to make good on their commitments.

The World Bank recently approved its first loan to Iraq in over 30 years, lending the Iraqi government $100 million to improve the Iraqi school system.

The United Nations is playing a vital role in Iraq. They assisted in last January’s elections, in the negotiations for the constitution and in the recent constitutional referendum. And at the request of the Iraqi government, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution extending the mandate of the multinational force in Iraq through 2006.

Earlier this year, the European Union co-hosted a conference for more than 80 countries and international organizations so they can better coordinate their efforts to help Iraqis rebuild their nation.

Whatever differences there were over the decision to liberate Iraq, all free nations now share a common interest: building an Iraq that will fight terror and be a source of stability and freedom in a troubled region of the world.

The challenges ahead are complex and difficult. Yet Iraqis are determined to overcome them and build a free nation. And they require our support. Millions of Iraqis will put their lives on the line this Thursday in the name of liberty and democracy. And 160,000 of America’s finest are putting their lives on the line so Iraqis can succeed.

The American and Iraqi people share the same interests and the same enemies. And by helping democracy succeed in Iraq, we bring greater security to our citizens here at home. The terrorists know that democracy is their enemy. And they will continue fighting freedom’s progress with all the hateful determination they can muster. Yet the Iraqi people are stepping forward to claim their liberty. And they will have it.

When the new Iraqi government takes office next year, Iraqis will have the only constitutional democracy in the Arab world, and Americans will have a partner for peace and moderation in the Middle East. People across the broader Middle East are drawing and will continue to draw inspiration from Iraq’s progress. And the terrorists’ powerful myth is being destroyed.

In a 1998 fatwa, Osama bin Laden argued that the suffering of the Iraqi people was justification for his declaration of war on America. Now bin Laden and al-Qaeda are the direct cause of the Iraqi people’s suffering.

As more Muslims across the world see this, they’re turning against the terrorists. As the hope of liberty spreads in the Middle East, the terrorists will lose their sponsors, lose their recruits and lose the sanctuaries they need to plan new attacks.

A free Iraq’s not going to be a quiet Iraq. It’ll be a nation full of passionate debate and vigorous political activity. It’ll be a nation that continues to face some level of violence.

Yet Iraqis are showing they have the patience and the courage to make democracy work. And Americans have the patience and courage to help them succeed.

We’ve done this kind of work before. We must have confidence in our cause.

In World War II, free nations defeated fascism and helped our former adversaries, Germany and Japan, build strong democracies. And today these nations are allies in securing the peace.

In the Cold War, free nations defeated communism and helped our former Warsaw Pact adversaries become strong democracies. And today nations of Central and Eastern Europe are allies in the war on terror.

Today in the Middle East, freedom is once again contending with a totalitarian ideology that seeks to sow anger and hatred and despair. And like fascism and communism before, the hateful ideologies that use terror will be defeated by the unstoppable power of freedom.

And the advance of freedom in the Middle East requires freedom in Iraq. By helping Iraqis build a lasting democracy, we will spread the hope of liberty across a troubled region. We’ll gain new allies in the cause of freedom.

By helping Iraqis build a strong democracy, we’re adding to our own security. And like a generation before us, we’re laying the foundation of peace for generations to come.

Not far from here, where we gather today, is a symbol of freedom familiar to all Americans: the Liberty Bell. When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public, the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration and a witness said, “It rang as if it meant something.”

Today the call of liberty is being heard in Baghdad, in Basra and other Iraqi cities, and its sound is echoing across the broader Middle East. From Damascus to Tehran, people hear it and they know it means something. It means that the days of tyranny and terror are ending and a new day of hope and freedom is dawning.

Rhetorically, at least, this is one of the better speeches of his presidency. The goals here are tremendous and likely not fully reachable in the short term. They are, however, goals that every American can support even if they think the cost of achieving them is too high.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.