What Has Been Accomplished?

In a January 1, 2004 New York Times editorial, Secretary of State Colin Powell listed a number of goals the Administration resolved to achieve during the year. With 2004 half over, it’s time to take stock, to applaud accomplishments, identify shortfalls, and encourage–even offer suggestions–on ways to achieve the so-far unachieved.

Powell’s first resolution, one that has become a mantra within the Administration, was to expand democracy, initially in Afghanistan and Iraq, then in the broader Middle East, then in other regions. What progress–and at what cost–has been made to date?

The first steps in the U.S. drive to spread democracy required the “liberation” of Afghanistan and Iraq from their respective oppressors. The effort to date has been costly, and will continue to be so for many families. The real number of Afghan and Iraqi military and civilians killed may never be known, but approximately 11,500 have died in Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom began October 7, 2001. At least 20,000 Iraqis have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Allowing for reporting delays, coalition military and civilian deaths through the second week in July 2004 are 166 in Afghanistan (127 U.S.) and 1,097 in Iraq (910 U.S.). Another seven U.S. Special Forces troops died in helicopter crashes in the Philippines. Dollar costs are running at $200 billion for warfighting and reconstruction; with more to come as ongoing operations expend nearly $5 billion a month. These amounts do not address the psychological and physical costs of rehabilitating and caring for the tens of thousands wounded. Nor do they reflect the “opportunity costs” off the war, those programs that cannot be funded or implemented because of the human and dollar burdens of the war.

What has been accomplished?


In Iraq on June 28, two days ahead of the date set last November 15, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) handed “full sovereignty” to an unelected Iraqi interim government that is to oversee this month the selection of an advisory council of 1,000 prominent tribal leaders and prepare for the election of a National Assembly in January 2005. However, along with “full sovereignty” came 97 CPA edicts and 160,000 foreign troops led by the U.S.–the occupation armies re-designated as the UN-mandated multinational force in Iraq (MNF-I). Over the next weeks, additional U.S. troops are expected to be added, bringing the foreign military presence to about 165,000 with an additional 20,000 armed foreign “security” contractors.

With only 175 days until elections for the national assembly, the interim government must improve security and restore basic services sufficiently to win and then maintain the allegiance of the Iraqi population. As a first step, within ten days of the handover, the interim government passed a martial law statute giving the prime minister direct control of the army, police, and other security forces in areas of significant unrest. Actual exercise of powers that could include curfews, warrantless searches, and bans on public gatherings would require approval of a majority of the cabinet, the president, and the two vice-presidents. The initial period of martial law could be as long as 60 days, renewable in 30 day increments. Actions by the prime minister would be open to review by the courts. The rapid passage of the martial law statute has raised concerns among Iraqi civil liberty groups because of the possibility of too great a centralization of power similar to the Saddam Hussein era. Interestingly, Iraq’s Minister for Human Rights compared his country’s new law to the USA PATRIOT Act, which has come under harsh criticism and a concerted effort this month by Congress to modify some provisions that were over-reactions to September 11, 2001 events.

In a concurrent security-related move, the Iraqi government proposed a wide-ranging amnesty for Iraqi “nationalist” insurgents whose “hands are bloodless.” The government is attempting to separate the estimated 5,000 low-level Sunni “nationalist” fighters from the 900-1,000 insurgent leaders, extremists associated with al Qaeda, and foreign fighters in the country (Washington Post, July 7, 2004). Moreover, the government must now contend with a nascent “right-wing” vigilante militia, five of whom appeared on television warning Abu Zarqawi and his adherents that they will be targets of the vigilantes should they remain in Iraq.

Although the UN-mandated foreign forces in Iraq have the mission of creating the security parameters within which the structures of democracy can begin to take hold, they also provide the focal point for the attacks by the insurgents–whether Shi’ite (Moqtada al-Sadr), Sunni, Ba’athist, or “foreign Arabs.” This fact, together with the inevitable casualties among innocent Iraqis when multinational forces respond to attacks, contributes to the persistently high percentage of Iraqis who want the foreign armies out of their country–80 percent in a poll conducted at the end of June (London Financial Times, July 7).

As the British colonists’ objections to the quartering of British soldiers in private homes helped fuel the U.S. rebellion and experiment in self-governance, the presence of foreign military forces in Iraq is seen by many as just as inconsistent with full democracy–largely because of the potential for “independent” violence to be initiated by such a force. In Iraq’s case, this potential for violence is compounded by the reality that Iraq is awash with unsecured ammunition and weaponry of all types except heavy combat vehicles. The “Small Arms Survey 2004,” released July 1, estimated that Iraqi civilians possessed between six and seven million individual weapons. Earlier “on the ground” surveys of arms dumps scattered throughout Iraq indicated these held at least 600,000 tons of arms and ammunition ranging from sidearms and automatic rifles to rocket-propelled grenades and artillery rounds.

Taken together, these facts and trends suggest that, for the time being, Iraqis are less interested in democracy than in ending the violence, the key to which most see is the departure of the foreign soldiers. Whether this is true, or whether an Iraq left on its own now would experience more violence, deaths, and sabotage, will not be tested for some months. But tested it will be at some point, either as an emerging “democracy” or with a benign authoritarian ruler.


While Afghanistan is not beset by such huge unsecured stockpiles of weapons and ammunition as is Iraq, its tradition of widespread ownership and use of weapons has had a tangible effect on the evolution of the country’s democratic institutions. This has been evident since December 2001, when the Taliban government collapsed, in the continuing internecine fighting between the militias of the various warlords-turned-ministers and provincial “governors.” With clashes becoming more frequent and militias expanding their numbers, the central government of President Hamid Karzai now regards the warlords as a greater danger to Afghanistan’s future than the Taliban.

The uncertain state of security induced by the militia strife has been reinforced over the last six months by the steady regrouping of and operations by Taliban fighters and sympathizers in the provinces and districts along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Despite frequent operations by the 20,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, security is so poor in some areas that UN and nongovernmental aid and humanitarian workers have been pulled back to major cities. In rural areas, resistant to centralized control, voter registration and other electoral-related activities have languished. Registration of women otherwise eligible to vote is especially difficult in light of “tradition.” Even for men, voter registration can be fatal; in late June, the Taliban killed 18 Afghan men reportedly for the “crime” of registering to vote.

With security so tenuous, President Karzai decided to postpone presidential elections for the second time–to October 9, some four months after the original schedule. Even the promise by heads of state of North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries to send 1,500 additional troops to Afghanistan may not be enough to appreciably improve security in the country to meet the new timetable. Moreover, continued strife among warlords, lagging voter registration, slow demobilization and disarmament, and the Taliban’s resurgence in the south and southeast have forced Karzai to postpone the logistically more complex parliamentary elections until well into spring 2005.

Middle East Democracy

With Iraq and Afghanistan in such disarray, it now appears that President Bush’s dream that these two countries would initiate a tsunami of new democracies in the Middle East is just that–a dream.

On December 18, 2003, the highly respected nonpartisan Freedom House (FH) released its annual survey on the health of freedom in the world. Among the six regions into which FH divides the globe (Western Europe, Asia-Pacific, Middle East/North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Americas, and Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union), the Middle East/North Africa had made “the least progress” toward democratic governance over the past 31 years. FH counted only Israel as free while rating five countries “partly free” and twelve “not free”–two-thirds of the countries in the region. Moreover, four of the world’s eight countries assigned the worst possible rating are in this region: Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Libya.

Four months later (April 28, 2004) FH publicized its 2004 survey of press freedom around the world. Again, the results for the Middle East/North Africa were dismal: 90 percent of the countries in the region were rated “not free”–the highest such rating for any region. One of the five lowest rated countries worldwide in terms of press freedom comes from Middle East/North Africa region: Libya.

Although finding the “largest freedom gaps” in countries with Muslim majorities, FH was careful to not attribute political constraints on populations and the press to any strictures in Islam. FH noted that half of the global Muslim population resides in countries with governments that are chosen in elections deemed democratic.

In early February, 2004, news leaked to the media of a Bush Administration plan to close the Middle East/ North Africa “freedom gap.” Called the “Greater Middle East Initiative,” the plan hit the region like a hammer; no government had been consulted on any of the initiatives–economic, governance, or human, social and civic development. Moreover, some of the initiatives appeared to by-pass governments, especially economic programs aimed at women, small business, and civic organizations (Strategic Comments, Volume 10, March 2, 2004). These factors created reactions ranging from a cautious willingness to explore the initiative further to outright opposition, with many leaders in the region and Europe warning against hasty changes in regimes that could lead to anarchy.

For an Administration that believes the U.S. has a mission to spread democracy, these responses must have been unexpected. Washington seemed to assume that its plan to further freedom would elicit an obedient echo. What resounded instead from leaders and publics outside the U.S. was a longing for security from anarchy.

Undoubtedly, part of the resistance stemmed from foreign perceptions of U.S. motives for taking on the burden of the “forward strategy of freedom.” In his 2004 State of the Union speech, President Bush told Congress that as long as tyranny, despair, and anger characterized the Middle East, it threatened “the safety of America and our friends.” This suggested that the U.S. was less interested in bestowing freedom’s benefits on those who had never enjoyed them as in a manifestly “U.S. first” approach–no different than in the past when the U.S., in the name of “vital national interests, was equally willing to deal with and support autocratic regimes that denied basic freedoms to their publics.

By the time of the early June 2004 G-8 summit at Sea Island, Georgia, the U.S. had revamped its Middle East initiative to such an extent that the G-8 adopted it as their own. That plan envisions a series of consultations between Arab and G-8 foreign, economic and “other” ministers, “dialogues” between western and Arab civic groups to “promote and strengthen democratic institutions,” and literacy and job creation initiatives. But there is a significant philosophical difference from Washington’s messianic approach: the G-8 limited itself to supporting “democratic, social, and economic reform emanating from that region” (emphasis added).


Global Democracy

Freedom House’s December 18, 2003 survey rated 88 countries free, 55 partially free, and 49 not free (of which nearly one-quarter are in the Middle East/North Africa). But FH saw more improvement than slippage in the worldwide march toward democracy, with 28 countries expanding the civil liberties of their citizens while 13 countries lost ground. Western Europe has the best record with the Americas next, followed by Central and Eastern Europe and the former USSR, Asia-Pacific, and sub-Saharan Africa.

But at the mid-point of 2004, other than in Western Europe, each region has countries in which the extent of democratic practice is increasingly in jeopardy. In the Americas, Bolivia, currently under an interim president, faces a highly contentious referendum in mid-July that could split the country further between descendents of the indigenous population and Europeans. Haiti is trying to weather its latest crisis in democracy which many believe the U.S. precipitated. Peru is seeing the possible resurgence by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) pro-Maoist insurgency in which more than 30,000 people died in the 1980s and 1990s. And in Venezuela, where a number of armed “militias” are springing up, the potential for civil war–which would elicit a response by the military as the final guarantor of constitutional order–looms as President Hugo Chavez faces a mid-August referendum on his performance.

The area comprising the former Warsaw Pact and USSR, outside of the volatile Caucasus region (Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia), is actually relatively “stable” in that the countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the three Baltic states seem committed to democratic institutions while the remainder of the former USSR, especially the countries of Central Asia, seem almost as committed to authoritarian rule.

In the Asia-Pacific, democracy is under attack most notably in Nepal where another pro-Maoist insurgency has a strong foothold in many parts of the country. Other formal “democracies” such as Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Pakistan are at risk if peace talks break down, ethnic rivalries escalate, or an assassination of a leader occurs.

Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from such wide-spread ethnic-related violence, corruption, and societal disintegration from illnesses, especially HIV/AIDS, that Secretary Powell’s resolution to expand democracy, despite the attention he has devoted to this region, has not met with much success. Largely through interventions by western democracies, the fighting in war-devastated western Africa was finally contained. Very shaky fledgling or interim administrations are underpinned by large numbers of UN peacekeeping troops, most of whom come from neighboring countries. Similarly, the combination of western forces and UN peacekeepers (again largely from other African nations) has been influential in curbing violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. Some observers regard these and other sub-Saharan countries as “shadow” democracies: they possess democratic forms but, in full sunlight, these are seen to be hollow. With widespread poverty, massive foreign debt, the ravages of war and disease (the region is home to ten percent of the world’s population but has 70 percent of the globe’s reported HIV cases), food and security needs will continue to be the focus of populations in many of these countries. Yet in the midst of these problems, the U.S. military is preparing an “African Coastal Security Program” whose objective would be to counter activities by pirates, criminals, smugglers, and terrorists in west Africa’s oil-rich Gulf of Guinea (Washington Times, July 13, 2004).

Powell’s other resolutions called for eliminating oppression against individuals (human trafficking and diseases); expanding international free trade; and improving security against the depredations of international terrorists, drug lords, and proliferators of weapons of mass destruction. There also was a surprising pledge, given the Bush Administration’s largely unilateral approach to foreign affairs: to rely on “international cooperationto advance freedom, prosperity, and peace in 2004.”

This last pledge pinpoints the dichotomy that haunts the future of U.S. foreign policy in general and the “forward strategy of freedom” in particular. The people whom the Administration says it wants to influence and seeks to help reach freedom see U.S. motives and presence as a new hegemony, a new colonialism–imposed by a country whose declaration of its divine “mission” is a fig leaf for its real agenda of global, unilateral, “benign” (usually) dominance.

In this respect, Daniel Webster’s caution is most apropos: “There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.”

Col. Daniel Smith, a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran, is Senior Fellow on Military Affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobby in the public interest. He can be reached at: dan@fcnl.org