by Rod D. Martin
December 10, 2003

Months ago, when Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) spoke about Iraq, fellow liberals should have listened. Returning from a visit there late last summer, she expressed both shock and relief that 95% of the country was doing far better than most people — including her — could have guessed. In contrast to the liberal media’s hysterical portrayal of a Hobbesian world or a Mad Max movie, she described a relatively pacific Iraq whose denizens were embracing life’s normal pursuits.

Confronted by Maloney’s accounts and those of others, have the mainstream media mended their ways? Not a chance. As a result, you’ve likely missed this year’s greatest story: our unmistakable progress in Iraq on a host of fronts since President Bush declared an end to major combat last May.

Since that time, the first battalion of a reconstituted, post-Saddam Iraqi army has graduated, tens of thousands of whom now provide security on the streets of Iraq. Critics may ask why those numbers aren’t higher. The answer? We confounded those same naysayers by taking down Saddam’s regime in three stunningly short weeks. Saddam’s men cut and ran, leaving us to rebuild security from scratch. Critics point to our postwar glitches, but as in Germany circa 1945, it’s success more than failure that created the security vacuum we’re now filling.

We have re-established practically all of Iraq’s courts, and the country now has its first-ever independent judiciary. But you won’t hear about it on NBC.

Throughout the summer, the media harped on Iraqi power outages, and implied that our invasion was the culprit. Yet they were astonishingly silent when, by October, power generation eclipsed the pre-war average under Saddam.

You also probably haven’t heard about the extraordinary progress in education. Coalition forces have rehabilitated over 1500 schools, and almost all of Iraq’s schools — including colleges and universities — are now open and running. And marvel at this amazing statistic: teachers now earn up to 25 times the money they made before the war.

So, too with health care. The Coalition has delivered more than 22 million vaccination for Iraq’s children, while pharmaceutical distribution has risen from 700 tons in May to 12,000 by October. All of Iraq’s 240 hospitals and more than 1200 clinics are open, and doctors’ salaries are more than eight times higher than under Saddam’s Ba’athist regime.

For the first time in 15 years, Iraq has a single, unified currency. Its central bank is now entirely independent. Iraq’s banks are making business loans, old bank customers have service and the number of first-time customers rises each day.

What’s more, businesses of all kinds are emerging, helped by Iraq’s now having one of the most pro-growth banking and investment laws on the planet. Iraq even has a flat tax on income, with Iraqis paying the tax collector a mere 15% of their yearly income, much as residents of Hong Kong have for years, and with similar potential results: Iraq could well become the economic engine of the entire Middle East.

Since Saddam’s fall, a free press has blossomed. Iraq now has more than 170 newspapers, foreign journalists can move about freely, and satellite dishes are sold nearly everywhere.

Meanwhile, in place of the dictator, grass-roots government is emerging. In Baghdad, residents have selected 88 advisory councils. The city’s first democratic transfer of power in 35 years occurred when the city council elected its new chairman. At a national level, 25 ministers — the most broadly representative governing body in Iraqi’s history — runs daily affairs. And abroad, Iraq — no longer an outlaw nation — is routinely represented in international councils, and Iraqi embassies are being reopened around the world.

Perhaps most important, Saddam’s removal has dramatically improved human rights. The Shi’ia majority is no longer persecuted, and ordinary Iraqis are no longer treated like beasts of burden by their government or tortured or killed for exercising inalienable rights like freedom of speech, press, and assembly.

Now without a doubt, long-term questions linger. Absent the brute centralizing force of a dictator, can Iraq’s disparate religious and ethnic groups not only come together but remain together as a nation? Is Iraqi-style Islam — Sunni or Shi’ia — compatible with respect for individual and minority rights, particularly the rights of non-Muslims, including Christians? Is a critical mass of Iraqis self-disciplined enough to shoulder the duties of self-government?

Maybe the answer is “no.” Perhaps we are asking too much.

But what if the answer is “yes?” A democratic Iraq comprised of self-governing people and characterized by rule of law is the nightmare of every despot and terrorist in the region, from Arafat to Assad, and from Saudi potentates to Iran’s mullahs. To the degree that they are aiding the terrorists and pro-Saddam holdouts, that is why. And the example of liberty and sheer economic dynamism that a free, market-based Iraq would represent could not help but spark revolutions from Tehran to Tripoli.

Time will tell; but the progress thus far gives ample cause for optimism. In six months, a post-Saddam Iraq has come a long way indeed, no matter what the nightly news may say. Pray for that country, and for its liberators.