John Kerry is playing the prophet of doom in the most important foreign policy initiative of our generation. In Pennsylvania, Kerry described Iraq as "the wrong war, wrong place, wrong time." In New York, he opined that murderous cleric Moqtada al-Sadr "holds more sway in suburbs of Baghdad than the prime minister." In Columbus, the senator claimed to have a more accurate perspective on the situation in Iraq than did interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, whose job-approval rating of 66 percent among Iraqis, it's worth noting, is higher than Kerry's 46 percent among Americans. Kerry, of course, has never set foot in Iraq.
I spent nine months there, conducting some 70 focus groups, working on about a dozen public opinion polls, and advising the former Administrator, Ambassador Paul Bremer, on the state of Iraqi public opinion. Whatever you might hear from Kerry, Michael Moore, the mainstream media, and anyone else whose desire to defeat President Bush is more important to them than the fate of the Iraqi people, those who know best what's going on in Iraq—the Iraqis themselves—are optimistic about the future. (To help Americans understand what the Iraqi people already know, I recently founded TheTruthAboutIraq.org, which conducts statistical research in Iraq.)
Iraqis consistently say in nationwide polls that the situation in their country is improving. In polls conducted over the course of the summer, for example, more than half of Iraqis said that their country is on the right track. (Compare this with Michigan, where Governor Jennifer Granholm, a rising star in the Democratic Party, has inspired only 34 percent of residents to say that their state is on the right track.)
Other polling data are equally promising. The vast majority of Iraqis—72 percent—see the same benefits in democracy as Americans do: the hope of peace, stability, and a better life. Most polls show that a no less sizable majority of Iraqis (75 percent) are moderate democrats and want to vote for their leaders rather than have religious clerics appoint them.
In a recent speech, Kerry charged that Saddam's brutality "was not, in itself, a reason to go to war." Iraqis disagree, as should any supporter of human rights. More than 60 percent of Baghdad residents think that any price they are paying now is worth it to be rid of Saddam—a percentage that increases to 74 percent among the Shi'a sect of Islam, those most oppressed by Saddam.
These figures are easy to understand when you look at another set of statistics. In an op-ed circulated earlier this year among the more than 200 independent newspapers now published in Iraq, an Iraqi democratic activist observed that Saddam tortured and killed as many as 750,000 of his own people—more than five times the number of Japanese killed in the Hiroshima blast. Iraqis don't understand the debate about whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was a weapon of mass destruction, in their view.
UNICEF, hardly an apologist for the Bush administration, estimates that 5,000 Iraqi children a month died of starvation and malnutrition while Saddam siphoned funds from the UN's Oil for Food program to build Superdome-size palaces and enrich French politicians. Americans are only now learning of the extent of Saddam's corruption of this humanitarian program; the Iraqis have known about it for quite some time. When asked on a poll to rate their confidence in the UN, Iraqis gave the organization a 2.9 on a scale of 1 to 4, with a 4 meaning absolutely no confidence. In contrast, the Iraqi people do have confidence in their own institutions. More than 60 percent of Iraqis tell pollsters that the government has done a good job since the June 28 handover.
Some 20,000 to 30,000 insurgents, many from outside Iraq, are trying to prevent the more than 19 million Iraqis who want democracy from achieving it. Michael Moore (who, despite what Fahrenheit 9/11 might lead you to believe, has also never been to Iraq) might call the insurgents freedom fighters, but make no mistake: they're not fighting for anybody's freedom. They seek to oppress, whether through another Baathist-style dictatorship or a theocracy. More than 60 percent of Iraqis say that the foreign insurgents intend to destabilize their country, while 70 percent think that, regardless of their origin, the insurgents are only prolonging the nation's internal troubles.
John Kerry has already said that, if elected, he will begin withdrawing the troops six months after he is inaugurated, though he has offered other timetables, too. None of Iraq's autocratic neighbors has an interest in seeing a democratic Iraq succeed, and they are vigorously supporting the efforts of extremists to derail Iraqi self-government. Hastily withdrawing U.S. troops—the protectors of the political hopes of three out of four Iraqis—for political reasons would be a mistake for which we and our children would pay for decades.