July 2, 2004
Americans always have been an audacious people. In 1776, a group
of patriots dared to declare independence from Great Britain. They
had no constitution and no reason to believe they could militarily
defeat "Mother England."
In addition, a large percentage of the people who would become "Americans" actually opposed the Declaration of Independence. These colonists wanted to remain part of the British Empire. Before we could become the United States, Americans had to fight a revolution against the British and, all too often, against their own neighbors.
But the desire for freedom is a powerful thing. It won out and allowed us to build the greatest country in history. And as we celebrate our Independence Day, we have an additional reason to be happy: Americans have long lived in freedom and this year, Iraqis do too.
On June 28, in the blistering heat of a Baghdad summer, the United States returned control of Iraq to Iraqis. "This is a historic, happy day, a day that all Iraqis have been looking forward to. It's the day we take our country back," said interim president Ghazi Yawar.
It won't be easy. In 1776, during the blistering heat of a Philadelphia summer, the signers of the Declaration of Independence stated that King George III "has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance."
But the British monarch was nowhere near the tyrant Saddam was. For decades, the Iraqi dictator raped and pillaged his country, living like a king in his many palaces and gathering riches from the corrupt United Nations Oil-for-Food program. Meanwhile, his thugs executed some 300,000 Iraqis, and millions more faced starvation.
That's why today's Iraqi leaders realize there's still difficult work ahead. "Our dear Iraq is now at a setback, but it is a very temporary setback," interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi announced. "We will rise up after that like mountains, standing up very firm. And we will protect all the people regardless of religion, color or any other consideration, so every Iraqi will have the right to a unified, united Iraq where brotherhood and justice prevail."
And it's not just Iraq's leaders who realize things are getting better. A female doctor named Lina Ziyad recently told The Wall Street Journal, "Under Saddam, we lived in a big prison. Now we're in a kind of a wilderness. I prefer the wilderness." And former military officer Qasim Mohammed told the Los Angeles Times he wanted to thank the U.S. for getting rid of Saddam Hussein. "This day shows the true good intentions of the U.S.," he said. "It seems we are moving forward to democracy."
Mohammed no doubt would recognize Thomas Jefferson's words published on July 4, 1776, and since repeated thousands of times all around the world: "Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
Saddam Hussein clearly didn't enjoy the support of his people. Like all tyrants, he held power by force, and it took the military might of the U.S.-led coalition to remove him and make a new government possible.
But in the new Iraq, we're seeing a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Iraqis now hold sovereignty over their own country, and elections are planned for early next year. The winners truly will be governing with the consent of the governed.
As President Bust recently put it, that's good for Iraq and good for the entire Middle East: "A free and sovereign Iraq is a decisive defeat for extremists and terrorists, because their hateful ideology will lose its appeal in a free and tolerant and successful country."
More than 225 years ago, our founding fathers dared attempt something that many people said couldn't be done. The republic they launched is now the envy of the world. Hopefully, decades from now, June 28 will be for Iraqis what July 4 is for us: A key milepost on the road to freedom.
Ed Feulner is the president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.