By Military analyst
updated 10/23/2007 4:45:58 PM ET 2007-10-23T20:45:58

Until recently, Feisal Amin Istrabadi was Iraq’s deputy ambassador to the United States, and not long ago he told NBC News that the Iraqi government is dysfunctional and needs to be dissolved. He had particularly tough words for Nouri al-Maliki, suggesting that the Iraqi prime minister is an incompetent with no ability or interest in minimizing the influence of radicals such as Moqtada al-Sadr and other Shiite religious revolutionaries.

But Istrabadi is not your average Iraqi politician. He was born in the United States, is a lawyer and understands the American form of republican democracy better than any other person in the Iraqi government. And he reserved his harshest criticism for the Bush administration’s ineptitude in Iraq. One can recite a litany of poor decisions that reveal a breathtaking ignorance not seen in American government since the Carter presidency and only infrequently before then. Many missteps, like the lack of a coherent plan for the period after the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s forces and the failure to disarm the militias, are well known.

Among other things, Istrabadi criticized the lack of a status of forces agreement, thus producing a separate class of armed civilians who are employed by American security forces and are subject to neither American nor Iraqi law. But most significant, he focused his laser on the philosophical underpinnings of our problems in Iraq by criticizing the seminal decision to hold democratic elections before the security situation and economy could support them.

President Bush has often invoked the notion that everybody wants democracy, and the idea is a very compelling one. Who wouldn’t want self-government? There are few concepts more attractive than the ability to vote in free elections, to select representatives who create law in a political body open to scrutiny, to criticize freely, to influence the important decisions that affect security, economy and daily life.

For Americans who have lived in such a system for more than two centuries, any other form of government is tyranny. The United States is a vast, diverse nation of 300 million people, many races and dozens of religions. We argue about many things, but we generally agree on the form of government, no matter how imperfect, inefficient and frustrating it is. We have a president with an approval below 30 percent and a Congress that rates even lower, and we still wouldn’t want to live under any other system.

But America isn’t Iraq. Sure, Iraqis want democracy. But it is one thing to want democracy. It is something else again to want it badly enough to reject a political culture more than a millennium old, to ignore the commonly accepted teachings of sectarian hatred, to find acceptable the inability of the government to provide security.

And this is Ambassador Istrabadi’s message. The American leadership, inured to the comfort and success of the American political experience, naively assumed that the removal of tyranny would automatically and immediately result in the establishment of a successful democratic political structure among a religiously and ethnically heterogeneous people with no history of it — because everybody wants democracy.

But as we now know, it is not enough to want democracy. You have to want it badly enough to fight for it.

Jack Jacobs is an MSNBC military analyst. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel. He earned the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam and also has three Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars.

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