|Two Wins Against Terror|
Elections in Afghanistan and Australia turn out to be nothing like Spain.
Monday, October 11, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT
Democracy is a force terrorists dread. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has warned his al Qaeda associates that democracy in Iraq would "suffocate" the terror campaign he is orchestrating from his base in Fallujah. Voters Saturday in two very different parts of the world proved his point. Australians enthusiastically re-elected John Howard, a staunch U.S. anti-terror ally, and the Afghans pulled off, against tremendous odds, the country's first national election for a president.
In Afghanistan, voters bravely defied death threats from Zarqawi's Taliban allies and turned out by the millions in an unprecedented demonstration of people power. Only three years ago, Afghan women risked being flogged or even executed for trying to exercise the most basic rights. On Saturday, they lined up to vote equally with men, even if in keeping with Muslim tradition women voted separately.
In the three years since U.S.-led forces liberated Afghanistan and ended the country's use as a training ground for al Qaeda, three million refugees have returned. Some 10 million registered to vote. Children have gone back to school, and girls are being educated. Per-capita income is up sharply, and the economy is growing at a 20% rate, albeit from a small base. Yes, as Senator Kerry keeps reminding us, the opium trade has been revived, but so long as global demand persists, only Taliban-type tactics will be able to eliminate it completely.
Australia, by contrast, is an established democracy with a modern economy. But its election also provided a test of the anti-terror strategy launched by President Bush after 9/11. Prime Minister Howard supported the invasion of Iraq, sending Australian special forces to assist in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Most of the forces have now been withdrawn, leaving only a few hundred Aussie troops in Iraq. But entry into the war was not popular with Australians and there were predictions Mr. Howard would be upset by his Labor Party and strongly antiwar challenger, Mark Latham. Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists, who are affiliated with al Qaeda, tried to influence the election by setting off a bomb outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta last month. Yet Australians didn't flinch and Mr. Howard won handily on Saturday. His Liberal-National coalition took 83 of the 150 seats in Parliament, improving his government's position.
No doubt his victory was attributable to the success of his free-market economic policies, which have delivered unparalleled prosperity with low inflation, unemployment and interest rates. But had he lost, the press world-wide would have trumpeted that it was because of his support for Mr. Bush. The world has taken a few turns for the better since terrorists were able to swing an election in Spain in March.
In Afghanistan, it may be weeks before a final vote tally is completed and there have been complaints of irregularities. But it appears that President Hamid Karzai, another staunch ally of the U.S., won the election.
Mr. Karzai's popularity offers further evidence that the U.S. should have moved faster toward local leadership in Iraq. He was installed as interim leader within weeks of the fall of the Taliban and provided the Afghan presence that ensured that the U.S. and its allies were never seen as an army of occupation. Instead, as our Michael Gonzalez writes nearby, the biggest fear of many Afghans is that foreign troops will leave before the task of reconstruction is complete.
It's also worth remembering that Afghanistan's transformation has been accompanied by predictions of doom all along the way. First, it was said that the U.S. could never topple the Taliban, especially if we got in bed with the Northern Alliance. Then we were going to end up bogged down for years like the Soviets and British. Next we didn't have enough troops, and Mr. Karzai was too weak and the warlords too strong. Saturday's election doesn't end the troubles there, but Afghanistan's progress so far is a major success for the Bush Doctrine of taking the battle to the terrorists and spreading freedom to prevent their return.