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US Official Says Iraq, Afghan Rebuilding Effort Crucial for Democracy in Region - 2004-02-14

A top Defense Department official says the U.S. role in rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan will be a critical part of turning the tide for democracy and respect for human rights not only in that region, but throughout the world. Raymond DuBois, director of administration and management for the secretary of defense, who is in charge of the overall effort to rebuild the two nations, spoke at the Baker Institute in Houston Friday.

In his speech, Mr. DuBois highlighted the progress that has been made in both Afghanistan and Iraq, saying that people in these nations are emerging from long years of tyranny and seeing a better future. He said the past two years of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has been particularly fruitful.

"The elements of a commercial and civil society are being established - a commercial code, currency, a banking system, recreation of working local institutions such as police, schools, hospitals and the rule of law. In short, the Afghan people have not only tasted freedom, they are serving it up in ever larger helpings," he said.

Mr. DuBois said establishing democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq will set in motion a change throughout the Middle East and South Asia.

The Pentagon official compared the situation to the old domino theory from the 1950s, which dealt with the threat of one country after another falling to communism. This time, however, he said there is the possibility of a democratic domino effect in which the new democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan set an example that could be followed in nearby nations like Syria and Iran, and even as far away as North Korea.

In Iraq, the Defense Department official said the effort to rebuild is hampered by those from the old regime of Saddam Hussein who, he said, have no future. He praised the work of the many U.S. citizens who have gone to Iraq in spite of the danger to help rebuild the country.

"Americans, Iraqi-Americans, Americans who had nothing to do with Iraq and had never even been to Iraq have volunteered to do this-work side-by-side with the Iraqis," he said.

Some of those attending the event at the Baker Institute, however, remained skeptical about the progress being made in Iraq. Michael Fjetland, an international security expert, said he is concerned that the United States may have won the war but lost the peace.

"We have been sending our troops over there with no body armor. We put them into a war with no plan of what to do after we won the war. I want to see Iraq succeed, but you cannot succeed when you do not know what you are doing," he said.

An Iraqi-American businessman in attendance said most Iraqis welcomed the removal of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from power, but that they are hampered in their efforts to move forward by the continuing violence. He said many Iraqis want to start business ventures and improve their lives but they can do little until the country becomes more secure.