At the end of the process that created America more than two centuries ago, Ben Franklin was reportedly asked by a woman, "What have you given us?" Franklin replied, "A democracy, madam, if you can keep it."
As the Iraq War formally ends, what has America given Iraq? The answer to that question is more problematic than Franklin's. The answer is "We don't know" or "It depends." Can they keep the opportunity they have?
After hundreds of billions of dollars and the loss of 4,483 Americans and more than 33,000 wounded, what do we have? In Philadelphia, the seeds of democracy were sown in a rich soil among people with a common language, a common low and a more or less common faith. In Iraq, it is more like a tree transplant. There is a sharp division between Sunni and Shia Muslims. There are tribal differences and so many other things that divide Iraqis. And then there is Iran, which will surely use the American combat troop withdrawal as a further invitation to meddle.
We often hear that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. Yes, but new dictators and despots always replace the old ones. That is the nature of evil. The outcome in Iraq is unknown.
I'm Cal Thomas in Washington.
Publication date: December 19, 2011