In an interview in April 2003, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Gov. Howard Dean if he thought Iraqis were better off without Saddam Hussein. Dean replied, “We don’t know yet.” Nearly a year later, Howard Dean has finally made a decision.
Speaking to a women’s rally last week in Manchester, New Hampshire, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean said that the standard of living for Iraqis is a “whole lot worse” since Saddam Hussein’s removal from power.
“I’m sure that a lot of Iraqis feel it is great that Saddam is gone,” said the former Vermont governor. “But a lot of them gave their lives. And their living standard is a whole lot worse now than it was before.”
I’m not sure which of his transitional campaign advisors he’s been speaking with, but Mr. Dean clearly hasn’t visited Iraq or spoken to any Iraqis living in the evolving nation. Sure, the standard of living for some Iraqis is worse today than it was one year ago — take, for instance, the former Ba’ath leaders and those who benefited financially and socially from Saddam’s corrupt government. Life as they once knew it is over, but I doubt there is any crying in the streets of Baghdad for their change in lifestyle. And true, there are families who mourn the deaths of those they’ve lost as a result of insurgency and terrorist activity in recent months. We can all agree that this is a sad reality, but at the same, I wonder if we were to ask them the price for freedom, they would say that they’ve paid too dearly?
While many politicians and presidential hopefuls still argue about the reasons why the Bush administration implemented President Clinton’s policy of regime change in Iraq, significant progress is being made in the newly freed country.
According to the U.S. State Department, 42 of the top 55 most wanted former Ba’athist leaders have been nabbed; 76,000 jobs have been created under the National Employment Program; health care spending is now 26 times what it was under Saddam; all 240 hospitals and 95 percent of Iraq’s clinics have reopened; neglected health care facilities are undergoing reconstruction and rehabilitation; 856 health projects have received funding; distribution of medicines has reached 12,000 tons and over 22 million vaccinations have been administered, four contractors have signed on to construct four hundred solid waste collection points in Kirkuk to improve sanitation and reduce public health risks; and the list goes on. I would say the standard of living for the average Iraqi is pretty good — and is improving every day.
What I find especially ironic is that Mr. Dean made this baseless claim to a group of women. If the former governor had done any homework whatsoever before spouting off this comment, he would have learned that the women of Iraq are among the first to say that life is better without Saddam Hussein and his ruffians in power.
For nearly 40 years, Iraqis lived under constant mental, emotional, and physical threat. During Saddam’s reign, the evil dictator and his posse of thugs not only targeted men who threatened his rule, they routinely and sadistically included Iraqi women and children in their “training” exercises. Rape, torture, and murder were all condoned, if not encouraged. Mothers, sisters, and daughters were brutally raped in front of family members for the purpose of intimidation or retrieving information. Their fathers, brothers, and sons were kidnapped, imprisoned, and tormented for years — some with very little or no justifiable reason, leaving families devastated and destitute. Today, the people of Iraq no longer live under those kinds of threats.
At this moment, no one knows what the future holds for the people of Iraq. Democracy is never easy. Change is never simple. Iraqis may never get to the point where they experience and enjoy the kind of freedom that we in America so easily take for granted. But are they better off as a result of what the U.S. led coalition did for them nearly one year ago? Absolutely. And Howard Dean need not worry about the Iraqis’ standard of living. Relatively speaking, they’re doing just fine.