How you can do your bit to build democracy.
Posted Monday, June 30, 2008, at 7:15 AM ET
It's quite common to read, usually from liberal opponents of the engagement in Iraq, that George W. Bush's administration hasn't asked the American people to make any sacrifices. I must confess that I never quite understand this criticism. As a society, we collectively contribute a great deal from our common treasury to give Iraq a fighting chance to recover from three decades of war and fascism and to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemies of civilization. And as fellow citizens, we experience the agony of loss when our soldiers, aid workers, civil servants, and others are murdered. (That each of these is a volunteer is a great cause for national pride.)
However, I do believe that many people wish they could do something positive and make a contribution, however small, to the effort to build democracy in Iraq. And I have a suggestion. In the northern Iraqi city of Sulaymaniya, the American University of Iraq has just opened its doors. And it is appealing for people to donate books.
Here is some background: In 2006, the McKinsey consulting group was hired by my friend Barham Salih, the deputy prime minister of Iraq, to produce a business plan for a university along the lines of the existing success stories of the American Universities in Cairo and Beirut. The board of trustees includes Ayad Allawi, Iraq's former prime minister, Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins, Kanan Makiya of Brandeis, and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. The U.S. Congress has pledged more than $10 million to the project, as has the Kurdish Regional Government, the autonomous administration of the country's northeastern provinces. For reasons of security, the only campus open at present is in this area of Iraq, where Americans are not targeted and where al-Qaida dares not operate. But Salih, who is himself a Kurd and a native of Sulaymaniya, hopes that as the situation on the ground improves, there will also be campuses in Baghdad and Basra.