Toward the end of his life, Benjamin Franklin was once asked what exactly the framers of the Constitution had given to their new nation. His answer: "A republic, if you can keep it."
According to nationally syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, the United States and its military gave the Iraqi people the framework for a democratic republic. Yet it looks as if the political consensus in the Mideast nation may be too weak for the rudiments of representational government to survive.
"The hope we had in the January 2005 Iraqi elections has now been completely lost.The problem is not American troop levels -- the problem is not even Iraqi troop levels. It is a question of the Iraqis's allegiance," said this 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner during a Nov. 15 speech in Center City.
"The problem is the Iraqi political culture, the history," he continued, adding that in chaotic times, people identify closely with their clan, religious sect and ethnicity -- not the abstract notion of an overall "nation."
"After three decades of Saddam," said Krauthammer, "what was left in it's wake was a social and political desert."
Krauthammer -- who since 1985 has written a column for The Washington Post that's syndicated in more than 150 newspapers in the United States -- was in Philadelphia to receive the Foreign Policy Research Institute's second annual Benjamin Franklin Public Service Award. Harvey Sicherman, FPRI president and director, pointed out that Franklin was an equally influential pundit in his day, although he almost always published under a pseudonym.
Roughly 400 people attended the think-tank's 51st annual dinner at the Westin Philadelphia, where Krauthammer was presented with a 1798 French edition of Franklin's autobiography. Last year, to celebrate its 50th anniversary, FPRI gave the first Franklin award to Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state and national-security advisor in the Nixon and Ford administrations.
Krauthammer, who grew up in a Jewish household in Montreal, started out as a practicing psychiatrist before moving to Washington, D.C., and becoming a speechwriter for Walter Mondale, former vice president and 1984 Democratic nominee for president. Later, Krauthammer become more closely associated with the center-right politically. He's become known as a staunch defender of Israel in his work.
During his talk, Krauthammer addressed the use of American power and influence to shape events abroad. He argued that from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, America had no clear adversaries and struggled with how exactly to exert its political, diplomatic and military strength.
After that, he said that American policy focused on changing the facts on the ground in the Muslim world, scoring a string of what he called stunning victories: the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Libya's abandonment of its unconventional-weapons program, followed by popular elections in Iraq and in the Palestinian territories.
"The Bush doctrine decided that besides attacking the immediate enemy, it would have to engage in a larger enterprise," he said.
However, he argued that the last two years has seen the tide turn, with the ongoing sectarian violence in Iraq, the rise of Hamas to power, Israel's stalemated war with Hezbollah and, most importantly, the emergence of Iran as a full-blown adversary.
The defeat of the Republicans in the 2006 elections, in his view, represents the electorate's repudiation of the Bush doctrine. Still, he noted, no one has offered a viable alternative for combating the threat posed by religious extremism in the Islamic world.
"We have an extremely determined enemy," he said. "There are no easy answers."