By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq, July 11, 2011 – Though Iraq has developed the leaders it needs to move the country forward, forming a democracy has its perils, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.
Iraq is developing a democracy that can be an important example to other nations in the region, Panetta told service members during a talk at the Hope Chapel.
Americans must have patience with the nascent Iraqi democracy, the secretary said.
“We may not agree with everything they do. Sometimes it’s difficult as they work their way through the issues,” he said. “But the nature of a democracy … is you’ve got to fight your way through these issues. People are going to disagree, [and] there are people that are going to have different views. That’s got to play out.”
But waiting as these issues play out can be frustrating, the secretary acknowledged.
“I’d like things to move a lot faster here in terms of the decision-making process,” Panetta said. “I’d like them to make a decision. I’d like them to make the decision: Do they want us to stay, or not stay? Do they want to get a minister of defense or don’t they want to get one? But damn it, make a decision!”
Still, Panetta said, that’s the nature of a democracy. The dialogue will go on, and it is healthy, he added.
Iraq is moving in the right direction, the secretary told the service members. “I think there’s a lot of hope here,” he said. “Bottom line here is the reason there’s hope here is because of you guys. Take that home with you.”
Panetta spoke to the service members about the changes he has seen in Iraq.
“The first time I came to this country was as a member of the Iraq Study Group [in 2006], and this place was in turmoil,” he said. “As a result of the great sacrifice and work of the United States military, this country is on a much better path.”
In an era of the Arab Spring -- with demands for democracy being made from Tunisia to Syria to Yemen -- Iraq is a symbol for the rest of the nations in the area, Panetta said, opening up the possibility for “better rights, better dignity, better opportunities” for their people.
More work to be done in Iraq, Panetta said, and Iraqis and Americans must work together to ensure all the sacrifices that brought the country to this point are not in vain.
The secretary pointed to the soldiers, sailors and airmen and told them they have made a real difference. “The test in life is whether or not people look to you and say, ‘That person made a difference,’” Panetta said. “I can look at you and say each of you, in your own way, has made a difference.”
In honor of that commitment, Panetta pledged to the service members that he will fight for them in Washington.
“As you fought here, I will fight in Washington to make sure that you are protected, that you receive the best training [and] the best equipment, that you receive the best support in terms of the benefits that have been promised to you, and that we also protect your families,” he said.