All the debate about Colombian free trade has obscured something important: Colombia is far safer now than it was five years ago. In fact, if Iraq were reclaiming terrorist-controlled areas as effectively as Colombia is, even the most die-hard opponents of the Iraq War would admit error. Colombia is, after Iraq and Afghanistan, our third-biggest nation-building project, and it is by far our most successful.
Colombia demonstrates the value of the indirect approach in our overseas military deployments. Our military role there, started by Bill Clinton and continued by George W. Bush, has been significant: Army Special Forces have trained elite Colombian units, who have in turn engaged the narco-terrorists. When I first visited Colombia in early 2003, the border with Venezuela was a no-go zone. Now new businesses are opening, and the streets are crowded, even at night. Parts of the south and east are experiencing the same success. Indeed, by 2006 I could visit large swathes that were inaccessible before.
Colombia is what Iraq should eventually look like, in our best dreams. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has fought — and is winning — a counterinsurgency war even as he has liberalized the economy, strengthened institutions, and improved human rights. Nuri al Maliki and Hamid Karzai could learn from him. The failure of Congress to pass a free-trade pact indicates that the greatest threat to our power is our own domestic dysfunction. What should be the icing on the cake to a successful nation-building program has become an embarrassment.