President Bush, in bold and unambiguous language, has made clear U.S. policy toward the governing of postwar Iraq: "The U.S. has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people."

Who will decide? "All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected." Then, invoking the successful postwar democracies constructed in both Germany and Japan, Bush concluded, "The nation of Iraq -- with its proud heritage, abundant resources, and skilled and educated people -- is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom."

What a shame that George W. Bush apparently has more confidence in the "skilled and educated people" of Baghdad than he has in his own neighbors in the American city where he lives and works: Washington, D.C.

When asked by The Post in 2001 about full voting representation in Congress for the citizens of the nation's capital, President Bush answered, "I'm against the senators," meaning two senators to represent the District. What about a single voting representative in the House? President Bush: "I guess it's logical if I'm against U.S. senators I'm against the full voting rights."

Democracy in Iraq? But of course. Democracy in the District of Columbia, U.S.A.? Not in your lifetime.

Do you remember the winning slogan for ratification of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, to lower the voting age to 18? It was, "Old enough to fight, old enough to vote." In World War II, a higher percentage of Washington residents fought in uniform for their country than did Americans in any state. In the Vietnam War, more Americans from Washington were killed than were men from 10 states. They were patriots enough to fight and to die, but apparently not enough to vote.

Americans in Washington pay all the federal taxes that those Americans with their own voting members of Congress do. And tonight, thousands of men and women in the U.S. military from the city of Washington prepare to defend the nation, the leadership of which denies these young patriots and their families the right to elect their own voting member of Congress. Unjust and indefensible.

This past week in a resourceful act of defiance, Democrats and Republicans on the elected D.C. Council unanimously voted to move the 2004 presidential primary to Jan. 13, ahead of the first-in-the-nation states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Mayor Anthony A. Williams publicly backs the council action, which is intended to draw presidential candidates and national attention to the outrage of more than a half-million Americans' being deprived of home rule and congressional voting rights. (As proof, Congress -- with no explanation required -- can still overturn this or any law the District's city council passes and the mayor signs.)

Because of the influence Iowa derives from being in on the presidential nominating process at the very outset, voters in that state's caucuses have forced the nation's would-be leaders to take a position on whether the United States should subsidize the production of ethanol. Just think: Democracy in Washington might become almost as important as ethanol in Cedar Rapids.

The city council may have justice and the American way on its side, but it does not have the Democratic Party. The local Democratic Committee voted narrowly against moving the primary forward. That pleased the Democratic National Committee, which had already arranged to let Iowa and New Hampshire keep their prime spots in the nominating schedule and had warned Democrats in the District that by moving the primary, they could lose 30 of their 38 delegates to the 2004 national convention in Boston.

Let's hear it for the city council and the mayor of Washington for demanding that attention be paid to this hometown injustice. While the president and the official Washington he leads prepare to "export" democracy to Iraq, the city council has made clear that, like charity, democracy must begin at home.

(c)Creators Syndicate Inc.