First published: Wednesday, December 22, 2004
I now admit to having expected the war in Iraq to be won in a matter of months, not years. Saddam's plan to disperse his forces and conduct a murderous insurgency, abetted by his terrorist allies, was a surprise.
This by no means suggests that President Bush's decision to overthrow a dangerous despotism was a mistake. On the contrary, it was and is the right war (against a genocidal maniac who was gaining strength) in the right place (the Middle East cradle of terror) for the right purpose (to get the Arab street out of the rut of hatred and onto a path to freedom). In return for today's grudging concession of tactical misjudgment, however, I claim this expectation: When and if we discover hidden supplies of germ weapons in Iraq or Syria, and as future confessions reveal the extent of connections between al-Qaida and Saddam, the legion of war critics will forthrightly admit their certitude was misplaced.
But more to today's point is our difference of opinion about strategy: I stand with those who believe this war was right and that its sacrifices will be justified by lives saved and tyranny diminished. I disagree with those who opposed the pre-emptive fight from the start or who have lost heart when it dragged on too long and are casting about for scapegoats.
Here are criteria to measure success or failure in the battle for democracy in the region and the struggles for freedom around the world:
First, will Iraq stay whole and its people free?
The present answer is: We'll see. The only debate in the U.S. now seems to be about whether to raise the number of our troops there to help finish the job; only a small minority is calling for a pullout. We are committed, as we should be, to success; so are the Iraqi Kurds; we'll see how eager the Shiite majority is to end its long Sunni Baathist subjugation.
Next, has America's huge military engagement in the Middle East helped produce progress toward democracy in Muslim countries where monarchs and dictators now rule? Signs are that the answer is yes. At a conference last week in Dubai, Gulf states spoke openly of economic reform and a campaign against corruption, which must have worried oppressive theocrats in Iran. Egypt, Jordan and Morocco are beginning to see glimmers of liberty's light, which embarrasses reactionary Saudis and terrorist Syrians. The groundswell is felt in Asia, where populous Indonesia and Malaysia are showing how Islamic nations can prosper by combating medieval fundamentalism.
On top of that, America's decision to stay the course after its overthrow of Saddam has helped revivify the prospect of peace in the Holy Land after the death of Arafat. Our military activism emboldened Israel to risk withdrawal from Gaza, and should encourage Palestinians to elect a rational state maker next month.
A final criterion: Is our confidence in the desire of 20 million literate Iraqis to live in relative liberty being reflected in the recent run of elections in the world?
Australians voted to remain our stalwart ally in Iraq. Afghanistan's voters took their lives in their hands to blaze their trail to a democratic government. Americans voted decisively to endorse our hopes rather than our fears in Iraq. Ukrainian voters refused to let a corrupt regime backed by the power of Russia's Putin deny them their democratic rights; they will most likely assert their independence this weekend. That will mark four straight victories for those we Wilsonian idealists consider the good guys, with two to go next month in the future, Palestine and in Iraq. One election may be sensibly peaceful and the other bloodily courageous, but our Iraqi commitment has strengthened the trend.
In 1940, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote a provocative apologia for fascism titled "The Wave of the Future." President Franklin Roosevelt answered those who believed "that, for some unexplained reason, tyranny and slavery have become the surging wave of the future -- and that freedom is an ebbing tide. But we Americans know that this is not true."
Less true now than ever. Once again, America and its allies ensure that freedom is the wave of the future.