The anti-Bush crowd's view of the war in Iraq was driven home to me by an AOL News headline on May 8 that read "More Bad News Coming on Iraq for Bush." According to some in the American news media, the disclosure of more photos of naked Iraqi prisoners being taunted by American soldiers isn't bad news for America; it's bad news for Bush.
Liberals in general seem to have been able to convince themselves that America is not at war. Bush is at war. Therefore, Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and the like feel free to make comments to the world press declaring that Iraq is a quagmire, George Bush's Vietnam, confident that they are not undermining an American war effort, but merely undermining George Bush.
To many of the leaders of the Democratic Party, it seems that the most searing episode in the American experience recently was not September 11 (any allusion to which by the President in anything close to a political context is "disgusting") but Abu Ghraib. The Democrats brought on Wesley Clark to deliver the Democratic response to the President's weekly radio address to call the abuse of the Saddam loyalists and terrorists at Abu Ghraib the result of faulty leadership by President Bush. John Kerry has had no compunction about "politicizing" this matter, making it the main point of many recent campaign appearances and insisting that Bush take personal responsibility. In their lusty frenzy to try to take advantage of this "political opening" the Democratic Party leaders who brought us the Paul Wellstone memorial service/pep rally probably do not realize they have gone over the edge. They don't seem to realize that the rest of the country is not quite so eager to pillory the President personally over this issue.
American politicians of all stripes have been falling over themselves to condemn what occurred at Abu Ghraib. Americans like to forgive and to ask forgiveness whenever our people do something shameful. And that, of course, is better than the alternative we see in much of the rest of the world, particularly in the Middle East. But we shouldn't let a little guilt allow things to get too out of hand. It is stupefying, for instance, how often we have been treated to the rank idiocy of statements about the "haunting similarity" between Abu Ghraib and the Nazi death camps -- and not just by the usual kooks on the anti-American far Left.
Showing the moderation and responsibility that ensured his failure in the Democratic primaries, Senator Lieberman commented during Donald Rumsfeld's Senate testimony that we should keep in mind that we have yet to receive an apology for the murder of 3,000 people on September 11 or for the killings of Americans in Iraq trying to bring security and services to the people of that nation (some, undoubtedly at the hands of some of those Abu Ghraib inmates). Don't hold your breath, senator.
The news media report to us that residents of Fallujah are proud that their townsfolk killed those four American security guards but that that pride is tempered by shame about the desecration of their bodies. That is, in and of itself, interesting. They are proud to kill people who are providing security to work crews trying to build schools, water treatment plants, and electrical facilities, but are ashamed at the mutilation of their bodies. No apology, though. And they certainly weren't willing to give the miscreants up to the authorities. The insurgents in Fallujah also had no problem using innocent civilians as "human shields," knowing full well that the American soldiers have a lot more respect for Iraqi lives than they do.
Arab governments and the Arab press that expressed no outrage at Saddam Hussein's torture chambers, rape rooms, and mass graves, have, of course, found a lot of outrage to express about the treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib by Americans. These are the same Arab governments and Arab media that accuse the United States of not being "even-handed" in our dealings trying to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. The fact is, as honestly appalled as we may be at what happened at Abu Ghraib, we shouldn't be too concerned that most Arab leaders and most of the Arab press (and, indeed, most Arabs) aren't mollified by American contriteness or an apology by George Bush or Don Rumsfeld. After all, since at least 1948, most Arab governments have constantly fed their people with the line that nearly all their problems are the result of the Jews and/or the Americans.
Many (if not most) Arab governments and the bulk of the Arab media want America to fail in Iraq. Therefore, that's what is going to determine their reaction to anything that happens there. They are not interested in being even-handed. They aren't going to look at facts. They aren't going to put things in perspective. They just want America to lose.
The Iraqi people, however, are a bit more pragmatic. Most know that an American failure in Iraq will be bad for them, and they are willing to tolerate (and even welcome, if secretly) the American presence. A large majority of Iraqis continually tell pollsters that they want the so-called "army of occupation" to stick around for a while. Most Iraqis are not thrilled at the prospect of being ruled by the "proud" thugs of Fallujah or by al-Sadr's Mahdi militia. And that is what counts.
In the long run, pictures of naked Iraqis forming a human pyramid for the amusement of a few American guards are not going to be what shapes Middle Eastern attitudes towards the United States. In the long run, Arab attitudes will be shaped by whether America wins or losses in Iraq -- and that means whether or not Iraq becomes a stable society with a representative government and a free press.
The challenges to our success in Iraq are manifest. But so are our achievements (despite the paucity of such reporting by American news organizations that too often view our efforts in narrow partisan terms). If we succeed in Iraq, the victory will be far more than George Bush's. It will be a victory for the United States, and indeed, for the civilized world. As fervently as Bush's critics demanded to hear his apology over Abu Ghraib, it would be nice to hear John Kerry acknowledge that simple fact, firmly and unambiguously.
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