The American effort in Iraq is a moral mission, a practical mission, a necessary mission and an achievable mission.
That should be, and is likely to be, the message from House Republicans and conservative Democrats in a debate on Iraq scheduled for the House floor on Thursday.*
Specifically, the debate will be on a resolution declaring, among a number of “whereas” clauses, that the “criminal, Ba’athist regime in Iraq…had supported terrorists [and] constituted a threat against global peace and security,” and that the fight in Iraq is the terrorists’ self-declared “central front.” Its text therefore resolves (among other things) “that the United States is committed to the completion of the mission to create a sovereign, free, secure, and united Iraq” without a premature withdrawal of American troops.
Even before last week’s necessary and tremendously important killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, this was a debate that President George W. Bush’s supporters ought to win, because the President’s overall goals and strategy are right. We are in Iraq both in the U.S. national interest and for idealistic, even noble, reasons. Our cause is just, and it is humanitarian. As President Bush said to our troops on Tuesday during his dramatic, surprise visit to Iraq, “America is safer [and] the world is better off… because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power.”
And the work our troops and civilians in Iraq are doing is, Bush said correctly, “an incredibly important moment in the history of freedom and peace.” It is important because there can be no doubt that, first, Saddam Hussein and, later, al-Zarqawi were using Iraq as a staging ground and as a launching pad for terrorist activity that directly affected the United States and, more broadly, the free world.
Al-Zarqawi was in Iraq in the first place because Saddam’s regime deliberately harbored him. And he was there because Osama bin Laden wanted him there. Meanwhile, Saddam’s henchmen trained terrorists at the Salman Pak facility — complete with a commercial airliner shell for practice — not far from Baghdad, and Saddam paid hefty rewards to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
All the while, of course, Saddam’s torture chambers at Abu Ghraib — real torture, not the merely puerile sexual and cultural embarrassments meted out by a few rogue American soldiers — were among the locations where the dictator’s regime tortured children in front of their parents, burned people with hot irons, cut out their tongues, gouged out their eyes, and mutilated prisoners with electric drills. So far coalition forces have found mass graves containing a reported 400,000-plus bodies.
Also, according to two consecutive heads of the U.N.-sponsored Iraqi Survey Group sent in after Saddam was ousted from power, Saddam continued activities aimed at securing and using weapons of mass destruction. Said the first head, David Kay, “We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities” included in “deliberate concealment efforts.” Said his replacement, Charles Duelfer, “Evidence suggests that, as resources became available and the constraints of sanctions decayed, there was a direct expansion of activity that would have the effect of supporting future WMD reconstitution.”
Foreign intelligence sources, especially Israeli ones, continue to insist that Saddam spirited a host of weaponry to Syria in the few months immediately preceding the war. And both the Senate Intelligence Committee and the independent Silberman-Robb Commission found not a single instance that Bush officials (to quote the Senate committee) “attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities.” Furthermore, both the French and the Germans also believed Saddam had WMDs.
Especially in light of all these considerations, what’s most upside-down about much of the media-driven current “wisdom” about the Iraqi effort is that the more salient criticism of Bush is not that he was too cynical. (E.g., he “lied” to get us into war; why, pray tell, would he do that? What good would it do him or have done him?) The more reasonable criticism is that he was too idealistic, too Wilsonian, too enamored of the idea that a nominal democracy in Iraq alone could somehow transform the world or at least the troubled Middle East. In this view, Bush’s grand adventure in armed diplomacy in Iraq violated the Kissingerian/Scowcroftian, even Buckleyite “realism” that should be the central concern of American foreign and military policy.
EVEN IN THIS REALM, THOUGH, the ledger shows a number of credits on Bush’s side.
First among these must be the elimination of Libya’s nuclear program, far more well developed than was previously understood, specifically because Muammar Qaddafi himself said he was frightened by seeing the fate of Saddam Hussein. This was a triumph of the first magnitude, but one for which Bush has received far too little credit.
It also should be obvious that the ouster of Saddam played at least a substantial role, even if indirect, in encouraging the various peaceful “revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon and elsewhere — the so-called Rose, Orange, Cedar (and, in Iraq, Purple) Revolutions that overthrow old, brutal regimes. Even Egypt and Saudi Arabia have seen some slight movement (sometimes on a purely local level) toward elective governance. Meanwhile, Pakistan has gone from being a staunch supporter of the Taliban to being at least partially an ally against terrorists (even as our ties with India have strengthened, not weakened). Saudi Arabia, home of most of the 9/11 hijackers, is now cracking down considerably on terrorists. Formerly hostile (or at least semi-hostile) Yemen and Indonesia have done likewise. Qatar’s assistance reportedly has been superb. Jordan has been helpful.
And the dictatorship in Syria is increasingly isolated and, by some reports, running scared.
To review the relevant scorecard, then, Americans should note that Saddam is on trial and despised, his two sons are dead, al-Zarqawi is dead, Osama bin Laden is holed up in a cave while his top deputy begs for money from Iraqi terrorists, Qaddafi is now docile (at least externally; within his own country he is still a brute), Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (mastermind of 9/11) is in captivity, and Mohammed Ataf (al-Qaeda’s senior field commander) has been killed along with dozens upon dozens of other top al-Qaeda and Iraqi terrorist leaders. And more than a dozen known major terrorist plots have been foiled throughout the world.
So as the debate begins in Congress, Iraq’s duly elected unity government has just become operational, coalition forces act in dozens of raids based on a treasure trove of information captured from al-Zarqawi’s former hideout, Bush has rallied the troops and met with Iraq’s new prime minister, and definitive victory seems again well within the realm of reason. Some critics may legitimately advocate different tactics from those favored by the Bush/Rumsfeld team. (Frederick Kagan in the Weekly Standard makes terrific sense to me in advocating more troops and more aggressive action than Bush has been willing to use.) Those differences in tactics may indeed make the ultimate difference between success and failure of Bush’s entire grand vision. But that doesn’t mean that Bush’s overall goals aren’t worthy ones, that his basic strategy is fundamentally flawed, that his aims are hopeless, or that the fight was unnecessary much less counterproductive.
Flawed as he is on some matters, indeed as every leader is, President George W. Bush has been remarkably courageous, steadfast, and far-seeing in his conduct of the war against radical Muslim terrorists worldwide. The resolution before the House on Thursday gives well-deserved support for his efforts and aims. For all the right reasons, not just the politically right ones, this war is not just Bush’s war but all of ours, and it is a war where the stakes are among the highest the world has ever known — and Bush and his supporters are on the correct side of it. The moral side. The side that, in the House and in this nation and in the world at large, absolutely must prevail.
*For a supportive, moderate Democrat’s view concerning Iraq, see my blog post from Tuesday evening.
Quin Hillyer is executive editor of The American Spectator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.