Mr. Bush made freedom in Arab-Islamic lands his cause. He rejected laments that Arabs do not possess a freedom gene, and that they are fated to tyranny. "The liberty we value is not ours alone," he told this Nashville convention. "Freedom is not America's gift to the world; it is God's gift to all humanity."
This has been Mr. Bush's wager ever since the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq ran aground, and the war and its sacrifices had to be defended and fortified. Grant Mr. Bush his due: He upheld his belief that liberty can stick on Iraqi and Arab soil, in the face of great doubts and misgivings.
In the five years that America has been in Iraq, this drawn-out war has seemed like a fight between American power and the laws of gravity. Sectarianism tested our souls and our patience; the fury of the region around Iraq was bottomless. Its misfits found their way onto Iraqi soil. We wanted a new life for that country, and there were sectarian hatreds beyond our comprehension.
For our part, we did not always fight this war most wisely and skillfully. It took us a while to get the right commanders and envoys on the scene. We did not have the linguists we needed, for the 1990s had not prepared us for wars of ideology and culture.
Even the bureaucracy itself -- the State Department, CIA -- was full of people who doubted the wisdom of this war and second-guessed it at every turn. Some of the very people dispatched to Baghdad were no friends of this project.
Still, five years on, this endeavor in Iraq is taking hold. The U.S. military was invariably the great corrector. In their stoic acceptance of the mission given them and in the tender mercies they showed Iraqis on a daily basis, our soldiers held out the example of benevolent rule. (In extended travel in and out of Iraq over the last five years, I heard little talk of Abu Ghraib. The people of Iraq understood that Charles Graner and Lynndie England were psychopaths at odds with American military norms.)
In those five years, the scaffolding of the war came under steady assault. People said that there was no connection between al Qaeda and Saddam, that no "smoking gun" had been discovered, and that the invasion of Iraq had turned that country into a breeding ground of jihadists.
But those looking for that smoking gun did not understand that the distinction between secular and religious terror in that Arab landscape was a distinction without a difference. The impulse that took America from Kabul to Baghdad was a correct one. Radical Arabs attacked America on 9/11, and a war of deterrence had to be waged against Arab radicalism.
Baghdad was the proper return address, as a notice was served on the purveyors of terror that a price would be paid by those who aid and abet it. It was Saddam Hussein's choice -- and fate -- that he would not duck and stay out of harm's way in the aftermath of 9/11. We have not fully repaired the ways of the radicals in the intervening years. But the spectacle of the dictator's defeat, and the sight of him being sent to the gallows, have worked wonders on the temper of the Arab street.
So we did not turn Baghdad into a democratic city on a hill, and we learned that the dismantling of Sunni tyranny would leave the Arab world's Shiite stepchildren with primacy in Iraq. A better country has nonetheless risen, midwifed by this American war. It is not a flawless democracy. But compare it to the prison it was under Saddam, the tyranny next door in Damascus and the norms of the region, and we can have a measure of pride in what America has brought forth in Baghdad.
This is not a Shiite state that we uphold. True, the Shiite majority was emancipated from a long history of fear and servitude, but Iraq's Shiites have told us in every way they can that their country is not a "sister republic" of the Persian theocracy to their east. If anything, the custodians of political power in Iraq have signaled their long-term intentions: an extended American presence in their midst and the shoring up of an oil state in the orbit of American power.
There has been design and skill in recent American endeavors. The Sunnis had all, but wrecked their chances in the new order. The American strategy in the year behind us worked to cushion the Sunni defeat. The U.S. now sustains a large force of "volunteers," the Sons of Iraq, drawn mainly from the Sunni community. This has not met with the approval of the Shiite-led government, but the attempt to create a balance between the two communities has been both deliberate and wise.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
From which planet is Fouad Ajami from
No Surrender according to Ajami;