Yesterday was a day to celebrate a smooth beginning, today the statistics of war inevitably turn our emotions around as one of our own goes berzerk and commits fratricide, pictures of American dead and captured are paraded on the decadently irresponsible Iraqi state television and al Jazeera, and our casualties accumulate.
The gloom of today doesn’t render the cheer of yesterday illegitimate – if anything it makes it more precious as we have to take what we can get. The administration has been very careful to warn us that while the end isn’t in doubt, that there can, and most likely will, be days of sorrow between now and then. This is one such day.
Sen. John McCain reminds us why we are there in today’s Washington Post:
- Critics who deem war against Saddam Hussein’s regime to be an unprecedented departure from our proud tradition of American internationalism disregard our history of meeting threats to our security with both military force and a commitment to revolutionary democratic change.
The union of our interests and values requires us to stay true to that commitment in Iraq. Liberating Iraqis from Hussein’s tyranny is necessary but not sufficient. The true test of our power, and much of the moral basis for its use, lies not simply in ending dictatorship but in helping the Iraqi people construct a democratic future.
This is what sets us apart from empire builders: the use of our power for moral purpose. We seek to liberate, not subjugate.
“Experts” who dismiss hopes for Iraqi democracy as naive and the campaign to liberate Iraq’s people as dangerously destabilizing do not explain why they believe Iraqis or Arabs are uniquely unsuited for representative government, and they betray a cultural bigotry that ill serves our interests and values. The apocalyptic vision of a Middle East inflamed by American intervention ignores the fact that the status quo bred al Qaeda and is hardly the basis for long-term stability.
….To confront the hatred that has devastated Arab progress and threatened the
United States, we should aspire to be respected by Arab peoples and, in the
case of tyrants and terrorists who threaten us, feared. Helping Iraqis
control their own destiny will demonstrate that our real allies in the
Middle East are people who yearn for freedom — not autocratic governments
that sell us cheap oil.
Americans fight and die in Iraq today not for empire, not for oil, not for a
religion, not to shock and awe the world with our astonishing power. They
fight for love — for love of freedom, our own and all humanity’s. When the
guns are silent, their political leaders must take every care to advance the
aspirations that have given their sacrifice its nobility, and our country
its real glory.
How do real Iraqis feel about all this? David Ignatius is there:
- There were moving scenes of grateful Iraqis waving to the American troops who had come to liberate them from Saddam Hussein. A farmer named Haider told me the American invasion was “the best celebration” he’d had since the Baath Party seized control of Iraq more than three decades ago. Two of Haider’s brothers have been executed for alleged crimes against the regime, he said.
“It’s a criminal regime, and they execute everyone, for one word, even,” said a 14-year-old boy named Mohammed, who said one of his brothers had been executed. Asked what kind of government he wanted to see in the future, a jubilant farmer named Salem Muhsen answered: “Anything but Saddam’s terrorism.” Two of his cousins had been executed, he said, for the crime of traveling to Kuwait to sell their vegetables. [Washington Post]
Yet invasion and bombardment and civilian casualties also cause resentment:
- Some analysts had expected Basra to be a cakewalk for the coalition, because its largely Shiite population dislikes Hussein. Basra will doubtless fall soon, but probably not in the act of anti-Hussein insurgency some American planners may have expected. The danger is that it will feel like a defeated city, rather than
a liberated one.
Will the snags in the south be repeated on a larger and more dangerous scale in the decisive battle for Baghdad? Will America’s attempts to destroy Iraqi resolve instead stiffen it, as so often happens in war? America’s military challenge, in the remaining days or weeks of battle, will be to avoid turning popular hatred of Hussein into anger against the “shock and awe” military colossus that has come to topple him.
That’s why the political is as important as the military in this campaign.