Austin Bay

The chattering class nostrum that Free Iraq and its coalition allies have "lost the Iraq war" is so blatantly wrong it would be a source of laughter were human life and hope-inspiring liberty not at such terrible risk.

In terms of fundamental historical changes favoring 21st century freedom and peace, what Free Iraq and its Coalition allies have accomplished in four short years is nothing short of astonishing.

Consider what Iraq was, not simply in A.D. March 2003, but in 2003 B.C. Both historical frames provide instructive lessons in the obvious.

Iraq, as ancient Mesopotamia (the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers), seeded Abraham's Ur and Hammurabi's Babylon. The region was the Eden of city-states, the consolidator and exporter of the Agricultural Revolution. It is also the center of a predominantly Muslim region where -- to paraphrase historian Bernard Lewis -- something "went wrong." Lewis was addressing the "fossilization" that began to afflict the Middle East at least six centuries ago, a cultural, intellectual and, yes, political ossification and decline.

The decline did two things that directly affect the War on Terror (which Rudy Giuliani more correctly calls The Terrorists' War Against Us). The decline undermined Islamist utopian notions of theological supremacy. That millennialist disappointment seeds the long list of "grievances" infesting al-Qaida's propaganda.

The far greater consequence (and truly grievous wrong) was arresting Middle Eastern populations. Arrest is the right word. The Middle East was trapped in the terrible yin-yang of tyrant and terrorist, the choice of one or the other -- which is no choice, for both mean oppression and death.

In November 2001, I wrote that we -- the United States specifically, but the civilized world as a whole -- are in a "fight for the future" with terrorists and tyrants. Iraq (Mesopotamia) has been and continues to be an influential if not critical stretch of geography.

In January 2003, I argued that toppling Saddam's tyranny in Iraq would do two things: begin the process of fostering political choice (democracy) in the Middle East and bring al-Qaida onto a battlefield not of its choosing. Moreover, that battlefield would be largely manned by Muslim allies, exposing the great fractures within Islam and the Middle East that al-Qaida's strategists tried to mask by portraying America as "the enemy."

Credit the Iraqi people with taking the opportunity by conducting three honest, open, democratic elections. In May 2006, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki formed a democratically elected, consensus-seeking government not simply in Mesopotamia but in the heart of the politically dysfunctional Middle East.

That's an astonishing achievement.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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