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.
Al-Qaida's now-deceased emir in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, understood the stakes. In a message to al-Qaida (intercepted by the Coalition in February 2004), Zarqawi wrote that after Iraqis run their own government, U.S. troops will remain, "but the sons of this land will be the authority. ... This is the democracy. We will have no pretexts." Iraq's new army and police will link with the people "by lineage, blood and appearance."
The terrorists and tyrants understand. It's a shame America's chatterers don't.
Unable to defeat coalition soldiers or dim liberty's appeal, Zarqawi and his terror clique chose Iraqi civilians as their target. They concluded that an Islamic sectarian war between Shia and Sunni was the only way al-Qaida would avoid defeat. That might entail temporarily placing a secular Saddam-type tyrant in power -- hence the short-term cooperation with thugs from the former regime. Al-Qaida and the Saddamists bet their bombs would break the Iraqi people. That has not happened. They know their resiliency is a stinging rebuke of terror and tyranny.
Targeting the vulnerable is the same tactic the Ku Klux Klan used to enforce segregation in America's South. The Klan burned African-American churches instead of mosques, but the Klan, al-Qaida and Saddamist fascists target a population with similar technique and tyrannical viciousness.
Most of us are glad the FBI didn't pull out of Mississippi and Alabama in 1963. The analogy isn't direct -- Baghdad isn't Birmingham. However, the goal of ending the oppressive destruction of lives is both comparable and noble.
The Iraqi people are earning their victory and their liberty. The price for both is inevitably paid in blood, sweat and toil. At this point in history, they need American patience.
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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