Hours before President Bush's speech Sunday night (Sept. 7), the top U.S. commander in Iraq summed up in a single sentence the importance of creating a free and democratic Iraq. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said, "The only way we will fail in this country is if we decide to walk away in Iraq and fight the next battle in the war on terrorism in America."
That stark assessment was echoed by the president in his national address. George Bush demonstrated the kind of resolve that is necessary to prevail in Iraq and against the terrorism that is worldwide when he vowed to do and spend "whatever is necessary . to achieve this central victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom and to make our nation more secure."
The president's Sunday address was a needed reminder of the stakes in the global war on terrorism. He has repeatedly said (and did so again Sunday night) that this will be a long war with casualties and that it will take time and resolve to win it.
European nations, including France and Germany, that opposed the toppling of the serial murderer Saddam Hussein seem to be enjoying the difficulties faced by the United States in Iraq. But this should not be payback time for U.S. refusal to adopt a go-slower approach to Saddam's regime. Nations that enjoy the riches of freedom have a moral obligation, when possible, to share their political and spiritual assets with countries that suffer from the poverty of totalitarianism.
The president is right to ask the United Nations for military, humanitarian and financial assistance, though a resolution he will seek would properly leave the United States in overall control. Even those nations that opposed the war have an obligation, now that Saddam Hussein has been ousted from power, to give the Iraqis a future filled with hope and not fear.
The president said "great progress" has been made in Iraq. He invoked the image of post-war Germany and Japan and noted the amount of time and resources it took to rebuild those nations. He said he will ask Congress for an additional $87 billion to pay for the post-war effort. He has directed Secretary of State Colin Powell to meet with leaders from other nations and ask them to ante up for this effort. "All will benefit" from a free and stable Iraq, the president said.
More of these progress reports are needed, and the president should make opportunities to deliver them. Much of the major media have accentuated the negative, ignoring the many positives that are taking place in Iraq.
Administration critics are likely to seize on remarks by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who recently visited Iraq. Rumsfeld admitted that the United States may have paved the way for recent attacks on American and British soldiers by failing to destroy Saddam Hussein's forces in their northern strongholds. Rumsfeld conceded that in pre-war planning, efforts were made to avoid repeating the humanitarian and environmental disasters that occurred during the 1991 Gulf War. While those disasters did not occur this time, the Pentagon failed to plan for an outbreak of criminality and for internally displaced people, including Saddam's release of 100,000 criminals. Still, not every possibility can be addressed in warfare, and if the environmental and refugee problems had developed in this war, critics would be faulting the administration for its failure to be on top of them.
Terrorists know they cannot win a conventional war against a behemoth power like the United States. But they also know the United States might lose heart and cut and run. It has happened before - in Vietnam and Lebanon and Mogadishu. That is what they are counting on. The president's speech gives them no reason to expect retreat. America's enemies will be watching the polls to see if citizen resolve matches that of the president.