The past two weeks have brought to mind a lot of history -- from the dedication of the World War II Memorial on Memorial Day weekend in Washington to the 60th anniversary of D-Day observed on the beaches at Normandy. President Bush has invoked the history and example of World War II as he wages war against terrorism, which to his mind includes establishment of a stable, elected government in Iraq.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry, is joined by most congressional Democrats and other party partisans in asserting that President Bush acted illegally, immorally and imprecisely in toppling Saddam Hussein from power and rescuing the Iraqi people from his reign of terror. They're glad he's gone, understand, they just would have done it differently. It apparently has not occurred to them that had they "done it differently" Saddam would probably still be in power.
Critics of the president would do well to recall an event of recent history. On Oct. 31, 1998, President Bill Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act. In a statement, Clinton said he wanted "to be clear on what the U.S. objectives are: The United States wants Iraq to rejoin the family of nations as a freedom-loving and law-abiding member. This is in our interest and that of our allies within the region."
Clinton said his administration had pursued and would continue to pursue these objectives through "active application of all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. The evidence is overwhelming that such changes will not happen under the current Iraq leadership." Clinton also referred to "Iraq's weapons and missile programs," which he said he wanted to eliminate.
The language of the resolution is even tougher and more detailed than Clinton's statement. It lays out, like a criminal indictment, a number of "findings" about Iraq's behavior since 1980 when it invaded Iran and used chemical weapons in an eight-year war that killed hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions.
In Section 3 of the act are these words: "It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime." President Bush turned those words into action. A number of Democrats who voted for the Iraq Liberation Act, including Kerry, are now critical of President Bush for doing precisely what they said at the time they wished the Clinton administration would do.
President Bush received a major boost from Iraq's new prime minister, Ayad Alawi, who on June 5 formally requested American and British forces stay on in Iraq after the official transfer of "sovereignty" on July 1. Alawi warned that, should they leave, a "major disaster" might ensue.
The president has been right to warn of stepped-up violence before, during and after the transition. Terrorists are not about to surrender their future in Iraq or anywhere else. They must be defeated and their host countries and financial backers convinced that if they continue to harbor such people, they will suffer the same fate as Saddam Hussein.
The president should continue reminding the public that victory will not be easy, just as success in World War II was not easy. That victory six decades ago destroyed the twin evils that had gripped Germany and Japan. But one evil is always replaced by another. We are being tested at least as much as we were in World War II. Then, Hitler thought America was weak and bet his Third Reich on it. He lost.
Now it's Osama bin Laden's turn to test a new generation of Americans to see if it has the will and the strength to vanquish him and his "evildoers," as the president likes to call them.
Supporters of Iraq's liberation the way the president accomplished it might wish to make copies of the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act and give it wide distribution. It would remind people what even many Democrats, including Kerry, favored in the recent past.
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