WASHINGTON -- No literary observation better describes the situation in Iraq than Charles Dickens' paradoxical opening line in "A Tale of Two Cities": "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
On the best side, this is a country of 26 million people who have been freed from a brutal, repressive dictatorship, a country that wrote and approved a self-governing constitution and then marched to the polls to elect representatives despite death threats from terrorist insurgents.
Schools were opened to boys and girls alike; freedom of the press led to the establishment of hundreds of independent newspapers and radio and TV stations; people protested and rallied without fear of reprisals; businesses blossomed; a stock market opened; millions of cell phones appeared everywhere; and Iraqis were going "online."
A government is being formed, though negotiations over its makeup have been slow; a growing number of Iraqi soldiers are training under the aegis of U.S. and NATO troops; and, for the first time in many decades, a glimmer of hope for the future has been rekindled and now burns more brightly.
A nation has been reborn.
But this is also the worst of times: brutal, bloodthirsty terrorist forces, most of them from outside Iraq's borders, are indiscriminately killing men, women and children in a reign of death calculated to spawn fear, chaos and civil war. Car bombs detonate with deadly precision, dynamite-jacketed suicide killers roam crowded plazas and gunmen open fire on innocent civilians, police and Iraqi troops.
Oil pipelines are blown up, electric utilities are sabotaged, Iraqi officials are kidnapped and executed, and places of worship are destroyed.
This dark side has become the face of Iraq in the U.S. media, on television and in newspapers. It is violence seemingly without end, whose aim is to paralyze Iraq and force U.S. withdrawal so the insurgents can achieve their ultimate goal: to bring down the government and install a terrorist regime that will snuff out the flickering light of freedom our brave soldiers have lit.
Because this violence is what Americans see day in and day out, the result is understandable -- a loss of confidence in President Bush to turn the situation around and a loss of support for the war's original purpose: to build a free, anti-terrorist, democratic government in Iraq.
This week, Bush and other administration officials were making the case to stay the course and finish the mission, attempting to convince Americans there was reason for optimism and that the Iraqis were immeasurably better off with Saddam Hussein gone, even in the midst of their struggles to preserve their freedoms.