The question in Iraq now is how U.S. influence is directed. Having U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi help choose the officers of the interim government puts a Muslim face on the choice but increases the risk of tilting toward a Baathist strongman. The raid on Ahmed Chalabi's office and confiscation of documents showing corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program are, at the least, shabby treatment of a steady advocate of democracy who, Gen. Richard Myers says, has provided useful intelligence.
But the solid support for democracy and civil society among the Kurds -- something almost no one predicted a dozen years ago -- is cause for hope. So is the rejection by most Shiites of Moqtada al-Sadr's call for rebellion and Sadr's retreat from Najaf. So is the cooperation the Marines have received from Iraqi troops in Fallujah.
Through all this runs the difficult issue of lustration -- how and whether to bar from power personnel of an ousted evil regime. On the one hand, you don't want to reward tyrants with power; on the other, you'd like to see the trains run on time. The formerly communist nations of Eastern Europe handled lustration in different ways; so did South Africa after apartheid and Chile after Pinochet; so did the United States in Germany and Japan after World War II. The lesson of all these very different approaches is that there is no entirely satisfactory way to handle lustration. You make mistakes and judgments that turn out badly. But you move forward and do the best you can.
That's the approach George W. Bush took in his May 24 speech and will presumably take again in the next few weeks. But it is not enough to try to put daily headlines into a larger perspective. Narrative is needed: story lines that show genuine progress. Bush needs to tell such stories and, to counter the awful pictures of Abu Ghraib, to present pictures of his own as the weeks go on. Americans will not falter because of casualties if they can see that progress is clearly being made. Bush needs to show them it is.