WASHINGTON, D.C. -- One of the most poignant moments to occur in the U.S.-led global War on Terror occurred when National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice passed a note to President George W. Bush during the recent NATO conference in Turkey. Her message informed him that Iraq was once again a sovereign nation. He smiled and instinctively wrote, "Let freedom reign," and passed it back. Those three words say a lot about the man and the country he leads.
Two hundred and twenty eight years ago this week, a committee of five patriots, headed by a farmer from Virginia, prepared the final draft of a radical document. On the morning of July 4, they presented the results of their work to the body that had set them to the task: the Second Continental Congress. The larger group made just 86 changes in Thomas Jefferson's "fair draft" and then, pledging "to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor," all 56 members signed their names to this Declaration of Independence.
In so doing, they created something that was then unique on the planet earth: a country based on the concepts of individual liberty, private property and democratic government. Since then, the people of this nation have taken great risks to offer others the hope of that same freedom.
America's commitment to human liberty has required extraordinary sacrifice from the people of this land. Yet, the lives, blood and treasure expended in this quest have made it possible for hundreds of millions of oppressed and subjugated people around the globe to live in freedom from despotism.
During the last century, Americans rescued Europe from German domination in World War I. Twenty-three years later, we again went to war -- and more than 400,000 Americans died saving the world from the murderous rampages of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Hideki Tojo. And for the next 45 years during the Cold War, America sent its sons and daughters into harm's way to stem the tide of totalitarian communism. Now, we're confronted by yet another form of tyranny and terror: radical Islamic Jihadism.
Like World War II and the twilight struggle against dictators espousing the ideologies of Marx, Lenin and Stalin, this too is a global challenge, fraught with danger for America. Now, a mere 15 months after removing Saddam Hussein from power, an American-led coalition has returned sovereignty to an Iraqi-selected interim government and placed that country on the path to free and democratic elections. The new government in Baghdad has now arraigned the former dictator and charged him with crimes against his own people and neighbors. He will face trial in front of his countrymen -- a fate not offered to Benito Mussolini or Nicolae Ceausescu.
Yet, despite this dramatic progress, critics from Paris to the American Left complain that these steps are inadequate or too slow in coming. Apparently they have forgotten -- or do not know -- that it took four arduous years for Germany and seven for Japan to assemble sovereign governments after World War II. And even in the United States it was 12 years between Patrick Henry's cry of "Give me liberty, or give me death" and the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1787.
What makes the new sovereign authority in Iraq all the more remarkable is that it has occurred while remnants of Saddam's former regime -- and crazed radical Islamic Jihadists -- are launching deadly attacks against the new government, Coalition Forces, Iraqi law enforcement and security personnel, and innocent men, women and children. These foes of freedom and democracy in Iraq are not "freedom fighters," or "resistance fighters." They are terrorists.
Iraq's new President Ghazi al-Yawer and Prime Minister Iyad Allawi have thanked America and its allies for the sacrifices made in placing Iraq on the path to democratic governance. President Bush and the new Iraqi government have begged the "international community," the United Nations, the European Union, NATO and the 56-member Islamic Conference for help. Yet, with the exception of Great Britain, little but lip service has been proffered by most of those in "Old Europe" who were liberated by American blood. Their lack of gratitude -- and foresight about the threat they face -- is palpable.
Despite the lack of international support -- and the propaganda of the political left here at home -- the American people, and their sons and daughters now serving in the heat, dust and danger of Iraq, remain resolute. The most effective barometer of troop morale -- and support for a just war -- is the recruitment and re-enlistment rate in our military. It's a lesson Washington learned at Valley Forge during that long, cold winter of 1777-1778. Thankfully, the numbers of young Americans volunteering to enter service -- and willing to continue in our armed forces -- is still setting records.
Those who celebrate America's 228th Independence Day on lonely outposts in Afghanistan and Iraq are a magnificent reflection of who we are as a people. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines who have placed themselves between us and the terrorists who would kill us if they had the chance are the best proof of all that America is still: "the home of the brave and the land of the free."