"One of the attacks they don't bring up very often anymore is the Saddam Hussein thing, that it's not safer since Saddam Hussein's been captured -- because we now have 23 troops killed and we're having fighter planes escorting passenger jets through American airspace. I noticed that line of attack disappeared fairly quickly.''
-- Howard Dean, Newsweek, Jan. 12
WASHINGTON -- Howard Dean may end up as a footnote in history, but he has already earned a place in the dictionary as the illustration accompanying the word smug. He claims that not only was he right that we are not safer with Saddam captured; not only has he already been vindicated by history, all 21 days of it; but he has been so obviously vindicated that his opponents, bowing to his superior wisdom, have stopped their attacks on this point.
They have not. He has been peppered with questions about this statement, most recently during the Jan. 4 Iowa debate. How could he not? The idea that we are not safer (a) because we are still losing troops and (b) because al Qaeda has not been extinguished, amounts to an open-court confession of cluelessness on foreign policy.
The first is the equivalent of saying that we were not safer after D-Day because we were still losing troops in Europe. In war, a strategic turning point makes you safer because it hastens victory, hastens the ultimate elimination of the hostile power, hastens the return home of the troops. It does not mean there is an immediate cessation, or even a diminution, of casualties (see: Battle of the Bulge).
The other part of the statement -- we cannot be safer because we are still threatened by terrorism -- is even more telling. It rests on the wider notion, shared not just by Dean but by many Democrats, that so long as al Qaeda is active, we are never any safer. This rests on the remarkable assumption that we have a single enemy in the world, al Qaeda, and that it and it alone defines ``safety.''
It is hard to believe that serious people can have so absurdly narrow a vision of American national security. The fact is that we have other enemies in the world.
Saddam was one of them, and he is gone. Libya was another, and it has just retired from the field, suing for peace and giving up its weapons of mass destruction. (Gaddafi went so far as to go on television to urge Syria, Iran and North Korea to do the same.) Iran has also gone softer, agreeing to spot inspections, something it never did before it faced 130,000 American troops about 100 miles from its border.
These gains are all a direct result of the Iraq War. A spokesman for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told the London Daily Telegraph in September that Gaddafi had telephoned Berlusconi and told him: ``I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid.''
The idea that we are not safer because al Qaeda is not yet stopped is absurd. Of course we have terror alerts. We will continue to have them until al Qaeda is extinguished, and you do not eliminate in two years a menace that was granted eight years of unmolested growth and metastasis when Dean's party was in power.
But look at the region whence al Qaeda came. Not only has the Taliban been overthrown, Afghanistan just this week adopted a new constitution agreed to by a loya jirga (grand council) representing every part of this fractured tribal society. It is an astonishing development in a country with so little experience in representative government and ravaged by more than a quarter-century of civil war. And it came about as a result of American force of arms followed by American diplomacy.
Look at Pakistan. On 9/11 it was supporting the Taliban, ignoring al Qaeda and assisting other Islamic extremists. Force majeure by the Bush administration turned Pakistan. The Musharraf government is now a crucial ally in the war on terror.
And now just this week, another astonishing development: a summit between India and Pakistan leading to negotiations that, the joint communique said, ``will'' solve all outstanding issues, including the half-century-old fight over Kashmir. Both Pakistani and Indian observers agree that intense behind-the-scenes mediation by the Bush administration was instrumental in bringing about the rapprochement.
From Libya to India, ice is breaking and the region is changing. In this part of the world, there is no guarantee of success. But if this is not progress -- remarkable, unexpected and hugely significant -- then nothing is.