In a "rush to war" as interminable as this one, morale -- or lack thereof -- becomes an issue. Limbo is wearing. Tension is taxing. Now is the time for good news. But where to look?
The bright side is not always entirely satisfying. For example, the fact that our larders were full in time for the Blizzard of '03 is not a sterling silver lining for Code Orange blues. The equally indisputable fact that Jacques "Old Europe" Chirac -- his strong-arm act clearly wasted on the EU -- would be a sensation in the WWE is no cause for cheers, either. Tony Blair may be toasted in Washington, but he's getting grilled back in London. And what bright side can there be to reports of three, huge "terror ships" now plowing the seven seas?
According to the Independent, a British newspaper, these hulking cargo vessels set sail three months ago -- a few days after Hans Blix and Co. arrived in Iraq -- and are believed to be carrying Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. U.S. and British navies are reluctant to stop the mystery ships because their mystery crews might scuttle the vessels, releasing potentially vast quantities of chemical, biological or nuclear nastiness into the sea, causing a colossal environmental catastrophe. The fact that these ships may return safely to port after U.N. inspectors leave Iraq is, of course, not much to celebrate.
In other words, feel-good stories don't abound. Still, there are heartening developments. Take the recent remarks by U.S. District Court Judge William Young. After sentencing Al Qaeda shoe-bomber Richard Reid to life in prison, Judge Young addressed the prisoner: "We are not afraid of any of your terrorist co-conspirators, Mr. Reid. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before," he said. "You are not an enemy combatant -- you are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war -- you are a terrorist. To call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. ... You are a terrorist, and we do not negotiate with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice." The judge then pointed to the American flag behind the bench and said, "You see that flag, Mr. Reid? That's the flag of the United States of America. That flag will fly there long after this is all forgotten." Fine words to recall for the duration.
In Rome this week, Mayor Walter Veltroni chalked one up for our side when he canceled a scheduled meeting with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. Why? Aziz refused to answer a question from an Israeli reporter at a Rome news conference. "It was not in my agenda," the Iraq minister explained, "to answer questions by the Israeli media."
When I first read about the incident, I seethed, imagining myself taking the floor to invite my fellow journalists to join me in exiting the hall in the name of light and truth -- or something.
Judge Young would know what to say. In a letter to Tariq Aziz, Mayor Veltroni laid it out this way: "Rome, Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, has always had absolute respect for dialogue and the civil exchange of ideas, not to mention, obviously, freedom of opinion and free access to information. I cannot accept that a public figure like yourself, the representative of another country, can set a veto and discriminate against someone, denying them the right to express themselves, no matter what position they may represent."
Easy enough, thankfully, for us in democratic countries to say. It takes a singular courage, however, to do the same in a religious dictatorship. Such courage is on display for all to see at www.iran-daneshjoo.org, the Web site of the Iranian student movement for secular democracy. In a brimming, poignant posting entitled "Reflections on Presidents' Day," the Iranian students open up a pro-American window on America itself -- an "unequaled country," they call it. The students offer a long view on American freedoms "rising from the rational and human thoughts of the Founding Fathers" -- freedoms for which they fight an Islamo-fascist regime of "hostage-takers and their terrorist-nurturing masters." (They also have choice words for those Europeans who have forgotten the U.S. role in "liberating them from the yoke of Nazism and, later, Bolshevism," who now "throw stones along the path of their ally and her war on terrorism.")
The communique is an extraordinary pledge of friendship from -- beautiful phrase -- "tomorrow's liberated Iran." Boosted by President Bush's declaration of support in his State of the Union address, the Iranian students write of the "precious hope" the president's words have given them. If only they knew their words do the same for us.