This is a tale of three men, all prominent figures on the world stage. Two of them – Saddam Hussein and former President Gerald Ford – have died in recent days; the third, President George W. Bush, is struggling for his political life. How successful Mr. Bush is in recasting and reinvigorating his wartime presidency will depend, in part, on the lessons he draws publicly from the two lately departed.
Of course, the former Iraqi despot and the one-time American president lived very different lives and, appropriately, came to very different ends. Saddam’s was dancing from a gallows, in the company of hangmen and witnesses who expressed the sentiment of millions of Iraqis and other freedom-loving peoples in damning him to hellfire. Mr. Ford’s demise came quietly in his sleep, surrounded by his loved ones and remembered fondly by the nation he served for decades in war and peace.
Still, the two men constitute bookends of a sort for a Mr. Bush finalizing the strategy he will shortly present for winning the War for the Free World – a war that did not begin and will not end in Iraq, especially if the United States were to be seen as losing there.
There is but one reason that the late “Butcher of Baghdad” and his tyrannical regime are no more, and with them the threat they once posed to Saddam’s people, their neighbors – and, yes – to us: Civilized nations, led forcefully by President Bush, acted to remove him from power and thereby enabled free Iraqis to bring him to justice.
By contrast, a year after the liberation of Iraq, Mr. Ford told the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward (in an interview embargoed until after the former president’s death), “I don't think I would have gone to war [with Iraq].” According to Woodward, his ninety-two-year-old subject declared: “Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people....I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security.”
Of course, Mr. Bush and those of us who supported his efforts to free the Iraqi people would argue that doing so was indeed “directly related to our national security.” The fact-finding Iraq Survey Group determined Saddam was continuing to produce small quantities of chemical and biological agent right up to the end and intended to ship them “in aerosol cans and perfume sprayers” to the U.S. and Europe. The death toll created by such a state-sponsored acts of terror could have been horrific.A no less compelling case can be made that our national security would be well-served should dangerous despots like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khameni of Iran and North Korea’s Kim Jong Il were also hung by the neck until dead. It should be the object of American policy to help the long-suffering people of those two countries bring about regime changes that would lead to justice being served on such individuals.
We should do so not out of some fuzzy moral sentiment of the kind often sneeringly dismissed by so-called “foreign policy realists” like the Ford Administration’s Brent Scowcroft and James Baker. Rather, we should be working to bring about regime change in Iran and North Korea because it is vital to American security that tyrants who have made no secret of their wish to hurt this country – as Ahmadinejad likes to put it, “a world without America is not only desirable, but achievable” – are as unable to act on their ambitions as Saddam Hussein.
The alternative of allowing these threats further to metastasize is to ensure not only that the tyrannies in Tehran and Pyongyang be more dangerous in the future. They will help still other threats to become more formidable, as well.
Accordingly, when President Bush addresses the nation in the days ahead, laying out his vision for “the way forward,” he must explicitly remind all of us that we are in a war that is not confined to Iraq. If he chooses to “surge” into Iraq more troops, their mission must be part of a larger plan for defeating Iranian activities and proxies in that country, and working to rebuild what Tehran has helped destroy there.
President Bush should provide such assistance in the comprehensive way his predecessor pursued the downfall of Soviet Communism – in sharp contrast to the Ford Administration which effectively sought to perpetuate it via “détente.” In fact, Reaganesque economic and financial measures led by the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary Stuart Levey are already having a salutary effect by constricting the cash-flow of both Tehran and Pyongyang. These steps need to be complemented by political warfare initiatives, information operations, expanded intelligence activity and, as appropriate, covert action.
In the spirit of “not a Ford but” the Gipper, and with a view to ensuring that more tyrants meet Saddam’s fate, George Bush should ask the Nation: “If not we, who? If not now, when?”