It's clearly been a bad couple of weeks in Iraq. The process of birthing ? if you will ? a democracy among a people who never have lived under one is proving to be as messy as one might expect.
Dozens of brave American soldiers have been killed so far this month; an upstart cleric seems to be gaining support throughout the country for his virulent anti-Americanism; and the specter of al-Qaida's recent successes in Madrid hangs in the air like a dark, foreboding cloud. As the June 30 deadline to turn over power to the Iraqi people draws closer, the country seems less ready for the handover than it was two or three months ago.
But as these darkest moments in the death and remaking of Iraq unfold, I think back on the words of Bill Bennett, author, radio host, former U.S. secretary of education, distinguished fellow in cultural policy studies at the Heritage Foundation and all-around wise man of the modern conservative movement. Yes, the situation in Iraq is messy, Bennett said in a magnificent, powerful speech he gave in November to Heritage Foundation members. And yes, President Bush and his aides sometimes have seemed reluctant to defend their actions.
"But let's be clear on this," he said that day. "In the issue that matters most ? our survival, the civilized world's survival, the spread of democracy, the war against terrorism and radical Islam ? the president is right and his critics wrong."
I strongly urge you to read the entire text of this brilliant speech. It is the single greatest defense of the war for freedom in Iraq simply because it lays out the truth about what America and her allies have done on behalf of our own freedom and that of the Iraqi people. The truth is the most powerful defense of the war ? and it is the truth that is missing from the vast majority of news reports on the conflict.
Here's a summary of what Bennett said:
He rattled off the undisputed evidence of our success: We have not been attacked again ? even though our adversaries have tried. We've radically disrupted al-Qaida. We've arrested or killed two-thirds of its leadership and have its top man ? Osama bin Laden ? on the run, in hiding. We've expelled the Taliban and laid the groundwork for a free, democratic Afghanistan.As Bennett bluntly pointed out, we've also stopped pretending the terrorist murderer Yasser Arafat can ever be a partner in peace in the Middle East.
Today, Iraq no longer harbors terrorists such as Abu Nidal and Al-Zarqawi. It no longer exports terrorism or pays the families of suicide bombers in Israel. It no longer threatens to purchase or use weapons of mass destruction. It no longer keeps hospitals and schools closed out of spite.
Its days of murdering 5,000 children a month are over. The rape rooms and torture chambers are closed. Not a single citizen anywhere in the country no longer fears attack by chemical weapons from his or her own government.
The rule of the cruel, sadistic dictator who was seen on videotape sadistically watching as Dobermans tore-apart and ate one of his generals alive is over. The rule of the man who fed prisoners into a machine designed to shred plastic ? some headfirst, some who had to endure the hellish agony feet-first ? is over. The rule of the man whose appetite for killing filled mass graves from one end of Iraq to the other is over.
The hellish pit that was Iraq is a horrible memory ? not because the United Nations leaped into action, and not because the Arab world, the Muslim brethren of the victims of Saddam Hussein's vicious rule, stepped in. It's over because Americans grew abhorred by the level of wrong and stopped it. As Bill Bennett pointed out, that makes seven times that Americans have gone to war to help Muslims.
What are we doing now? Rebuilding the country. Educating the citizens. Establishing democratic institutions. Training doctors. Building hospitals. Taking care of children. Feeding the hungry. Protecting natural resources. Securing freedom.
As Bennett reminds us, we must remember that it is no less than civilization and barbarism that are at war today and that it has "fallen to us to be the arm, the conscience and the will of civilization."
That's why, he says, we should be proud of our country, proud of our fighting men and women and, yes, proud of our president.
In his radio address last Saturday, President Bush reaffirmed his resolve to hold fast to the quest for a free Iraq:
From the first days of the war on terror, I said our nation would face periods of struggle and testing. As the June 30th transition approaches, we will continue to see a test of wills between the enemies of freedom and its defenders. We will win this test of wills, and overcome every challenge, because the cause of freedom and security is worth our struggle.
I concur. God bless President Bush for his bravery and for his commitment to what is right. And God bless Bill Bennett for setting the record straight.