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A Moral War

President Bush, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005, discussing "Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."
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This column was written by Victor Davis Hanson.
Almost everything that is now written about Iraq rings not quite right: It was a "blunder"; there should have been far more troops there; the country must be trisected; we must abide by a timetable and leave regardless of events on the ground; Iraq will soon devolve into either an Islamic republic or another dictatorship; the U.S. military is enervated and nearly ruined; and so on.

In fact, precisely because we have killed thousands of terrorists, trained an army, and ensured a political process, it is possible to do what was intended from the very beginning: lessen the footprint of American troops in the heart of the ancient caliphate.

Save for a few courageous Democrats, like Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who look at things empirically rather than ideologically, and some stalwart Republicans, most politicians and public intellectuals have long bailed on the enterprise.

This is now what comprises statesmanship: Some renounce their earlier support for the war. Others, less imaginative, in Clintonian (his and hers) fashion, take credit for backing the miraculous victory of spring 2003, but in hindsight, of course, blame the bloody peace on Bush. Or, better yet, they praise Congressman Murtha to the skies, but under no circumstances go on record urging the military to follow his advice.

How strange that journalists pontificate post facto about all the mistakes that they think have been made, nevertheless conceding that here we are on the verge of a third and final successful election. No mention, of course, is ever made about the current sorry state of journalistic ethics and incompetence (cf. Jayson Blair, Judy Miller, Michael Isikoff, Bob Woodward, Eason Jordan). A group of professionals, after all, who cannot even be professional in their own sphere, surely have no credibility in lecturing the U.S. military about what they think went wrong in Iraq.

Of course, the White House, as is true in all wars, has made mistakes, but only one critical lapse — and it is not the Herculean effort to establish a consensual government at the nexus of the Middle East in less than three years after removing Saddam Hussein. The administration's lapse, rather, has come in its failure to present the entire war effort in its proper moral context.

We took no oil — the price in fact skyrocketed after we invaded Iraq. We did not do Israel's bidding; in fact, it left Gaza after we went into Iraq and elections followed on the West Bank. We did not want perpetual hegemony — in fact, we got out of Saudi Arabia, used the minimum amount of troops possible, and will leave Iraq anytime its consensual government so decrees. And we did not expropriate Arab resources, but, in fact, poured billions of dollars into Iraq to jumpstart its new consensual government in the greatest foreign aid infusion of the age.

In short, every day the American people should have been reminded of, and congratulated on, their country's singular idealism, its tireless effort to reject the cynical realism of the past, and its near lone effort to make terrible sacrifices to offer the dispossessed Shia and Kurds something better than the exploitation and near genocide of the past — and how all that alone will enhance the long-term security of the United States.

That goal was what the U.S. military ended up so brilliantly fighting for — and what the American public rarely heard. The moral onus should have always been on the critics of the war. They should have been forced to explain why it was wrong to remove a fascist mass murderer, why it was wrong to stay rather than letting the country sink into Lebanon-like chaos, and why it was wrong not to abandon brave women, Kurds, and Shia who only wished for the chance of freedom.

Alas, that message we rarely heard until only recently, and the result has energized amoral leftists, who now pose as moralists by either misrepresenting the cause of the war, undermining the effort of soldiers in the field, or patronizing Iraqis as not yet civilized enough for their own consensual government.

We can draw down our troops not because of political pressures but because of events on the ground. First, the Iraqi military is improving — not eroding or deserting. The canard of only "one battle-ready brigade" could just as well apply to any of the Coalition forces. After all, what brigade in the world is the equal of the U.S. military — or could go into the heart of Fallujah house-to-house? The French? The Russians? The Germans? In truth, the Iraqi military is proving good enough to hold ground and soon to take it alongside our own troops.

Despite past calls here to postpone elections, and threats of mass murder there for those who participated in them, they continue on schedule. And the third and last vote is the most important, since it will put a human face on the elected government — and the onus on it to officially sanction U.S. help and monetary aid or refuse it.

Saddam's trial will remind the world of his butchery. Despite all the ankle-biting by human-rights groups about proper jurisprudence, the Iraqis will try him and convict him much more quickly than the Europeans will do the same to Milosevic (not to mention the other killers still loose like Gen. Mladic and Mr. Karadzic), posing the question: What is the real morality — trying a mass murderer and having him pay for his crimes, or engaging in legal niceties for years while the ghosts of his victims cry for justice?