Five Years On

President Bush observed the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq with a speech at the Pentagon. You can read the full text here. The President began by recalling the invasion and subsequent fighting against Saddam’s army:

Operation Iraqi Freedom was a remarkable display of military effectiveness. *** As they advanced, our troops fought their way through sand storms so intense that they blackened the daytime sky. Our troops engaged in pitched battles with the Fedayeen Saddam — death squads acting on the orders of Saddam Hussein that obeyed neither the conventions of war nor the dictates of conscience. ***
Aided by the most effective and precise air campaign in history, coalition forces raced across 350 miles of enemy territory — destroying Republican Guard Divisions, pushing through the Karbala Gap, capturing Saddam International Airport, and liberating Baghdad in less than one month.
Today, in light of the challenges we have faced in Iraq, some look back and call this period the easy part of the war. Yet there was nothing easy about it. The liberation of Iraq took incredible skill and amazing courage. And the speed, precision and brilliant execution of the campaign will be studied by military historians for years to come.

Bush recalled the horrors of Saddam’s regime that were revealed following the invasion:

What our troops found in Iraq following Saddam’s removal was horrifying. They uncovered children’s prisons, and torture chambers, and rape rooms where Iraqi women were violated in front of their families. They found videos showing regime thugs mutilating Iraqis deemed disloyal to Saddam. And across the Iraqi countryside they uncovered mass graves of thousands executed by the regime.

He then moved on to the post-war phase, beginning with an acknowledgement that it has been more difficult than anticipated:

The battle in Iraq has been longer and harder and more costly than we anticipated — but it is a fight we must win.

A year ago, Bush said, our effort was “faltering.” Al Qaeda’s strategy of fomenting sectarian violence was succeeding. Thus, Bush said, he decided to change course and adopt the “surge” strategy, which has worked well. The President emphasized what seems to me to be a key point: al Qaeda’s staking its reputation on driving us out of Iraq caused problems there, to be sure, but it also represents a huge opportunity. This is one of the two central points of the speech:

The surge has done more than turn the situation in Iraq around — it has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror. For the terrorists, Iraq was supposed to be the place where al Qaeda rallied Arab masses to drive America out. Instead, Iraq has become the place where Arabs joined with Americans to drive al Qaeda out. In Iraq, we are witnessing the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden, his grim ideology, and his murderous network. And the significance of this development cannot be overstated.
The terrorist movement feeds on a sense of inevitability, and claims to rise on the tide of history. The accomplishments of the surge in Iraq are exposing this myth and discrediting the extremists. When Iraqi and American forces finish the job, the effects will reverberate far beyond Iraq’s borders. Osama bin Laden once said: “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” By defeating al Qaeda in Iraq, we will show the world that al Qaeda is the weak horse. (Applause.) We will show that men and women who love liberty can defeat the terrorists.

This is a fundamental point with which war critics rarely, if ever, engage.
President Bush went on to describe the disaster that would result from premature withdrawal. He concluded by returning to a theme he has sounded over and over since 2003: that freedom is the long-term solution to the problem of Islamic terrorism. This was the speech’s second high point:

But in the long run, defeating the terrorists requires an alternative to their murderous ideology. And there we have another advantage — we’ve got a singular advantage with our military when it comes to finding the terrorists and bringing them to justice. And we have another advantage in our strong belief in the transformative power of liberty.
So we’re helping the people of Iraq establish a democracy in the heart of the Middle East. A free Iraq will fight terrorists instead of harboring them. A free Iraq will be an example for others of the power of liberty to change the societies and to displace despair with hope. By spreading the hope of liberty in the Middle East, we will help free societies take root — and when they do, freedom will yield the peace that we all desire.

This is the real “Bush Doctrine,” and has always been the most important rationale for Saddam’s overthrow. Curiously, it is a theme that is sometimes echoed by Democrats–only never in the context of Iraq.
The speech that Barack Obama gave today is a good example. In talking about Pakistan, Obama virtually quoted, word for word, the point that President Bush has made over and over about the Middle East:

To succeed in Afghanistan, we also need to fundamentally rethink our Pakistan policy. For years, we have supported stability over democracy in Pakistan, and gotten neither.

For Obama, as for most Democrats, democracy is a worthy goal that should be pursued, and is likely to enhance stability, everywhere except Iraq. It is hard to take seriously politicians whose policies are driven more or less exclusively by the need to disagree with President Bush on every possible point.
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