The New York Times           OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR 
The Price of Freedom in Iraq
By DONALD H. RUMSFELD             March 19, 2004

WASHINGTON  This week, as we mark the one-year anniversary of the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, it is useful to recount why we have fought.  Not long ago I visited South Korea, just as the Korean government was debating whether to send troops to Iraq.  In Seoul, I was interviewed by a Korean journalist who was almost certainly too young to have firsthand recollection of the Korean War.  She asked me, "Why should Koreans send their young people halfway around the globe to be killed or wounded in Iraq?"

As it happened, I had that day visited a Korean War memorial, which bears the names of every American soldier killed in the war.  On it was the name of a close friend of mine from high school, a wrestling teammate, who was killed on the last day of the war.  I said to the reporter: "It's a fair question. And it would have been fair for an American to ask, 50 years ago, `Why should young Americans go halfway around the world to be killed or wounded in Korea?' "

We were speaking on an upper floor of a large hotel in Seoul.  I asked the woman to look out the window — at the lights, the cars, the energy of the vibrant economy of South Korea.  I told her about a satellite photo of the Korean peninsula, taken at night, that I keep on a table in my Pentagon office. North of the demilitarized zone there is nothing but darkness — except a pinprick of light around Pyongyang — while the entire country of South Korea is ablaze in light, the light of freedom. 

Korean freedom was won at a terrible cost — tens of thousands of lives, including more than 33,000 Americans killed in action.  Was it worth it?  You bet. Just as it was worth it in Germany and France and Italy and in the Pacific in World War II.  And just as it is worth it in Afghanistan and Iraq today. 

Today, in a world of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and states that sponsor the former and pursue the latter, defending freedom means we must confront dangers before it is too late.  In Iraq, for 12 years, through 17 United Nations Security Council resolutions, the world gave Saddam Hussein every opportunity to avoid war.  He was being held to a simple standard: live up to your agreement at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf war; disarm and prove you have done so.  Instead of disarming — as Kazakhstan, South Africa and Ukraine did, and as Libya is doing today — Saddam Hussein chose deception and defiance.

Repeatedly, he rejected those resolutions and he systematically deceived United Nations inspectors about his weapons and his intent.  The world knew his record: he used chemical weapons against Iran and his own citizens; he invaded Iran and Kuwait; he launched ballistic missiles at Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain; and his troops repeatedly fired on American and British aircraft patrolling the no-flight zones. 

Recognizing the threat, in September 2002 President Bush went to the United Nations, which gave Iraq still another "final opportunity" to disarm and to prove it had done so.  The next month the president went to Congress, which voted to support the use of force if Iraq did not.

And, when Saddam Hussein passed up that final opportunity, he was given a last chance to avoid war: 48 hours to leave the country.  Only then, after every peaceful option had been exhausted, did the president and our coalition partners order the liberation of Iraq.

Americans do not come easily to war, but neither do Americans take freedom lightly.  But when freedom and self-government have taken root in Iraq, and that country becomes a force for good in the Middle East, the rightness of those efforts will be just as clear as it is today in Korea, Germany, Japan and Italy. 

As the continuing terrorist violence in Iraq reminds us, the road to self-governance will be challenging.  But the progress is impressive.  Last week the Iraqi Governing Council unanimously signed an interim Constitution.  It guarantees freedom of religion and expression; the right to assemble and to organize political parties; the right to vote; and the right to a fair, speedy and open trial. It prohibits discrimination based on gender, nationality and religion, as well as arbitrary arrest and detention.  A year ago today, none of those protections could have been even imagined by the Iraqi people.

Today, as we think about the tens of thousands of United States soldiers in Iraq — and in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world fighting the global war on terrorism — we should say to all of them: "You join a long line of generations of Americans who have fought freedom's fight.  Thank you."

Donald H. Rumsfeld is the secretary of defense.