|The New York Times
Hold Fast, Idealists
By WILLIAM SAFIRE May 12, 2004
WASHINGTON — Last month, the angry charge at the 9/11 commission was that our intelligence was weak and ineffective. That was because the terrorists were at war and we were not. This month, with the U.S. at war with terror, the angry charge is that our intelligence was cruelly un-American.
Last month, Democrats joined a book-promoting author to try to place
the blame for failing to stop Al Qaeda's attacks on an unconcerned
This month, Democrats led by Michigan Senator Carl Levin are imputing blame for the pornographic sadism of a dozen guards and interrogators to a chain of command on up to Donald Rumsfeld and Bush. The abuses, Levin charged, were "clearly planned and suggested by others."
Clearly? That was not the subsequent testimony of Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, emerging as a genuine hero in this sordid mess. Assigned by top commanders to investigate, he did his job without fear or favor. No other military anywhere would permit such searing self-examination.
Taguba said, "A few soldiers and civilians conspired to abuse. . .
But the names Taguba's report named were not important enough for those
who want to use this scandal to justify their opposition to this war
until the nation wearies of the conflict and the Bush administration
can be ousted.
Those of us who believe in the nobility of exporting freedom cannot trivialize the scandal. But we need not let our dismay at the predations of some self-photographing creeps overwhelm the morally sound purpose of our antiterror campaign. Nor should the dereliction of some officers detract from the brave and upright service of almost all our warriors.
Though polls show that most Americans understand this, the atmosphere in the BosNyWash corridor is that of panic. Even some of my hard-line brethren are urging that we throw a few leaders off the sled to palliate the pack in pursuit; others offer an emergency exit strategy that is "cut and walk fast."
That strikes me as the essence of the "Democracy Now" notion of The Weekly Standard. Its editors want to short-circuit the present schedule of an interim government appointed June 30 to arrange elections early next year. Instead, they propose elections this September with a big increase in U.S. troops, presumably to prevent terrorist electioneering near the polls, accompanied by French and German troops who would be induced to serve "to support elections."
Nice peace if you can get it. To return to the real world: we and the Brits and the U.N. and Iraqi leaders are working out a plan now that offers a fair chance of a transition to full sovereignty with elections next year and without civil war. The concurrent buildup of a multiethnic police force would be followed by the coalition's orderly withdrawal. That's doable.
The U.N. envoy at first floated out a trial balloon of an interim regime of nonentities forswearing all ambition. He is now busily revising that in consultation with Iraqi power brokers. As the local pols get a piece of the transition action, they — with assorted technocrats — will have a stake in the election process and should help our troops there protect an election.
But won't the Iraqi people be driven crazy by pictures from Abu Ghraib prison and embrace the pro-Saddam terrorists? My Kurdish friends say that's nonsense. They remember the 5,000 innocents Saddam gassed to death in Halabja — nor have the Shiites forgotten his mass graves. Many Iraqis may be resentful of the current American protection, but most are not sore enough to wish us gone yet, or to submit again to Sunni rule.
Lost in the fixation on our self-condemnation is what may be a turning point in Najaf, the holy Shiite city. The hate-filled junior cleric leading his private militia against us is not only taking casualties from American soldiers, but is also facing vocal opposition from residents who want him to take his troublemakers out of town.
That means that Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has recently seen Kurdish leaders, recognizes the challenge to his leadership of the Shiites. It may also lead to a recognition of minority rights by the majority in a rudimentary democracy in tomorrow's Iraq.
Pessimism may be in the saddle today, but hope for Iraqi freedom is in the wings. Wait and see.