- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007

President Bush criticized the way Saddam Hussein’s execution was handled, saying, “I wish, obviously that the proceedings had gone in a more dignified way.” The administration had also denounced the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, calling them “offensive to the beliefs of Muslims.” At the time, the State Department warned that freedom of speech comes with responsibility. In the case of Saddam’s execution, the Iraqi government has acted even more irresponsibly, turning it into an act of revenge and making it a catalyst for even more sectarian violence.

Such unfortunate and unnecessary provocations do not help America’s image in the Muslim world. Many believe the United States is fighting Islam and deliberately fueling the sectarian violence. Talk on the street in the region ranges from rumors that the masked guards in Saddam’s execution chamber were American to claims that Americans leaked the cell phone video of the hanging. What’s more, many believe Saddam did not have a fair trial, and that it was rushed before his ties to the United States and England came to light. The fact that the United States supported him during the eight-year war with Iran has left lasting baggage.

In this environment, Mr. Bush is planning to announce the new “way forward” in Iraq. It will be surprising if he says something new, but it will be no surprise to see him remain steadfast in defense of his decision to go into Iraq — even though he admitted there have been mistakes in the post-Saddam era. He will not say Iraq has been a mistake.

When Mr. Bush addressed the U.N. General Assembly in 2003, months after his call for support was rebuffed, he said, “Twenty-four months ago and yesterday in the memory of America, the center of New York City became a battlefield and a graveyard and the symbol of an unfinished war.” Talking to PBS News Hour’s Jim Lehrer in 2005, Mr. Bush said, “Al Qaeda has gone into Iraq to fight us, and that’s why we’ve got to defeat them there.” He continued, “[T]his is such an unusual kind of war and so different from what [p]eople think of war.” Last year, Mr. Bush noted that “[f]ive years after 9/11, our enemies have not succeeded in launching another attack on our soil.”

Put together, these comments reveal Mr. Bush’s mindset. He counts it as a victory that the United States has suffered no terror attacks since September 11. “The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad,” Mr. Bush has said. He chose Iraq as the battlefield for this “unusual war.” It has become the battlefield on which to fight al Qaeda and all radical Islamists. Mr. Bush clearly wanted to see how far they would go while keeping them away from the U.S. homeland. Only three days after September 11, Mr. Bush promised, “[T]he people who knocked these buildings down will hear us soon.” The world heard his anger.

Today, the question is whether that anger led him down the wrong path while trying to protect American lives. Democrats refuse to accept that they too had invested in toppling Saddam Hussein during the Clinton administration, and they too believed that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to U.S. national security. With the new Democratic Congress, Mr. Bush could be more blunt in his plan for the way forward, rather than saying merely that not stabilizing Iraq will hurt U.S. interests far more than any past circumstances.

Mr. Bush has succeeded in turning Iraq into the battlefield for the “new kind of war” against the terrorists. And it is sad to lose more than 3,000 men and women in military service. But the losses would be much worse on U.S. soil.

Mr. Bush’s Iraq plan may sound as though he doesn’t care about Iraqi lives. But this is not a question of fairness. Mr. Bush believes that the battlefield he established in Iraq saves more American lives than those currently being lost in the military. The growing sectarian violence, however, has taken away whatever control Mr. Bush had over the situation. But there is a long way to go before we get a sense of how this war will end. It is no little thing to hear the frustration of people in the Middle East. Hopefully they will become frustrated enough to take real action to end the sectarian conflict.

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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