- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

President Bush's war to liberate Iraq was such a success that naysayers are scrambling to find any angle of criticism they can muster. For the past week, Mr. Bush's critics among Arabs, Europeans and congressional Democrats have screamed to high heaven about looting across Iraq following the fall of Saddam. Speaking on behalf of the Blame America First crowd, one Baghdad schoolteacher indicted the United States for damage to Iraq's National Museum and National Library: "The modern Mongols, the new Mongols, did that. The Americans did that."
The histrionics are nothing more than a tempest in a patcha pot. And the facts are all wrong, too. As Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has pointed out, Pentagon military planners went out of their way not to target Iraq's cultural sites, which were not hit by coalition bombing raids. All the ransacking of museums, libraries and markets was at the hands of the country's own people. Trying to mitigate the losses, U.S. forces are delivering millions in food and medical aid and have offered rewards for returned art and artifacts. Thanks to widespread deployment of American troops, crime is quickly abating.
A couple days of spontaneous rambunctiousness after a long tyranny should be kept in perspective especially when compared to the systematic plunder of Iraq's riches by Saddam's inner circle. Because of the centralization of the dictator's government, select Iraqi officials and members of Saddam's family had the ability to empty bank accounts of ordinary citizens for the leaders' benefit. Countless thousands of Iraqis were robbed of their life's savings during the last gasps of the old order. As Britain's Guardian newspaper reported yesterday, between $5 billion and $40 billion in Iraqi assets were transferred through European banks to obscure Middle Eastern accounts in the days before the regime's collapse. As hard as it may be to believe, this is a drop in the bucket compared to what the Butcher of Baghdad stole over his entire reign.
In Douglas Fairbanks's 1924 silent-screen classic, "The Thief of Baghdad," magic armies descend on the city to depose a corrupt usurper and reinstall the rightful sovereign. The indiscretions of the liberator a petty thief made good are overlooked in light of the restoration of peace he brought about. While the comparison is imperfect, as mannerly coalition forces cannot be equated to Fairbanks's pickpocket, the old Hollywood screenplay does offer some lessons for today. Getting rid of a tyrant isn't easy, and it's certainly not pretty but the short-term problems of regime change are worth the long-term comfort and security of freedom. Recent looting is indeed regrettable, but Iraqis can rest assured that life will be better, now that the modern Thief of Baghdad is gone forever.

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