- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2003

President Bush's war to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime is over, the Iraqis have been liberated, and the Middle East's worst threat to peace is no more.
So why aren't the political pundits happy?
Even as Iraqis rejoiced over their newly won freedom and toppled Saddam's statues, U.S. television networks were still repeatedly broadcasting the same footage of looters. The ransacking, much of it driven by the hatred of a murderous tyrant, dissipated as Iraqi volunteers took charge of their own law enforcement.
Iraqi Shi'ites, for the first time in decades, were reveling in new religious freedom, with thousands making the pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala. Some Iraqis have even openly protested the U.S. presence in their country. While it may seem inappropriate to us, the point is that they now have the freedom to do so without the fearing the murderous persecution they suffered under Saddam Hussein.
But newspapers such as the New York Times and The Washington Post see nothing but "chaos" and "despair" in the war's aftermath. Media analysts shake their heads about the monumental rebuilding tasks ahead and worry about the prospects of a "quagmire" of occupation. This, even though some of our aircraft carriers and combat troops continue to head home.
The Times, in a front-page story last week, reported that the U.S. military was setting up "permanent" bases in Iraq intimating, of course, that we will be occupying the country forever. I read the story and it seems as if it was cooly calculated to inflame the Iraqis. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld countered that the report was totally and completely false, angrily condemning this kind of fear-mongering, "Henny Penny" reporting. Henny is a character in the children's tale about Chicken Little, who claimed that "the sky is falling." It wasn't, it isn't and it won't.
We are going to repair the damage done to Iraq, help the Iraqi people start a government, and then get out of there as soon as we can. The fact is that conditions there are improving: Food shipments are making their way into the region; water lines and electricity are being turned on; for the first time in weeks, street lights are on in parts of Baghdad; medicines are being flown in; police forces are being hired to protect civilians; and schools and shops have reopened.
At the same time, I think our military presence in the region and the changes we have brought about so far will open up new opportunities for peace, as happened in the wake of the 1991 Persian Gulf war, when a new peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians was initiated. The postwar period this time has spawned new hope of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord and a long-sought Palestinian state.
Syria, which helped arm Iraq, is sounding a lot more cooperative after the well-justified pounding Mr. Bush, Mr. Rumsfeld and Colin Powell gave President Bashar Assad about harboring Iraqi fugitives. Iran seems to be keeping its head down as well, worried perhaps that it may be next on Mr. Bush's agenda.
Elsewhere, even North Korea has suddenly dropped demands for one-on-one talks with the United States about its nuclear weapons program, agreeing to multilateral discussions with the United States and China.
America's swift victory over Iraq has also strengthened Mr. Powell's hand in bringing increased diplomatic pressure on adversaries in the Middle East. "He can press straddling states to deal with him now or Rumsfeld later," writes Victor Davis Hanson in National Review.
But among the chattering class here in the news media, there is barely grudging approval for the enormously far-reaching victory Mr. Bush and U.S. military forces have achieved.
"Is this administration going to concern itself only with grand gestures," a frustrated Joe Klein cried out in a silly Time magazine essay. No doubt he longs for the days when Bill Clinton concentrated on tiny gestures, such as promoting school uniforms.
So much has happened so fast in the last two years that it is now dawning on many foreign desk analysts that two of the most dangerous terrorist dictatorships in the Middle East Saddam's regime and the Taliban thugs in Afghanistan no longer exist.
This will dramatically change the geopolitical environment in the entire region. The changes that will occur in Afghanistan and Iraq will help encourage similar reform movements in many neighboring Persian Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, as the people in those countries see the growing freedoms now being enjoyed by these liberated nations.
In the information age, democracy and freedom are going to become even more contagious in this war-torn region. The emerging debate in the Arab countries still in its infancy about building democratic institutions of government, religious tolerance and diversity, and broader access to educational and economic opportunities will be strengthened immeasurably by what we did in Iraq.
For past two decades, we looked the other way while bloodthirsty fanatics in the Middle East spread their global network of terror and eventually brought their war right into our cities. Mr. Bush has acted boldly and bravely by taking the war to them, in their caves and their bunkers, by acting pre-emptively to prevent another September 11, 2001, nightmare.
There were great risks and sacrifices some of our best and bravest lost their lives or suffered horribly. But America is safer, and the Middle East is more peaceful, as a result of what we did there.
So why aren't the Times, The Post and the whining political pundits in New York and Washington happier about this? Maybe it's because they can't stand the thought that the president, whom they ridiculed for so long as a lightweight, is being seen as a global heavyweight who thinks big, acts decisively and, unlike his predecessor, is winning the war against terror.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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