- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2003

When the 4th Infantry’s Raider Brigade troops pulled mass murderer Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, it elevated America’s heroic mission in Iraq to a whole new level.

In one swift, pinpoint military engagement, U.S. soldiers changed the geopolitical situation in Iraq for the better, dealt the terrorists a major blow, raised President Bush’s political standing here and abroad and opened embarrassing new questions about Bush critics who opposed the war to topple Saddam’s monstrous regime.

Let’s take these one at a time.

All the Monday morning pundits who said Saddam’s apprehension and imprisonment did not fundamentally change the situation on the ground in Iraq seem to miss the point.

This is an incremental war measured in enemy captures and body counts — one at a time. Next to Osama bin Laden, Saddam was one of the world’s most wanted terrorists. Many terrorists in Iraq saw him as their leader whom they hoped to restore to power.

That hope and that cause was dealt a strategic blow this week, though no one doubts these fanatics will continue their murder and mayhem for as long as they can. But their leaders are being eliminated one by one and, like Saddam, their days are numbered.

The nationalists, guerrillas and Saddam loyalists are losing the war and the forces of freedom, democracy and progress are winning. A provisional government soon will be installled and take over most of the functions of government, a democratic force no amount of isolated resistance can stop.

Despite the sporadic attacks we see in the news, life in Iraq gradually is improving. Schools are open, hospitals are functioning, towns are already electing their own local leaders. Oil is flowing, electricity and running water are more readily available. A growing Iraqi police force, army and civil defense organization is being trained and deployed. All told, a force of 140,000 is now is place. It will increase as our forces decrease.

An Iraqis intelligence agency is being formed and will be operating by March. The realization Saddam and his thugs are not coming back is encouraging Iraqis to come forward and tell us what they know of hidden terrorist forces, arms and financing. One of them led us to Saddam.

The political terrain was turned upside down here too in the aftermath of Saddam’s capture, both for Mr. Bush and the Democrats.

The president’s overall job approval scores, not to mention how voters rated his handling of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, shot up immediately. The search for weapons of mass destruction was never a really that big an issue for most voters in evaluating whether it was worth overthrowing Saddam. However, finding and trying Saddam for his war crimes against humanity was a big deal, and the administration delivered.

The public trial that will follow suggests to most Americans that Mr. Bush’s postwar plans are slowly but surely making progress. The regime is dead, Saddam Hussein will be tried, convicted and executed, a new government will be installed, the Iraqis will begin taking over more of their country’s security needs.

More of our troops will be coming home.

But for the Democrats — particularly Howard Dean — who hoped to make Iraq a major issue in next year’s election, Saddam’s capture made that a much more difficult sell to mainstream voters.

If the administration needed any help in defining the recklessness of Mr. Dean’s leftist, antiwar candidacy, it got it from Mr. Dean’s ach-Democratic rival for the nomination, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, on the most watched Sunday news program in the nation.

“If Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would be in power today, not in prison, and the world would be a much more dangerous place. … The American people would have a lot more to fear,” Mr. Lieberman said on “Meet The Press.”

Ironically, the stunning capture occurred on the weekend when Mr. Dean was rolling out a major foreign policy address that restated his opposition to the war. Mr. Dean said in that speech “the capture of Saddam has not made America safer.”

But in his news conference Monday, to bask in the political success of the capture operation, Mr. Bush argued convincingly Americans were a little safer with Saddam behind bars. Certainly the Iraqi people feel safer with the knowledge this megalomaniac can never return to power.

In his news conference, Mr. Bush continued to tie the war in Iraq to the war on terrorism. There is nothing that will hurt the terrorists more than a free, democratic country aligned with the United States in the heart of the Middle East. In the end, this is the critical objective that will be at the center of next year’s presidential election.

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

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