- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Sixty years and three days ago, the Allies mounted the Normandy invasion. D-Day beganwhatGen. Dwight David Eisenhower called a “crusade in Europe” to eliminate the charter member of a really frightening “axis of evil,” the Nazi regime. The Allies did just that, and Normandy started the final push. It was a great crusade. And there were many heroes of all ranks.

Sunday’s D-Day celebrations by the beaches where thousands died so that Europe could be free were particularly moving. That the “greatest generation” is also reaching the end of the line was bittersweet background for these events. In some part, the celebration was over the heroism not only ofthosewho stormed ashore and went on to conquerGermany but also of their leaders.

Churchill, Roosevelt, Marshall and Eisenhower were among that group.While each had defects as all men do, history has been properly kind to them. That judgment was reinforced by the nobility of the struggle to vanquish evil regimes and ideologies that permitted crusades and heroes to flourish.

Today, the United States, its allies and the new interim Iraqi government are embarked on what the Bush administration would like to believe is a crusade, if that word were politically acceptable. But the ambition is not necessarily less than defeating the evil axis was 60 years ago. Bringing democracy to Iraq is part of the grander aim of transforming the strategic landscape of the greater Middle East. Yet, that strategy poses more risks than the landing at Normandy did. If we fail in Iraq, the Middle East could too easily be destabilized with disastrous consequences. If Normandy failed, Ike would have been fired, the Allies would have regrouped, and we still almost certainly would have won World War II, admittedly at greater cost and difficulty. In Iraq, the first priority remains restoring order and political stability. That is not a crusade.

To the degree that any war posed good against evil, World War II did. There was just cause. Legitimacy was guaranteed by unprovoked enemy aggression. Those circumstances created the grounds for crusades and heroes.

Saddam Hussein certainly passes the evil test. However, compared with Hitler and the might of the Third Reich, Saddam was a relatively minor villain. The original reasons for war, namely weapons of mass destruction and links to al Qaeda, have drifted out of sight. Hence, while there are tens of thousands of heroes serving and fighting in Iraq (and Afghanistan), no real heroes such as Churchill, FDR, Marshall and Eisenhower have emerged from the global war on terror and the Iraqi campaign. Of course, history will make more permanent judgment.

While many Americans admire President Bush’s leadership and focus, his choices in Iraq are diminishing. “Staying the course” is not a strategy. After June 30, a very unproven Iraqi government will assume responsibility for governance. An exit strategy in which a date certain is set for withdrawing the bulk or all American forces is laden with risk. Iraqi security forces may not be up to the task of securing the state. Civil war, partition among Sunni, Shia and Kurdish regions or a failed state are outcomes that could occur with an American exit. Yet, deploying 50,000 or 100,000 more troops, even if that could stabilize Iraq, seems beyond America’s ability, even though it is the world’s sole remaining superpower.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have not come up with better alternatives. John Kerry has delivered a formidable critique of Iraq policy. Now he must craft an equally formidable alternative. So far, only candidate Ralph Nader has called for a radical policy change through withdrawal, and his chances of becoming president are even less than Saddam’s of returning to power.

Manyyearsago,Chester Cooper wrote an insightful book about Vietnam called “The Lost Crusade.” Mr. Cooper argued that the definition of a tragedy was a collision between two “rights” — defending the sovereignty of South Vietnam while retracting from an ill-conceived war. There may not be two “rights” regarding Iraq.

To many, myself included, there is no alternative to establishing a safe, stable Iraq under the rule of law. Since the administration remains set on the current course, is there anything that can be done to ensure a genuine re-examination and thoughtful review of other choices?

The only answer may be through frank, candid and early presidential debates not turned to mush by rules designed to limit and not foster give-and-take. Indeed, while the nominating process almost certainly will prevent such debates prior to the conventions, serious thought should be given to making exceptions, given the stakes involved. The time for crusades and heroes may have passed us by. But the time for hard-nosed introspection and hard-hitting debate has not.

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