- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

Last week, when my wife and youngest daughter asked if they could greet me at the arrival gate (“My husband’s a soldier returning from Iraq,” Kathy said), one airport security officer and an airline counter clerk conspired to let them.

My daughter didn’t even have a photo ID, a by-the-book requirement to pass airport screening. I suspect the clerk and security officer are pros at reading people, and the delight in Christiana’s eyes positively identified her as a teenager relieved of long-term, sobering worry.

Sapped by jetlag, I ambled off the airplane, right into my ladies’ smiling faces. The family hug lasted a decade or so. If anyone wonders, colonels do cry (at least this colonel did) — one tear down the left cheek. “You’re home and safe, Dad,” my daughter said.

Safety at home is the core raison d’etre for this war, and safety at home, on a planet linked by jumbo jets and instant communications, means fundamentally changing the failed states and despotic hellholes that export their religious, civil, tribal and gang wars as terrorism.

September 11, 2001, shook, but failed to shatter, a premise shared by many Western elites that “the talking cure” of diplomacy and our demonstrated good intentions will inevitably bring a negotiated harmony. The tut-tutting media celebs who urge Russia’s Vladimir Putin to negotiate with the beasts who killed more than 300 children, parents and teachers in Beslan simply fail to see our enemies for what they are.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “jaw jaw” surely beats “war war,” but our enemies think talk signals a flagging will to resist.

Globally we confront two enemies, and I have seen both in Iraq.

Despots and autocrats are the first enemy. The despot, with an arrogance that comes from never being held responsible for his crimes, believes his iron resolve eventually will trump the spineless advocates of democracy.

Despots — like the Saddamist holdouts fighting in Iraq — believe all they need do is keep killing until everyone is cowed. Why not? It has worked for them before. The arrogance only ends when a Green Beret — or, with increasing frequency, an Iraqi cop — blows his head off in a raid.

The despots are, in their own way, at war with modernity. Successful modern political systems liberate human creativity. A freed imagination ultimately demands a greater say in governance — which means the end of the tyrant.

The second enemy we face feeds off the unfortunate victims of the first. The second enemy is the Islamist religious extremist. I have many Muslim friends, and they are the first targets of the bin Ladens and Zarqawis. Is this enemy a “death cult”? Not really — note that the top dogs aren’t suicidal. This enemy is an aggressive, imperialistic, violent sect that, in one guise or another, has plagued Islam for centuries.

This Islamist enemy is also at war with modernity. These radicals seek “imperial restoration.” Recall Osama bin Laden complained of “80 years of Muslim indignation and suffering,” the result of Turkish reformer Kemal Ataturk’s 1924 decision to end the caliphate. History, going wrong for Islamist expansionists since at least the 16th century, went totally tilt when the caliphate dissolved.

The 21st century Islamist radicals, however, really aim for global domination, with themselves as the sole interpreters and enforcers of what they deem God’s laws.

If there is one mistake we’ve made in this war, I think it has been the way we have soft-pedaled the ideological dimensions. This really is a fight for the future, between our free, open political system and the unholy alliance of despots and Islamo-fascists whose very existence depends on denying liberty.

Iraq — long plundered by despotism — should be a wealthy country. It has water, an agricultural base, a source of capital (oil) and people willing to work. It is the best place to begin to reform the dysfunctional political systems that shackle and rob the vast majority of Middle Easterners. The lesson of September 11, three years on, is that liberty must sustain a focused offensive if it is to survive.

That’s an enormous undertaking, and I have seen firsthand in Iraq just how complex and costly a task it is. Strategically, however, we must do it to protect our free and open society, and to provide our families the security they dearly deserve.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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