- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 4, 2005

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, came out with a big statement on Iraq last week. Did you hear about it? Probably not. Everyone was still raving about his fellow Democrat, Pennsylvania Rep. Jack Murtha, whose carefully nuanced position on Iraq is: We’re all doomed unless we pull out by next Tuesday. (I quote from memory.)

Also the U.S. Army is “broken,” “worn out” and “living hand-to-mouth.” If by military readers’ reaction to his remarks is anything to go by, Mr. Murtha should be grateful they’re still bogged down in Iraq and not in the congressional parking lot.

It’s almost acceptable in polite society to disagree with Mr. Murtha, but only if you do so after a big 20-minute tongue bath about what “a fine man” he is (as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said) or what “a good man” he is (as Vice President Dick Cheney called him) or what “a fine man, a good man” he is (as President Bush phrased it). Nobody says that about Mr. Lieberman, especially those on his own side.

While the media were eager to promote Mr. Murtha as Earth’s most incisively insightful military expert, this Joe Lieberman evidently is a nobody no one need pay any attention. Here’s why. His big Iraq piece was headlined “Our troops must stay.”

And who wants to hear that? Not the media and certainly not Mr. Lieberman’s colleagues in the Defeaticrat Party. It must be awful lonely being Joe Lieberman in the Democratic Party these days. Every time he switches on the news there’s John Kerry sonorously droning out his latest pretzel of a position.

Insofar as I understand it, Mr. Kerry is not calling for a firm 100 percent fixed date of withdrawal — like, say, Feb. 4, 2 p.m.; meet at Baghdad bus station with two pieces of carry-on. Don’t worry, it’s not like flying coach on American Airlines, you could change the date without a surcharge. But Mr. Kerry drones we need to “set benchmarks” for the “transfer of authority.”

Actually, the administration for two years has set dates for the return of sovereignty, for electing a national assembly, for approving a constitution, etc., and has met them all.

And all during those same two years, Mr. Kerry and his fellow Democrats have huffed that these dates were far too premature, the Iraqis aren’t in a position to take over, hold an election, whatever. The Defeaticrats were against the benchmarks before they were for them.

These sad, hollow men may yet get their way: They may persuade the American people a remarkable victory in the Middle East is in fact a humiliating defeat. It would be an incredible achievement. Peter Worthington, Canadian columnist and veteran of World War II and Korea, likes to say there’s no such thing as an unpopular won war. The Democrat-media alliance are determined to make Iraq an exception.

In 11 days, Iraqis will participate in the most open political contest in Middle East history. They’re building the region’s freest society and only truly federal system.

In three-quarters of the country, life has never been better. There’s an economic boom in the Shi’ite south and a tourist boom in the Kurdish north, and, while the only thing going boom in the Sunni Triangle are the suicide bombers, there were fewer of those in November than in the previous seven months.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s experiment in Arab liberty has had ripple effects beyond its borders, pushing the Syrians most of the way out of Lebanon, and in Syria itself significantly weakening Baby Assad’s regime. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who has spent years as a beleaguered democracy advocate in Egypt, told The Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland the other day that, though he opposed the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, he had to admit it had “unfrozen the Middle East, just as Napoleon’s 1798 expedition did. Elections in Iraq force the theocrats and autocrats to put democracy on the agenda, even if only to fight against us. Look, neither Napoleon nor President Bush could impregnate the region with political change. But they were able to be the midwives.”

The Egyptians get it, so do the Iraqis, Lebanese, Jordanians and Syrians. The choice is never between a risky action and the status quo — i.e., leaving Saddam in power, United Nations sanctions, U.S. forces sitting on his borders.

The stability fetishists in the State Department and the European Union fail to understand there is no status quo: Things are always moving in some direction. And, if you leave a dictator and his psychotic sons in business, and his Oil-for-Food scam up and running, and his nuclear research and development in place, chances are they’re moving in his direction.

Toppling Saddam was worthwhile in and of itself. Toppling Saddam and trying to “midwife” (in Mr. Ibrahim’s word) a free society would be worth doing even if it failed. But, as it happens, I don’t believe it will fail, not just because of Mr. Bush but because enough Iraqis — Shi’ites, Kurds and even significant numbers of Sunnis — are determined it won’t fail.

And here’s where the scale of the Bush gamble becomes clear. Islam and “the West” have a long history. And, without rehashing the last millennium and a half, the Muslim conquest of Europe and then the Crusades and the fall of Andalusia, if you take out a map of the world and look at the rise of the European empires you notice a curious thing: The imperial powers for the most part simply bypassed the Islamic world. They made Africa and South Asia and Latin America and everywhere else seats of European power, but they left the Middle East alone. And, even when they eventually got their hands on the region, after World War I, they made no serious attempt to reform the neighborhood. We live with the consequences of that today.

So President Bush has chosen to embark on a project every other great power of the last half-millennium has shrunk from: transformation of the Middle East. You can argue its merits, but once that is under way it is preposterous to suggest we need to have it all wrapped up by Jan. 24. The Defeaticrats’ loss of proportion is unworthy of a serious political party in the world’s only superpower. In next week’s election, the Iraqi people will shame them yet again.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Mark Steyn, 2005

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