- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

No literary observation better describes the situation in Iraq than Charles Dickens’ paradoxical opening line in “A Tale of Two Cities”:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

On the best side, Iraq is a country of 26 million people who have been freed from a brutal, repressive dictatorship, who have written and approved a self-governing constitution, and then trooped to the voting polls to elect their representatives despite death threats from terrorist insurgents.

Schools were opened to boys and girls alike. Freedom of the press led to establishing hundreds of independent newspapers, radio and television stations. People protested and rallied without fear of reprisals. Businesses blossomed, a stock market was begun, millions of cell phones appeared everywhere, Iraqis were going “on line.” And a nation has been reborn.

A government is being formed, though negotiations over its makeup have been slow, a growing number of Iraqi soldiers are being trained by U.S. and NATO allies, and for the first time in many decades a glimmer of hope for the future has been rekindled and now burns more brightly.

But there is also the worst of times: brutal, bloodthirsty terrorist forces, most from outside Iraq, are indiscriminately killing men, women and children in a reign of death calculated to spawn fear, chaos and civil war. This has become the face of Iraq on the nightly news shows — the car bombs, the suicide dynamite-jacketed killers in crowded plazas, the gunmen who open fire on innocent civilians, police and Iraqi troops.

Oil lines are blown up, electric utilities are sabotaged, Iraqi officials are executed, and places of worship are blown up.

It is violence seemingly without end whose aim is to paralyze Iraq and force our withdrawal so the terrorists can achieve their ultimate goal: bring down the government and install a terrorist regime that will snuff out the flickering light of freedom that our brave soldiers have lit.

This dark side has become the face of Iraq on our TV screens and in our newspapers. This is what Americans see day in and day out and the result is understandable — loss of confidence in President Bush to turn the situation around, and loss of support for the war’s original purpose — to build a free, antiterrorist, democratic government there.

This week, Mr. Bush and other administration officials were making the case to stay the course and finish the mission, attempting to convince Americans there was reason for optimism and that the Iraqis were immeasurably better off with Saddam Hussein gone, even in the midst of their struggles to preserve their freedoms.

That argument has become harder to make because it conflicts with the pictures of unremitting violence, dismemberment and death people see on their television screens night after night.

Mr. Bush knows this better than anyone. “In the face of continued reports about killings and reprisals, I understand how some Americans have had their confidence shaken,” he told the City Club of Cleveland on Monday. “Others look on their television screens and they wonder how I can remain so optimistic about the prospects of success in Iraq. They wonder what I see that they don’t,” he said.

He acknowledged the counterinsurgency there has gone through much “trial and error” but that U.S. and Iraqi forces had captured or killed many terrorists and brought a semblance of peace to cities like Tall Afar (al Qaeda-controlled).

In the end, the critical nexus of Iraq’s future will be its own armed forces. And there is much reason for hope. “The progress made in bringing more Iraqi security forces online is helping to bring peace and stability to Iraqi cities,” he said. Vice President Dick Cheney said Iraqi soldiers now lead about half the military missions and that will only grow in months to come.

Mr. Bush’s optimism is based on a vision of what Iraq will become: a self-governing, robust democracy aligned with the West against the forces of terror. It will not come about quickly or easily, but it will happen.

Where his critics see only doom and gloom, Mr. Bush sees progress in the growing strength and skills of Iraqi troops, in the hunger for a better life in the Iraqi people, and in the terrorists’ inability to stop the movement to self-government.

A country can live with terrorism for a long time by combating it while it builds itself up as a nation. Look at Israel. The bombings did not wear down the Israeli people. They only became more determined to do whatever was necessary to secure their safety and freedom and preserve their nation.

That’s what Iraqis are doing and that’s why they deserve our continued military support until they can defend themselves from the evil forces that attacked us on September 11, 2001.

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

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