Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Somehow 2003 seemed longer than just one year — more like a decade. One year ago, we were still debating what to do about Iraq. So much has happened since then. The war touched every aspect of American lives and politics. In our airports here at home, we watched U.S. troops going off to Iraq or coming home to the happy, tearful greetings of family members. Our children wanted to know why Americans are targets of attack when we are in Iraq to help. Television nightly gave the count of casualties, and, on occasion, news of a more encouraging nature from Iraq.

The war affected politics domestically and internationally. It provided all sorts of fodder for the Democratic presidential candidates. The United Nations took its worst drubbing in years, as the Security Council failed to deal with the challenge to its authority presented by defiant Iraq.

Meanwhile, the “axis-of-evil” countries turned out more promising than we could have hoped. Iraq is a threat no more; Iran agreed to international inspections of its nuclear program; and Libya renounced its weapons of mass destruction — just days after the capture of a scraggly looking Saddam Hussein. Coincidence? Hardly.

Below is a selection of some memorable quotes of this memorable year. They come with thanks to my readers and the hope for a peaceful 2004:

• January: “We see no justification today for a [military] intervention, since the inspectors are able to do their work.” — French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, just before France threatened to block the vote for action in the U.N. Security Council.

• January: “How much time do we need to see clearly that he is not disarming? This looks much like a rerun of a bad movie, and I am not interested in watching it.”— President Bush, speaking about the U.N. weapons inspections of Iraq.

February: “Our countries understand the dangers posed by tyranny and the special relationship of democracies to defend our shared values. The trans-Atlantic community, of which we are a part, must stand together to face the threat posed by the nexus of terrorism and dictators with weapons of mass destruction.” — Open letter in support of U.S. action in Iraq, signed by the foreign ministers of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

February: “They missed a great opportunity to keep quiet.”— French President Jacques Chirac, about the open letter sent by Central and East European countries.

February: “You are thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don’t. I think that’s old Europe.” — Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the German and French opposition to the war.

May: “The war on terror is not over; yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide. No act of the terrorists will change our purpose, or weaken our resolve or alter their fate.” — President George Bush on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln.

August: “These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the President.”— CIA Director George Tenet, referring to the president’s statement in the State of the Union speech about the alleged Iraqi purchases of uranium from Niger.

October: “Congress is not an ATM machine.” — Sen. Robert Byrd, perhaps as he discovered the $87 billion for reconstruction and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan would be not spent in West Virginia.

December: “I am the president of Iraq. I want to negotiate.”— Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, emerging from his hole to face U.S. troops.

December: “Good riddance.” — President Bush on the capture of Saddam Hussein.

December: “With Saddam’s capture, the page of the Iraqi dictatorship has been turned and the international community should congratulate itself.”— French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.

December: “The U.N. as an organization failed to help rescue the Iraqi people from a murderous tyranny that lasted over 35 years. The U.N. must not fail the Iraqi people again.” Iraqi foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, giving the U.N. Security Council a piece of his mind.

“The capture of Saddam has not made America safer.”— Democratic presidential frontrunner Howard Dean.

December: “It’s funny, when they are having trouble, suddenly they have to roll out something.”— Rep. Jim McDermott, WashingtonDemocrat, on the capture of Saddam.

December: “There’s going to be plenty of time for politics. And people can debate all they want. I am going to do my job.”— President Bush on the attacks by the Democrats.

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