Thursday, December 15, 2005

President Accepts Responsibility; Reiterates War Policy

President Bush yesterday gave the fourth and final speech in a series designed to counter calls to withdraw from Iraq, this time addressing Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. His address called for patience on the part of both Americans and Iraqis, noting that there was still a good deal of work to be done in establishing a solid Iraqi government capable of standing on its own. (Washington Post: Bush Urges 'Patience' on Iraq). "It's also going to take a while for them to form a government," Bush said in his speech. "The work ahead will require patience of the Iraqi people and require our patience as well."

The President once again accepted responsibility for the decision to go to war, reiterating that that decision was based on intelligence that has since been determined to be inaccurate. The President established a commission months ago to review the pre-war intelligence gathering process and to address the flaws in that process. Despite the inaccurate data, the President maintains that the removal of Hussein from power was the correct one.

Dusting off a phrase he used frequently in the build-up to the war and again on the night US troops launched the first volley in Operation Iraqi Freedom, President Bush reminded the nation that, "The United States did not choose war. The choice was Saddam Hussein's."

That, perhaps, is the message that has been most lost on the public over the past 2 1/2 years, and it's a very important message to deliver. The decision to withhold information demanded in UN Resolution 1440 was Saddam Hussein's. The decision not to account for the disposal or storage of tons of chemical weapons that had previously been documented by Iraq was Saddam Hussein's. The decision to divert, thwart, and mislead UN inspectors for 12-years was Saddam Hussein's. The decision to give a $25,000 reward to the families of all Muslim suicide bombers in the year prior to the war was Saddam Hussein's.

In the weeks prior to the start of the war, the President offered Hussein a way out of the conflict. Even without adhering to 1441, Hussein was offered exile and safe harbor. We learned earlier this year that other nations in the Middle East had offered to grant him a safe exile. He refused, choosing instead to fight a war that he could not possibly win. President Bush is correct. The decision to go to war was ultimately Hussein's.

Now that we are there, the stakes are extremely high. As the war of words escalates between Israel and Iran, do not think for a moment that the eyes of the Arab world are on US resolve in Iraq. Just as the overwhelming success in Gulf War I and in Afghanistan brought Libya into compliance, so too will the world's perception of our willingness to stay the course in Iraq have a significant impact on the outcome in Iran. The weaker the US appears in Iraq, the stronger Iran's position will be in their quest for nuclear fuel technology.

Also at stake is the view moderate Arab's have for America's willingness to support their own initiatives. Shiites in Iraq felt abandoned by the US after Gulf War I when Hussein was allowed to fly helicopters in that region and used them to launch a series of deadly attacks against the Shiite community. (That was the reason the no-fly zone in the south was instituted.) Moderate Arab groups in the Middle East, including a very large population of moderates in Iran that would like to see a far less militaristic tone set by their own government, are closely watching our desire to see the job of rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq.

Dismantling a government is easy. We've done it twice in the span of three months. The challenge is what comes afterwards, and that is what proves to be most difficult. So the President is correct. Patience is in order. We have been in Iraq for only 2 1/2 years, and astounding progress has been made. Much of what we've accomplished was deemed impossible by a skeptical world two years ago. It bears reminding that, in our own quest for freedom, 11 years passed between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the US Constitution. Patience is indeed the key. Any calls to simply cut and run are misguided, foolhardy, and a sure recipe for disaster throughout the Middle East.


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