Politics & Policy

Understanding Op Iraqi Freedom

Conversations with a European friend.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the second of a series first published in the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore. The first can be read here.

Dear Rinaldo,

How is the war going, you ask me in your e-mail, and you tell me that you and Beatrice are praying hard every day.

#ad#Thank you so much for your prayers — for the Coalition armies and for the Iraqi people. I hope you are praying, too, for a change of heart in Saddam’s leadership circles, who continue to cause such barbaric suffering, pushing civilians out in front of their soldiers and military installations, as hostages.

As I write, the Coalition forces have raced 500 kilometers northward toward Baghdad in five days, faster than any large army in history. Iraq is as large as France. Even with the renowned tank commanders Patton and Montgomery, the race across France in 1944 was nowhere near this fast. Nor were casualties, civilian and military, anywhere near as low. So far, this boldest military dash in the history of warfare has been an unprecedented success.

To spare civilian casualties by taking extreme measures of care, in accordance with just war principles, this rapidly racing force has bypassed cities with large populations. Everything possible is being done to save civilian lives.

But the Coalition forces had four other aims, which as I told you when I was in Rome last month, seemed almost impossible. They had to seize both the northern and the southern oil fields before they were dynamited by Saddam’s men, in order to avert one environmental disaster, and to avert another, to capture immediately the pipe line at Umm Qasr that Saddam had planned to blow up so that its contents would flood the Persian gulf.

They also had to capture swiftly the whole western half of Iraq to prevent scuds from being launched against Iraq’s westward neighbors, as happened in 1991. Fourth, they had to protect the Kurds in the north and stabilize that front.

All four of these seemingly impossible tasks have been accomplished in five days.

When we talked in Rome, I told you that even someone without access to secret intelligence (like me) could predict that the Coalition forces would move swiftly to accomplish these goals, and that their Armies would be well advised to skip by the cities, without occupying them. Speed toward Baghdad would be essential. Was I right, or what?

I predicted to you that people in Iraq would welcome liberation with jubilation — once they were sure of it. That happened immediately in the Shia villages in the south. It has not happened in the big cities yet, because the Baath Party and the regime’s local superintendents are still exerting threatening control over the people. Fear still rules. Commander-in-chief Saddam may still be alive, and his remorselessness is bitterly well known and much to be dreaded.

Wait until the people of Iraq know that the days of Saddam and his regime are gone for good. Then we will see what the people of Iraq actually believe, when they are free to talk. Look at the Kurds of the north — they have been relatively protected and free under the shield of the No-fly-zone maintained by Coalition aircraft overhead for the past twelve years. Listen to them, if you want to learn what free people who were forced to suffer under Saddam say when they are free.

Here in the U.S., we have had some bad days, seeing those awful images of four young men and one young woman taken prisoner and plainly mistreated by the Iraqi, as these were shown on television. (The whole film was not shown here, but one can find it on the internet. Instead, individual frames of the film were shown, avoiding the faces of the American dead sprawling around them.) These were shocking, disgusting views. But we are a tough people here. Such things make us deeply, quietly angry, and steel our determination — just as September 11, 2001, did.

During the Second World War, from 1941 until 1944, the people of the United States endured far more setbacks than the minor ones we have suffered during the last five days. In our own Civil War from 1861-65, the bloodshed and suffering were the worst in history until that time. But we were fighting for liberty to free the slaves. That is why we fought in World War I, for liberty, as expressed in Wilson’s Fourteen Points. So we fought in World War II, and in the Cold War — to set other nations free. We see Iraq in this same light.

The mood here is good, and getting better. But we expect much bloody fighting for our troops, until the regime in Baghdad crumbles, and the people of Iraq know that they are finally free.

What you said in your e-mail really bothers me, that some media in Europe are magnifying every difficulty the Coalition faces, and almost visibly wishing for our failure. Most people in Europe believe in freedom and in human rights, and when they finally pay attention to the barbarities that Saddam has inflicted on his people, I believe they will judge these things rather differently.

— Michael Novak is the winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion and the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

Michael Novak was a Catholic philosopher, journalist, novelist, and diplomat.

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