Politics & Policy

On The “Frontlines of Freedom”

Reaction to President Bush's Sunday-night address on Iraq.

Michael Ledeen

My guess, listening between the lines, is that so many people all over the world viewed our appeal to the United Nations as a clear sign of retreat, that the president decided he’d better get out there and look tough. He rightly said that we’ve learned that weakness invites terrorist attack while strength deters it, and he insisted that we’re strong, that we’re taking the battle to the bad guys, and we’re going to track them all down.

Let’s hope it works, but I doubt it. I think we’re in for a new wave of attacks, both here and in the Middle East, in part because the terrorists have to show signs of real strength, and in part because so much of what has been coming out of this administration of late really does reek of retreat.

As usual, it was a good speech, carefully crafted and elegantly presented. I like his clearly heartfelt reiteration of the theme of freedom versus tyranny, which is indeed the heart of the matter. He’s clearly pleased, as we should all be, that there has been great progress throughout Iraq, electing local governments, getting schools up and running, and so forth.

But, alas, he has lost focus. He reminded us that he had always expected this to be a long war, but he never mentioned the Evil Axis, never once talked about the several countries that are supporting the terrorist attacks against us, never mentioned the Iranian atomic bomb or the North Korean nuclear program or the ongoing Saudi and Syrian support for terror. This speech was narrowly about Iraq, with a couple of afterthoughts about Afghanistan. If he’s aware that we can’t possibly win in Iraq unless we bring down the mullahcracy in Tehran, he didn’t give any sign of it.

We’re dithering again, wasting time while the terror masters prepare their next assault, instead of going after them where they live.

James S. Robbins

President Bush sought to contextualize the war and its various phases: Afghanistan, where the al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds were attacked directly and overwhelmed; attacks on the terrorist infrastructure, which has resulted in nearly two thirds of known senior al Qaeda leaders, operational managers, and key facilitators being captured or killed; breaking up terrorist financial and logistical networks; and taking down Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, which supported terrorism and had the potential to equip terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. Of these, the president’s critics have focused most of their attention on denying the links between Iraq and al Qaeda. Whether or not they want to believe that such links existed in the past, they surely do now.

“Iraq is now the central front,” the president said, and this is true not only from our perspective but also from the enemy’s. Al Qaeda fighters and sympathizers are flooding into Iraq from all over the world to try to bring the battle to the Crusaders. They view Iraq as “the perfect place” to engage U.S. forces. They see our situation as similar to that of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, in which the Mujahedeen were able to wage unrelenting guerrilla war and drive the Red Army out. Of course, they also thought that Afghanistan would be our Afghanistan, a rather more precise analogy and one which did not turn out they way they expected.

The terrorists draw their strategic lessons from Vietnam, Beirut, and Somalia. In each case, the U.S. was wounded but not defeated militarily. Yet, in each case, the United States withdrew because the national will faltered. A combination of lack of leadership, mission ambiguity, and domestic political factors led to a defeat that was disproportionate to the might of the enemies we faced. Al Qaeda, their sympathizers, and other enemies of civilization seek to recreate those conditions.

President Bush explained to the American people what the press has been slow to understand, and the opposition has no interest in discussing — that the events taking place in Iraq today are connected directly to the central threat of our age, the Islamic radicals and secular despots who are seeking to push back the tide of freedom that burst through the Iron Curtain 14 years ago and is bringing the light of liberty and civilization to their neglected corner of the world. A free, secular, democratic Iraq would be a monumental and unparalleled achievement. The beneficial effects would redound across the region and the world. This is why the enemies of freedom are waging a desperate rear-guard action in Iraq. They cannot prevail unless the American people withdraw their support. The case the president made was not a new one — the administration has been remarkably consistent in its strategic approach to the war — but it bears repeating. There are too many people at home and abroad that will seek to exploit divisions over the conduct of the war. It helps to remind people what we are fighting for.

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