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February 1, 2005
Strib Still Not Quite Getting It

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune finally reacted to the Iraqi election on its editorial page, and to my surprise, with amazing reasonableness -- at least for the Strib. While they decline to discuss why they waited a full day to react, they didn't make the same mistake that the New York Times made in scoffing with faint praise at the historic nature of the event. The Strib, however, still sticks to its guns (so to speak) in refusing to understand why American security depended on this outcome:

It was easy to find naysayers who viewed Sunday's Iraqi election darkly. Do not count us among them. Yes, there were suicide bombers, mortar shells and other violence. But they simply made the act of voting all the more poignant. By their courageous votes, a majority of Iraqi citizens sent a blistering message to the insurgents and terrorists: We don't want you; we don't want your violence; we want peace, and we want democracy.

President Bush had good reason to celebrate the election as a success, because it was, for Iraq and for the United States. The Iraqi election coordinators, with powerful help from American forces, put together a good, fair and apparently transparent election under difficult circumstances.

That lead makes for a good start, but one which the editorial board squanders, although in far less hyperbolic tones than normally employed when discussing the foreign policy of the Bush administration:

But pause, please, to consider also the cost. While the Iraqi people seized the day, it was a day achieved through the blood sacrifices of many young Americans. We still don't find that bargain justified. American troops should be called to lay their lives on the line for the defense of their nation, not to bring democracy to anyone. Iraq should not have been invaded.

Bear in mind that this point of view came belatedly to the Star Tribune board. James Lileks pointed this out in his Bleat over a year ago, when he reminded the Strib of their support for "punishing attacks" on Saddam:

Lets go back to the editorial page the day after the 1998 bombing. Lead edit. Title: BOMBING SADDAM. Reason is clear; let attack be sustained. The writer lays out the case: Saddam has not complied with his obligations; he threw away the last chance that President Clinton gave him in November; Tony Blair agrees. Said the editorial: Neither will the attack be credible if it is limited to a few cruise missiles lobbed at Iraq. This must be the sustained, punishing effort that Clinton has promised.

The end result of which was five more years of Saddams rule. Interesting choice of words, that: Punishing. Saddam must be punished, then left in power. He must be hit with a credible attack, then left in power. The punishing, credible attack that leaves him in power must be sustained. And so forth.

Ive read enough editorials from various papers from this period to reinforce something Ive long suspected: the reason many editorialists hate this war is because they dont feel its theirs.

American security, as we all saw on 9/11, cannot be defended at our shoreline. If we wait until the terrorists come here and then employ our armed forces in defense, it will come far too late. We need to not only track down the terrorists themselves, but we need to actively transform the environments which breed terrorism. That won't happen by appeasing the tyrants that oppress people into desperation, but by liberating the oppressed and allowing them to control their own destinies.

Why start with Saddam? people ask now. Well, we didn't; we started off with Afghanistan. If people forget that fact, small wonder -- the media hardly reports on Afghanistan any more. Why? Because they have transformed themselves into a nascent democracy, and that has been so successful that American media outlets found themselves bored, and sent their reporters elsewhere.

Saddam went next because a state of war already existed between Iraq and the West. His refusal to comply with the terms of his cease-fire agreements and sixteen UNSC resolutions meant we had to commit large numbers of troops in the immediate region to pressure him into supposedly staying "in his box". We found out only after the invasion that UNSC members like Germany, Syria, France, and Russia continued to supply Iraq with weapons up to at least 2002, in defiance of the sanctions that formed the "box". Only after we captured Baghdad did we find out the extent of Saddam's skim from the UN Oil-For-Food program, most of which went into the weapons he bought from the so-called allies of the West.

Of all the nations in the area that produces Islamofascist terrorism, Saddam's Iraq presented the most pressing military threat to our forces, and his attacks on our no-fly enforcement flights were deliberate provocations, practically daring us to remove him. Geographically, it also provided a transit corridor between Iran and Syria for terrorists to move around Southwest Asia, a corridor that no longer exists. Saddam also boasted of supporting terrorists such as Abu Nidal and the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. His genocides against the Kurds and the Shi'a were well documented.

In fact, it's hard to understand why Saddam would not have been first, except for the Taliban's obstinacy in protecting Osama bin Laden. Iraq's twelve-year quagmire was not going to improve by ignoring it for another twelve years, and our options in the end were exactly what it had been all along: either invade and remove Saddam, surrender and withdraw, or continue the illusion of "the box" while our erstwhile allies continued to sell us out.

Against that backdrop, which the Strib manages now to avoid completely, and considering the forward strategy of engagement for terrorists and the transformation of the oppressive environments that encourage them, an invasion of Iraq should be seen as precisely the kind of action that protects America in the long term. The Strib may not like the notion of a forward strategy, but I'd bet most people would prefer to transform the region with democracy instead of fending off attacks at the Atlantic shoreline. In asymmetrical warfare, it's almost impossible to do with a zero-failure rate, and when missing 1% means thousands or millions of American civilians die a horrible death, that option sounds quite unpalatable.

Now, when Arabs in Southwest Asia see Iraqis celebrating their ability to choose their own leaders on al-Jazeera or al-Arabiya, they will wonder why their own governments do not allow it. When Syrians see polling stations in Damascus for Iraqi expatriates to cast their ballots, they wonder why they cannot vote in their own country for their own leaders. The Saudis will note that their northern neighbors have more ability and enthusiasm for open debate about the future of their country, while the Saudis themselves see endless lines of princes autocratically decreeing almost every aspect of their lives. Iranian activists will take energy from the spectacular success of the elections and renew their demands for real reform. And all of this political pressure will eventually transform what has been a benighted backwater into an energetic and dynamic open political society.

I mourn the loss of fourteen hundred of America's best young men and women just the same as the Strib. I know that they died for a just and noble cause, even as I wish that it had not been necessary. Until we defeat Islamofascist terrorists, the best we can do is to remove their bases of support and the cesspools that breed them. And that is why Saddam had to go, why we had to do it, and why Sunday's elections were such a major victory for Bush and the war on terror.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 1, 2005 12:00 PM

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