The Washington Times

There was no reason to be surprised by the content of President Bush’s speech last week laying out his postwar vision for a free Iraq. There is nevertheless ample reason to marvel at the scope of its ambition – and by extension, the president’s own.

The reasons not to be surprised are twofold. First of all, although I would not quite say that occupation has a logic of its own, I would say that the sheer fact of having 150,000 or more troops in a country whose government you have just toppled does push you in a certain direction. People ask if Iraq is like Japan or Germany following World War II. That’s a good question. But it’s important to bear in mind that this will have been “total war” – not in the sense of the infliction of massive civilian casualties, but in the sense that nothing less than the destruction of the Iraqi regime will suffice for the United States once the shooting starts. We ourselves, in short, are going to be in a position analogous to the one we found ourselves in with Germany and Japan following the surrenders.

Necessarily, there will be massive humanitarian needs to be seen to. U.S. forces will be hunting down and destroying the remains of Saddam’s arsenals. The question of war crimes will have to be dealt with. It will be necessary to rebuild infrastructure destroyed or damaged in the conflict. The oil fields may need to be repaired, and in any case, pumping needs to resume in order to generate revenues to speed Iraqi reconstruction and development. A new Iraqi civil administration is not an option, but a necessity, unless the United States wants to run the place forever, which we don’t. That means an executive branch and an independent judicial system free of the taint of the old regime. At that point, we will be so far down the road that it would be odd not to push for political liberalization, guarantees of freedom protected by a constitutional high court, and so on.

Some point to the supposed deficiencies in our handling of the post-Taliban Afghanistan as a bad omen for postwar Iraq. I certainly agree that Afghanistan must succeed and am generally, in sympathy with the proposition that we should do more. But Iraq is not Afghanistan. To topple the Taliban, we relied heavily on indigenous forces in the country in conjunction with our special forces and our air power. At the end of the day, we didn’t have 100,000 troops on the scene. That makes a difference.

The second reason not to be surprised by Mr. Bush’s commitment to freedom for Iraq is that he has spoken to these issues before – at considerable length and in detail, in speeches and most powerfully of all, in the National Security Strategy the White House released last year.

At West Point, in June last year, Mr. Bush said, “The 20th century ended with a single surviving model of human progress based on non-negotiable demands of human dignity, the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women and private property, free speech and equal justice and religious tolerance. America cannot impose this vision – yet we can support and reward governments that make the right choices for their own people. . . . The requirements of freedom apply fully to Africa and Latin America and the entire Islamic world. The peoples of the Islamic nations want and deserve the same freedoms and opportunities as people in every nation. And their governments should listen to their hopes.”

Sweeping stuff. Here’s the concluding passage of the National Security Strategy introduction, released over Mr. Bush’s signature: “Freedom is the non-negotiable demand of human dignity; the birthright of every person – in every civilization. Throughout history, freedom has been threatened by war and terror; it has been challenged by the clashing wills of powerful states and the evil designs of tyrants; and it has been tested by widespread poverty and disease. Today, humanity holds in its hands the opportunity to further freedom’s triumph over all these foes. The United States welcomes our responsibility to lead in this great mission.”

I have had a number of discussions over the course of the past year on two interestingly related questions. The first is whether or not Mr. Bush is sincere. Does he really mean what he says about the non-negotiability of freedom, and even if he does, doesn’t messy reality have a way of impinging on such sweeping generalizations? The second, is whether or not this kind of rhetoric is really new. Americans have been talking about Manifest Destiny, providence and even the promotion of democracy from the country’s earliest days. It’s a staple of presidential rhetoric from time immemorial.

The answer, I think, is this: It is new precisely because Mr. Bush is sincere. He means to prove it in Iraq. And that is a political task to marvel at.