Entries from July 2005

Publicists For Jihad

David Frum July 26th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

The media love statistics. Statistics are facts, or anyway, they look like facts, and facts are what the media promise to deliver. And when those facts corroborate media prejudices–well, all the better.

Which is why so many European newspapers, including the paper in the tiny Irish village in which I happened to find myself last weekend, splashed across their front pages the startling allegation that 24,865 Iraqi civilians have died violently since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003–at least 9,000 of them, again allegedly, at the hands of coalition forces.

Where did this number come from? It was compiled by a group of anti-war activists, including a university of New Hampshire professor of English, who circulated a notoriously inflated count of Afghan casualties in the fall of 2001. Curiously, while the group’s body count was impressively exact, their explanations of their statistical methods were vague to the point of evasiveness. But that did not matter. What mattered was that there was a number, that it was big, and that it could be used against an American war.

The Iraqi casualty numbers were the weekend’s Story B in the British Isles. Story A was the second London bombing and its aftershock. A survey commissioned by the Telegraph newspaper found that one in four British Muslims expressed sympathy for the subway bombers and that one in three condemned Western society as “decadent” and thought it should be brought to an end.

Is it maybe remotely possible that there is a connection between Story A and Story B? We have been hearing a great deal about the radical anti-Western preaching that emanates from some mosques. But is it not also possible that Muslim communities are affected by the radical anti-Western preaching that they hear outside the mosque: on their TVs and in their newspapers, for example?

In the aftermath of the London bombings and the Telegraph poll, British journalists have gone out to collect quotes from disaffected young Muslims. Many of these young people complain of a Western “double standard” that condemns the killing of innocents in London while ignoring the killing of innocents in Iraq.

Somehow it seems to have eluded these disaffected young people that the bombers who kill innocents in London do so precisely in order to support and aid the people killing innocents in Iraq. When these disaffected British Muslims view images of murder and destruction from Iraq, somehow they do not blame the actual murderers. They blame the nations and the armed forces defending Iraqis against the murderers.

Although this blindness is largely self-inflicted, it is surely worsened by the willingness of much of the European media to indulge the anti-Americanism that produced the Iraqi casualty number.

More and more Europeans will now agree that Western societies are entitled to expect their Muslim minorities to adapt to the countries they’ve migrated to. But it is hardly realistic to expect people to adapt to societies that do not regard themselves as worthy of being adapted to.

Radical clerics tell immigrant minorities that their new homelands are immoral and decadent, that these homelands believe in nothing and tolerate everything, that they are guilty of all kinds of outrages and crimes. And what do many elites in the host societies say of themselves? They plead guilty. Worse, they act as their own accusers.

There is plenty to debate about the conduct of the Iraq war without serving as the jihadists’ publicists and apologists–without distributing false stories and denigrating the work and sacrifice of coalition forces in Iraq.

Olivier Roy, a great French expert on Islamic extremism, observes on today’s pages how few Muslim extremists in the West originate in Iraq. Iraqis recognize that coalition troops, however unwelcome, are defending them against terror and the return of tyranny. It is not coalition forces detinating bombs in front of shrines or driving cars packed with explosives into crowds of children.

But for the often embittered, often underemployed second-generation Muslims of Leeds, Roderdam or Milan, Iraq is not a place. It is a metaphor for their own local resentment. When Westerners like the mayor of London pin the blame for everything wrong in the Middle East on some alleged Western betrayal 80 years ago, or pile accusations against President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, they do not appease the angry people in their midst: They embolden them.

There is an ancient conservative joke: A liberal is someone who won’t take his own side in an argument. We are now engaged not in an argument, but a war–a war with terrible dangers and a long and lengthening toll of casualties. It cannot be won by people who do not believe in their own cause. There is much obviously that must change in the Islamic world. But there is something also that must change in our own. We must rediscover the reasons we are proud to be ourselves.

Can Iraq Recapture Its Golden Age?

David Frum July 19th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

It has been a week of especially harrowing terrorist atrocity in Iraq. A suicide bomber drove his car bomb into a crowd of children in Baghdad, killing 32. Another detonated a fuel tanker in a crowded market in the town of Musaib on Friday, killing at least 98 people. That attack was one of 11 on Friday, with another wave of attacks following on Saturday and Sunday.

The killings are clearly intended to spark a civil war. The suicide bombings in Iraq have targeted Shiite Muslims, who comprise about 60% of the country’s population, but a small minority in the larger Arab and Islamic worlds. The al-Qaeda terrorists may hope that if they can provoke the Shiites into striking back at the long-dominant and now anxious Sunni minority (many of whose religious leaders are indeed guilty of tacitly supporting the terrorists), then the whole Middle East might be drawn into a convulsion in which the jihadis would emerge (they fancy) as the leaders of Sunni Islam.

To date, the restraint of the Shiites has astounded the world. It is a restraint founded on a faith in a different future–and a half-remembered past.

A few months before the Iraq War, I spent an evening Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi at his apartment in London. He was in a nostalgic mood and opened a photo album to show old family pictures. One especially struck me: It showed a group of seven men, all in dark suits. I was looking, Chalabi explained, at the board of directors of the Iraqi Sugar Company circa 1942. The man in the middle was his father, the chairman. He pointed out the other six: This one was a prominent Christian businessman, this one Jewish, this one Sunni, this one Shiite. Chalabi was building to a moral: Iraq, he insisted, had a decent past. It could have a decent future.

Chalabi omitted some ugly facts from this story of the golden past. The year before Chalabi’s photo was snapped, a pro-Nazi Iraqi politician named Rashid Ali al-Gillani seized power in a coup and began to bring Iraq into the Second World War on Germany’s side.

When the British restored the old government at the end of May, 1941, Baghdad’s Muslim majority attacked the city’s ancient Jewish community. Some 500 Iraqi Jews were tortured, murdered and mutilated. Jewish women were raped, shops looted, homes torched, and a synagogue desecrated.

A similar–and possibly even more horrific story–could be told about the fate of the Assyrian Christian community in northern Iraq, massacred in 1931 by the Iraqi armed forces.

And yet, Chalabi was not altogether wrong. For almost four decades after the founding of the state of Iraq in 1921, Iraq had a constitution, elections, a reasonably free press, a market economy, expanding public schools, a rising middle class and, above all, reason to hope for a better future. Last week saw the anniversary of the day those hopes were shattered: July 14, 1958.

On that day, the armed forces rebelled against the British-installed Iraqi monarchy. They brutally murdered the last Hashemite ruler of Iraq, the royal family and the pro-Western prime minister–and left the bodies hanging on public view for days.

The army announced it would create a “socialist” regime–which meant expropriating companies and farms, silencing critics and extinguishing free institutions. Over the next two decades, the story of Iraq is the story of coup following coup. Each new regime proved more brutal than the last.

What hope can there be for such a country?

Larry Diamond, an academic expert on democracy who helped write Iraq’s provisional constitution, is the author of a new book on the Iraq war, Squandered Victory. As the title suggests, Diamond is generally critical of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. And yet he makes this arresting point about democracy building in newly liberated countries:

“Often throughout history, democracy has been embraced by competing (even warring) political forces as a pragmatic compromise, a second-best alternative when each side realized it could not attain or preserve … its real aim: total power.

“In this common scenario–which includes not only recent instances of democracy after conflict, such as in El Salvador, Nicaragua, South Africa and Mozambique, but many earlier transitions to democracy in Europe and Latin America–liberalization follows a period of ‘prolonged and inconclusive political struggle’ that leaves contending forces fearful or exhausted, ready to agree on new rules of the game.”

Few populations in the world today are as fearful and exhausted as Iraq’s. Few more desperately crave “new rules of the game.” Perhaps they may find them in the old rules that governed their state until this week 47 years ago.

What We Should Expect From Muslims

David Frum July 10th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Western Muslims feel badly misunderstood. The vast majority of them utterly abhor terrorism against the countries in which they live. And yet they sense suspicion from their fellow citizens.

Meanwhile, those fellow-citizens are feeling increasing frustration with their Muslim neighbors. Since 9/11, Western security forces have foiled some 40 major plots against Western nations. Many if not most of those plots have been the work of local Muslims. Hundreds of European Muslims have journeyed to join the insurgents in Iraq. Extremist preachers exploit the freedom of Western societies to incite terrorism against them.

Moderate Western Muslims – and careful politicians – prefer not to acknowledge this reality. But euphemism is breeding resentment on all sides. WeÕd all benefit by speaking clear.

Acknowledge Reality; Accept Responsibility

Obviously it would be unjust to blame the religion of Islam for terrorism. But equally obviously, terrorism is a problem within Islam, and Islamic communities bear a special obligation to uproot it.

Yet have you ever heard an Islamic leader in a Western country urge Muslims to take action against the extremists in their midst? Or unequivocally repudiate violent jihad? Or condemn by name those who lead young Western Muslims astray?

Isolate and Exclude Extremists

Too often even the most moderate Western imams excuse and condone extremism.

Charles Moore of the Daily Telegraph cited a very disturbing example of this tendency: The day after the attacks, the imam of the East London mosque, Mohammed Abdul Bari, stood beside the Anglican bishop of Stepney to condemn the London bombings. “But if you look up Mohammed Abdul Bari, you find that he welcomed to the opening of the London Muslim Centre Sheikh Abdul Rahman al Sudais, the Saudi-government-appointed imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. In Mecca two years ago, al Sudais described Jews as Ôscum of the earth,Õ Ôrats of the world,Õ and Ômonkeys and pigs who should be annihilated.Õ Yet, criticize al Sudais, and Mohammed Abdul Bari leaps furiously to his defence.”

Cooperate actively with police and security services

After the 9/11 attacks, one US Islamic organization distributed a pamphlet called “Know Your Rights,” explaining to American Muslims that they had no obligation to answer questions from the police. From a legal point of view, that is of course correct. But one would have imagined that patriotic American Muslims would want to tell the police anything that might possibly help protect the country against future attack and bring the guilty to justice.

Many imams have in fact been cooperating with the police in the United States and the United Kingdom. But they often do so shame-facedly, grudgingly, incompletely, and only under pressure. And they are even more reluctant to urge their congregants to do the same. That must change. The pamphlets on “knowing your rights” should be matched by sermons on “knowing your responsibilities.”

Stop carving out special terrorist exemptions.

One important reason that Western Muslims find it so difficult to speak forthrightly against Islamic terrorism is that too many of them want to preserve exceptions in favor of certain forms of terrorism: against India, against democratic Iraq, and above all against Israel.

Israel is a special challenge to Muslim communities in the West. ItÕs very hard to take a principled stand against al Qaeda if you privately support Hamas and Hezbollah. ItÕs almost impossible to hold the line against religious extremism if you yourself are steeped in anti-semitism.

The Arab-Israel dispute is often cited as one of the most fundamental causes of terrorism. But if this is true, it is true in this way: So long as Muslim communities refuse to accept the legitimacy of Israel, they will be crippled in their attempts to deny the legitimacy of terrorism.

Accept IslamÕs status as one religion among equals.

Western societies grant equal rights to all religions. Middle Eastern societies enforce the primacy of Islam: ThatÕs why there are mosques in Rome and churches in Jerusalem, but Jews and Christians are forbidden to set foot in Mecca. Do Western Muslims accept the Western way of doing things – or do they yearn for a Middle Eastern future? The answer is very far from clear. As one prominent North American Muslim said in a lecture in California in 1998: “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran … should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on earth.”

Prominent British Muslims have called for the replacement of parliamentary democracy with a “new civilization based on the worship of Allah,” in which the Queen herself would pay the extra tax imposed on non-Muslims. And the former president of the Canadian Society of Muslims has argued that Canadian law should permit Muslim communities to punish Canadian Muslims who choose to change their religion.

Islam will have made itself at home in the West when Western Muslims can express dislike for The Satanic Verses while defending Salman RushdieÕs right to publish it; when they accept the right of Muslims to leave Islam as cordially as they encourage non-Muslims to embrace it; and when they welcome Christian and Jewish worship in Saudi Arabia in the same free and tolerant spirit that Islam has been welcomed in the West.

These changes should not be expected overnight. But they should be expected – demanded – all the same.

Why Were London’s Muslims Targeted As Well?

David Frum July 9th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

In the midst of anger and grief, store hereÕs the good news:

The London terrorist attacks were markedly less sophisticated not only than the 9/11 attacks on New York, but even than the 3/11 attacks on Madrid and the 1998 embassy attacks in East Africa. The subway system the terrorists attacked is much less closely guarded than the airlines penetrated by the 9/11 terrorists. The timers they used are a technological notch below the cell phone detonators of Madrid. They were constrained to use less explosive – and fewer operatives – than in East Africa.

Nor did they use suicide bombers. That is an interesting and suggestive absence. In London, where subway riders are alert to unattended packages, a timed bomb would have to be quite small to escape detection – which may explain why the casualties inflicted by four explosions in confined spaces were relatively low. Suicide bomber could have carried much deadlier devices onto the bus or subway – or driven a car laden with explosives into the center of London.

So why did the planners of the London attack not make use of this technique? ItÕs not a surprise that the planners declined to give their own lives – itÕs a notorious fact that the leaders of al Qaeda, Hamas, and other Islamic terror groups take care to preserve themselves. But were the planners unable to recruit British Muslims willing to blow themselves up? Or were they unwilling to trust British Muslims to carry a suicide mission through? If so, what prevented them from smuggling foreign terrorists into Britain?

We wonÕt know for some time the answers to any of those questions.
But pending better information, we can say that based on what we do know, the London bombings look like the work of an international terrorist network that is losing its effectiveness, its cohesion, and some of its ideological attractiveness to radical Muslims in the West and worldwide.

Over the next days, the British government and press will focus on the things that went wrong, that enabled the terrorists to commit their crime. ThatÕs as it should be. But at the same time, the British and their friends need to keep in mind all that this attack tells us about what has gone right.

It does seem that Western countries are getting better at identifying dangerous potential terrorists and either excluding them from their territories or else removing them before they do harm. The flow of information seems to be quickening. New laws – Britain passed a tough new anti-terror law in 2005 – have improved policing without unduly burdening the law-abiding. (We hear a lot of loose talk about “the loss of civil liberties,” but I sure havenÕt noticed any bashfulness on the part of dissenters and critics.)

And where is this information flowing from? In very large part from the Muslim communities of the United Kingdom and the West. Of necessity, this is a largely unreported story, and the individuals involved are glimpsed only in flashes – such as for example, “a Muslim woman born in Britain who has voiced strong concern about radical clericsÕ influence on young immigrants there,” who was briefly mentioned in a June 17 New York Times story as leading an investigation into Islamic extremist discussion groups.

Organized Islamic groups in the West have often played a troublingly ambivalent role in the war on terror. But the sheer number of arrests and plot interceptions achieved by US, UK, and European security services – and the rarity of successful terrorist attacks – do seem to indicate that individual western Muslims are acting on their own to police their own communities.

The terrorists too seem to have noticed this. I wonder if it was purely a coincidence that one of the July 7 bombs was detonated at the Edgware Road tube station – Edgware Road being the central thoroughfare of London Islam.

The UK police are indicating that they suspect the killers were Algerian. If true, this too is suggestive. Algeria was wracked by a fearful civil war in the mid-1990s, as Islamic extremists attempted to seize power and create a Taliban-style state in North Africa. More than 100,000 Algerians were killed, many of them in indiscrimate massacres of whole villagers by Islamicist bands. Algerian Islamicists have learned to see their less fanatical fellow-Muslims as their main enemy – and moderate Muslims in Algeria have learned that there can be no religious solidarity with killers who dream of creating a religious totalitarian state.

This is the war now being fought all over the world, from London England to London Ontario. We are all in it, like it or not. And while good police work like that of the UK security services can minimize the harm this war does to the populations of the West, the war wonÕt end so long as the totalitarian impulse within Islam rages on. In Algeria, the totalitarian impulse was subdued by superior force, but it was not discredited.

Two years ago, my writing partner Richard Perle and I warned in AN END TO EVIL that while the war on terror can be lost in the cities of the West, it can never be won there.

Totalitarianism is a powerful idea, and ideas can be uprooted from the minds of human beings only by more compelling ideas – of which the most compelling is the idea of democracy. That is the idea for which Britain and its coalition partners are now battling in Iraq. And that is why this latest, terrible attack must fortify the resolution of the Western powers to do more than police their cities against each new round of murderers; why it must spur us all to do what it takes to win.

Reason For Allies To Remain Willing

David Frum July 8th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

At a meeting in Washington, DC, about a year ago, a senior Australian defense official looked weary, as well he might. He had arrived in the capital only a few hours before, but already he had met top officials at the Pentagon, Homeland Security and the State Department. This brief lunch at a think tank had been shoe-horned into a short interval before he had to head over to the White House.

For generations, Americans have referred generically to “the allies”: a gathering that included the NATO countries and their Asia-Pacific equivalents: Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan. Since 9/11, that old grouping has been subdivided into two seatings. There’s the children’s table, at which are found allies who may be full of goodwill but lack the forces and the toughness to do very much. And there’s the grown-up table, where sit the countries both able and willing to fight when they need to.

That’s the table at which John Howard’s Australia now makes its voice heard. And, as the Prime Minister prepares to meet President George W. Bush in Washington next week, it’s from that top seat that Australians are demanding to know how exactly things are going in Iraq–and what reason there is for the White House’s continuing optimism about the course of the war.

Coalition leaders made one large mistake in their war planning: They did not expect and were not prepared for the tough insurgency that erupted within weeks of the liberation of Baghdad in April 2003. The coalition–which now includes a democratically elected Iraqi government–must now fight a second campaign, this time against a terrorist enemy, at heavy cost in coalition and Iraqi casualties. Terrorism is not a military tactic. It’s a psychological technique intended to demoralize a more scrupulous opponent by turning his revulsion against cruelty and violence against himself. To fight back, it is essential to keep in view the whole picture in Iraq, not just the spectacular atrocities and gruesome violence that the terrorists would wish us to see.

We need to keep in view the recovery of the Iraqi economy since liberation. The Iraqi Ministry of Finance estimates that the economy is growing at 17 per cent this year. Unemployment has dropped by as much as 50 per cent, with per capita income rising from less than $US700 at the liberation to a projected $US1200 in 2007. Iraq’s schools are educating 4.3 million children. Teacher pay has been raised by up to 2500 per cent over pre-war levels.

An independent media has been born: there are 23 commercial television stations, 80 radio stations, 170 newspapers and magazines. Iraq’s environment is returning to life, as US engineers blow up the dikes that drained and poisoned the marshes of southern Iraq and allow the Marsh Arabs to return to their ancient homes. More fatefully for the terrorists, their tactics, horrendous as they may be in the short run are over the longer term turning Arab and Muslim opinion against the extremist versions of Islam that sanction such tactics.

After a group of 26 Saudi imams issued a communique in November 2004 urging jihad in Iraq, a columnist in an official Saudi daily reflected the emerging conventional wisdom in the Middle East:

“Instead of adding fuel to the fire in Iraq, these 26 clerics should have made clear the sharia’s stand concerning a jihad of beheadings, the kidnapping of innocent [people], and blowing up booby-trapped cars and roadside bombs against pedestrians–children, women, and the elderly. What is going on today in Iraq is madness that feeds every day on the lives of innocent Iraqis and quenches its thirst with the forbidden blood that flows mercilessly through the streets of Iraq.”

When Bush, Howard and Tony Blair describe Iraq as the “central front” in the war on terror, they are not talking only about the material clash of guns and bombs. In Iraq, extremist Islam is waging a war not against Christians, Hindus or Jews, but against fellow Muslims. As the cruelty of the terrorists is broadcast through the region, Arabs and Muslims are being challenged to take sides for or against the ideology of murder.

And every day, more and more choose the right side. Sunni clerics inside Iraq have issued fatwas encouraging young Sunni men to enlist in the Iraqi security forces–and despite the attacks on police stations, the ranks of the Iraqi forces continue to grow.

Progress on the ground in Iraq is hard, but real. But what matters most is something that we are beginning to read and hear and feel: progress in the minds of Muslim men and women. That progress is owed to the sacrifices and achievements of Australian, US, British, and other coalition forces–and to the their voters who have re-elected the men who made the right choices.

The Good News Bush Left Unsaid

David Frum July 5th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Had he wished, President Bush could have filled his entire speech last week with good news from Iraq.

He could have cited the latest economic statistics that show the Iraqi economy growing at a 17% annual rate, that unemployment has dropped by as much as one-half, with per capita income rising from less than US$700 at the liberation to a projected US$1,200 in 2007.

He could have made the point that 4.3 million Iraqi children are now enrolled in school, that teacher pay has been raised by more than 600% over prewar levels.

He could have talked about the rebirth of an independent media in Iraq: some 23 commercial television stations, 80 radio stations, 170 newspapers and magazines.

He could have mentioned Iraq’s environmental recovery, as U.S. engineers blow up the dikes that drained and poisoned the marshes of southern Iraq and allow the Marsh Arabs to return to their ancient homes.

The President did point with pride to the Jan. 30 elections, the first fully free and fair elections in Iraq’s history. But he could have gone on to describe the emergence of a responsive, representative and accountable government through negotiation rather than violence or fraud. And he could have referenced the opinion polls that show strong optimism about the future amongst Iraqis themselves: solid majorities now say that Iraq is headed in the “right direction” and that they expect their own lives to be better a year from now than they are today.

That would have been quite a speech. And there is much more that the President could not say — but that we are free to notice.

The point is often made that Iraq’s election was a shock to the stagnant politics of the region. The great Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis has described the elections as potentially the most significant challenge to the region’s inherited order since Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798.

But the Iraq war is transforming the region in ways less easy to talk about, but no less potentially profound.

The vast majority of the victims of the insurgents’ terror war are not American or coalition soldiers, but fellow-Iraqis and fellow-Muslims. The death toll by now numbers in the thousands, including bombings of the holiest site in Shiite Islam on Shiism’s holiest day. The use of suicide bombings and jihad terrorism on such a large scale by Muslims against fellow-Muslims has triggered a perceptible reaction throughout the Islamic world.

In November, 2004, a group of 26 Saudi clerics issued a communique urging jihad against U.S. forces in Iraq. In the months since, coalition forces have apprehended a number of young Saudi men. Others have been identified after they carried out their terrorist attacks. As the toll has mounted, an unusual surge of self-criticism has been expressed in the tightly controlled Saudi media.

“…The propagation of [Islamic] words of wisdom and the good preaching have turned into propaganda for murder, abductions, and car bombs,” complained a columnist in the official Saudi daily Al-Jazirah. “They [the preachers] have even turned suicide from something absolutely forbidden [by Islam] into something which, according to their religious law, is a means of becoming closer to Allah.” (All quotes thanks to Memri.org, the Middle East translation service.)

A columnist in another official daily, Okaz, agreed:

” …Instead of adding fuel to the fire in Iraq, these 26 clerics should have made clear the Sharia’s stand concerning a Jihad of beheadings, the kidnapping of innocent [people] and blowing up booby-trapped cars and roadside bombs against pedestrians — children, women and the elderly … what is going on today in Iraq is madness that feeds every day on the lives of innocent Iraqis and quenches its thirst with the forbidden blood that flows mercilessly through the streets of Iraq.”

Meanwhile, Sunni clerics in Iraq have issued fatwas urging young Sunni men to join the Iraqi defence forces, and Muslim intellectuals resident in the West have been speaking out against the incitement preached in many of the mosques of Europe and America.

Ahmad Abu Motar, a Palestinian living in Norway, posted an article on the Arab reform Web site, www.elaph.com, in April 2005, condemning European imams for condoning extremism and terrorism on the European continent: “None of the Arab or Muslim religious legal authorities responded to them or cast doubt on their legitimacy as representatives of Islam. On the contrary, there are fatwas from scores of ulama supporting these actions….”

European governments too — including many that opposed the Iraq war — have been jolted into a tough new realism by the news that some of their own nationals have been caught waging a terror war in Iraq. It was argued at the time that the Iraq war would irretrievably divide the United States from France and Germany. Instead, intelligence co-operation between the United States and France — always surprisingly close — has become nearly as intimate as that between the United States and its English-speaking allies. The Washington Post reported Friday that French security officials have worked on at least 12 major cases with U.S. officials, including that of Christian Ganczarski, a German-born convert to Islam who ranked as one of the most important al-Qaeda terrorists in Europe — until he was arrested in Paris in June, 2003.

It’s too early to say that the West is winning in Iraq. But it’s way past time to acknowledge that the West will win or lose the war on terror in Iraq.

The Words We Need To Hear On Iraq

David Frum July 3rd, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

The president is going to talk about Iraq again. He’s going to have to. The problem is not that his speech Tuesday night failed to quell his critics: No speech could have done that. The problem is that his speech failed to reassure his worried supporters.

Those of us who support this president and this war do not need to be told how important it is to win. We get that. But that’s precisely why we are worried — because every day brings terrible news that makes us fear that the war is being lost.

The president says progress is being made in Iraq. He’s right about that as it happens. But his words would be more convincing if he gave some examples. He could have cited the capture of three of the top insurgent leaders over the last three months, including Abed Dawood Suleiman (Abu Musab Zarqawi’s top military aide), Muhammad Khalaf Shakar (the leader of the Mosul Al Qaeda cell) and his aide, Hussein Alaiwi Ibrahim.

The president could have talked about the capture of weapons caches, the discovery of an insurgent torture chamber with four shackled Iraqi victims, and the rescue of Australian hostage Douglas Wood. He might have quoted Wood’s words after the rescue — “God bless America” — and mentioned Wood’s continuing faith that the Anglo-Australian-U.S. mission in Iraq remains worthwhile.

Americans want to hear a plan for victory. It’s good that U.S. forces are training Iraqis. And yes, as Iraqi forces become more capable, it’s logical that U.S. forces would stand down. But as Winston Churchill said after Dunkirk, “wars are not won by evacuations.” And they aren’t won by resolve alone either. We have a full-scale terrorism war on our hands in Iraq, a bigger war than the administration expected, backed by at least one regional government, Syria’s, and abetted by another, Iran’s.

On Sept. 20, 2001, the president said: “From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”

Have those words been abandoned? If not, what consequences will these hostile regimes face?

Bush’s advisors tell him that public support for a war is affected less by the casualty toll and much more by the public perception that success is achievable. Success in Iraq is achievable.

Last week, retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a fierce early critic of the administration’s strategy, returned from Iraq to offer optimistic briefings about the skills of Iraqi security forces and the internal weakness of the insurgents. In late June, the International Herald Tribune reported an outbreak of violence between insurgent factions near Karabilah along the border with Syria.

Yet despite all the positive trends, many Americans are losing their optimism.

They want facts, details and vision from their leader — and they are getting only unconvincing assertions.

Henry Kissinger has quipped that in the Clinton years, the explanations were always better than the policies. In the Bush administration, unfortunately, the reverse is becoming true. And in a democracy, a policy that is not effectively explained is a policy that cannot endure.