After Three Weeks, The Birth of Freedom

The decapitation strike was on March 21; the Saddam statue (call it the Statue of Tyranny) fell on April 10. Twenty-two days: With rounding, call it the Three-Week War.

Militarily, it will be an operation for the textbooks. Deprived at the last minute, thanks to our friends the Turks, of an entire front, the coalition rolled up a narrow river corridor against a dug-in enemy who knew they had to come that way. Air dominance, high-tech communications and Special Forces operating behind enemy lines helped make it happen. But, as they have for thousands of years, grunts on the ground made it happen. It was a triumph of planning and flexibility, of imagination and discipline.

On the sidelines, the croakers-who predicted chemical attacks and the wrath of the Arab street before the war; then, after the first two days’ advance, expected victory on Day 3; then wailed about quagmire and the deadly counterattacks of the terrorist fedayeen -now keen about looted antiquities. These are the same people who storm through the Greek section of the Metropolitan Museum on their way to whatever the banner over the front door is hailing that month. We have the liberty to mourn lost art because there was so little destruction of life and the infrastructure that supports it. I have not read Slaughterhouse Five in decades, and there may be a passing mention of smashed Meissen. But what traumatized Billy Pilgrim was incinerated humans. There were no hecatombs in Iraq.

If the war created no atrocities, it did end one-the rule of Saddam Hussein. The reporting of John F. Burns in The New York Times described the terror and fear which this loathsome thug spread under him, like a dark shadow; the pictures on television showed the stunned sense of release of ordinary Iraqis, beating the decapitated statuary heads with their shoes, once the cloud had been pierced. This was the regime that Arab intellectuals and agitators refused to criticize, saving their bile for Israel and the United States; this was the regime that we fecklessly supported, until we came to our senses in 1990; this was the regime that France, Germany and Russia continued to back, in return for lucrative contracts; this was the regime that lubricated the United Nations with boodle from the oil-for-food program. This, and its fellows across the region, are regimes we assume, as old racists and modern multiculturalists, that Arabs like because wogs can’t handle anything better. What a relief to be free from such lies; what a relief, for Iraqis, to be free from such a government.

Some contracts for Iraqi reconstruction will go to Halliburton and Bechtel. Should they go instead to TotalElf, so that Jacques Chirac’s mistress can have yet another Right Bank apartment? Note: I do not know that President Chirac has a mistress, or that he is corrupt. I only know that he is French. By all means, let us not steer all Iraqi business to American firms. There are many worthy British, Australian, Spanish and Polish firms.

We took a major step in our ongoing war against terror. We destroyed Al Qaeda’s host body in Afghanistan; now we destroyed an actual or potential supplier of expertise and weaponry. Saddam Hussein could have avoided this war by honestly displaying and dismantling his arsenals and weapons programs, as 12 years of U.N. resolutions required him to do. He didn’t, so he joins Osama bin Laden in death or in hiding. Success increases leverage, and the remaining terror quartermasters and bankers have taken a sober lesson. Already Kim Jong Il, whom reasonable people feared might open a second front during a bogged-down Iraq war, is instead talking a more accommodating line. Syria, which let fleeing Baathists in and terrorist volunteers out, is reportedly entering a period of reflection, as a man does when he is hit on the back of the skull with a brick. Time to take our troops and our military technology out of Saudi Arabia, to remove any offense to their pious sensibilities, and to give ourselves maximum freedom of action.

One sobering phenomenon of the Three-Week War is the gap between the military and certain aspects of civilian life. American soldiers and their officers are freewheeling, competent and, when they need to be, intellectual. Do you see those qualities at the next table when you have lunch in midtown? American business, in its mute way, is as productive as it ever was, and American publicity and popular culture do their witless work at top volume, but also effectively. What about the moral leaders of ordinary life? One hundred and fifty years ago, if you wanted an opinion on a matter of public concern, you went to a clergyman (in those days, all respectable clergymen were Protestants); to the higher journalists (in those days, higher journalism included the North American Review , The Nation , Harper’s and the New York Post) ; to certain jurists, professors and authors; and to the minority of thinking politicians (a smaller and smaller minority as the Founding Fathers receded, but still identifiable).

Who in his right mind would listen to these people, and their equivalents, now? I ask this as one of the equivalents, or at least a would-be equivalent. The life of the mind of ordinary civilian Americans, when you buy it by the yard, is simply worthless. Not for the first time should we bless the military tradition of apolitical discipline that George Washington, Henry Knox and Nathanael Greene established 225 years ago. In France, the officer corps will throw up great leaders like General DeGaulle, or great frauds like General Boulanger, or great combinations of both like Napoleon Bonaparte. We are spared such temptations.

Our next task, as everyone from Kofi Annan to Tony Blair tells us, is to attend to the Palestinian question, preferably along the lines of the so-called road map. Let me get this straight: All over the world, from Tibet to Kashmir to Belfast to Basque country, peoples feel bound or disrespected. In other places (Yugoslavia, the Congo), they riot in internecine chaos. Out of all these situations, the complaints of Palestinians claim priority. The Palestinians, by the way, cheered when the Twin Towers collapsed, and cheered Saddam Hussein, the modern Saladin, during the war. Why am I unmoved by their plight? But the question of Palestine, Israel, Jews and America deserves more than the fag end of a victory celebration.

After Three Weeks, The Birth of Freedom