THE REAL WAR

Thomas Friedman is worried that we’re losing our focus in Iraq, noting that there was very little excitement surrounding a huge milestone:

Last Sunday was the most important day in Iraq since the start of the war, and maybe the most important day in its modern history. It was the first day that one could speak about the “liberation” of Iraq. It was the day that a multireligious, multiethnic Governing Council of Iraqi men and women began to assume some power and responsibility for their own country — the most representative leadership Iraq has ever had.

And what was their first act? It was to declare that April 9, the day Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled, would be a national holiday. President Bush, Gen. Tommy Franks and The Weekly Standard could all call April 9 Iraq’s V-E Day, but it became real only when the first representative Council of Iraqis embraced that day as their liberation. It is way too early to know whether this appointed Iraqi Council will flourish and pave the way for constitutional government and elections in Iraq, which is its assignment. It will first have to prove itself to the Iraqi people — and prove that while most Iraqis may not want us or Saddam, they do want one another. But these are not quislings, and therefore the Council’s formation is a hugely important first step. This is what we came for. There is hope.

True. Most of us, I think, treated this as a pro forma step but largely ignored its important symbolic value. Why? We’re following the political story instead:

Had you been watching most American news shows or cable TV last Sunday, though, you would not have gotten a sense of this. They were focused almost exclusively on who was responsible for hyping Saddam’s nuclear arms potential. This is understandable. The notion that the president may have misled the nation into war, and then blamed it on the C.I.A., is a big story.

For me, though, it is a disturbing thought that the Bush team could get itself so tied up defending its phony reasons for going to war — the notion that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction that were undeterrable and could threaten us, or that he had links with Al Qaeda — that it could get distracted from fulfilling the real and valid reason for the war: to install a decent, tolerant, pluralistic, multireligious government in Iraq that would be the best answer and antidote to both Saddam and Osama.

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Eyes on the prize, please. If we find W.M.D. in Iraq, but lose Iraq, Mr. Bush will not only go down as a failed president, but one who made the world even more dangerous for Americans. If we find no W.M.D., but build a better Iraq — one that proves that a multiethnic, multireligious Arab state can rule itself in a decent way — Mr. Bush will survive his hyping of the W.M.D. issue, and the world will be a more hospitable and safer place for all Americans.

Good points, all.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.