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Jewish World Review Dec. 30, 2004 / 18 Teves, 5765

Michael Long

Mike Long
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Iraq: Where We Stand | By 2004, we have grown accustomed to immediate answers and swift resolutions to everything. But in Iraq, we muddle through. The near-daily killing of our troops 6200 miles away, compounded by vicious criticism of our character at home and abroad, makes supporters of the war squirm and doubt. Every cluster of murders counts as a victory for the insurgents, while our victory will come only when Iraq is building democracy by its own power. That will take a while.

Americans aren't very good at patience, and we are in a situation where patience is key.

It is time to attack some of the doubts.

Pull at the thread that tempted pundits through December: Should Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld go? Absolutely not. Ask yourself: If someone else were in charge, what specifically would you have him do differently? If you in your living room can so easily construct such a superior plan, ask yourself why the Bush administration is not executing it already.

Or maybe those prosecuting the war know more about the situation on the ground than the armchair generals getting their daily briefings from the nightly news.

It is hard to be pleased with the progress of the war when every up and down (and all we see are the downs) is the Internet and cable headline of the moment.

And if it bleeds, it leads. Another car bomb makes a good story. A soldier finishing the roof on a school does not. Yet those little victories happen every day.

This is a time for the long view, but we live in a time that suffocates patience.

A good friend once gifted me this bit of common sense: don't look at the value of your retirement portfolio every day. It will go up and down all the time, and you'll be sick with worry, and you will be tempted to change your strategy. But that would be a terrible mistake. If you plan wisely at the beginning and check in only once in a while, then, at the end, you will have achieved what you set out to do.

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It is just so with this war. The overall trend is in our favor. We are paving the way for self-government by establishing infrastructure: schools, roads, utilities, and most of all a restored confidence that day-to-day life in Iraq can become normal. And not normal again, but normal for the first time. Normal as in free.

American military power alone won't defeat the insurgents. The strength of a free Iraq will  —  but our job just now is to get that nation over the threshold to become that free country. Victory is not just about American pride. The strength or weakness of radical Islam and anti-Western terror is the central issue of the 21st century. Its resolution will define how we live, day to day.

Let's never close our eyes and hope for the best in Iraq. But we are now in danger of being distracted by the pain of the war to the point that we may lose the courage of our convictions. The ugliness of war is front and center. But the ugliness of a terrorist regime like Saddam's is even worse and always hidden, which makes it easy to point to fighting in Iraq and call the price too high.

I have put my faith in our leaders because they seem to share my values and have demonstrated a commitment to the best interests of the nation. If they have betrayed that trust, there ought to be hell to pay.

But we are in no position to make such a judgment today.

Pronouncements from pundits, retired generals, and the occasional battlefield outpost are incomplete at best, and of dubious motivation at worst. Forming an opinion on the war from a handful of tiny perspectives is like getting a description of the elephant from blind men feeling ears and the tail.

I will offer one suggestion, though: Mr. President, remind the nation why we are in Iraq. Tell us every week. Bring us the good news we don't hear. (The Wall Street Journal runs a summary every two weeks from Australian Arthur Chrenkoff.) And remember that this is an impatient country inundated with bloody headlines. Remind us to be patient. Remind us why our cause is noble. And show us how we are going to win. It is so easy to forget.

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JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


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07/27/01: Dispatch From The Front: The Gun Control War
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07/03/01: It's a Wonderful Recount

© 2004, Michael Long