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Decter: Where in the World Are We Going

Midge Decter
The Heritage Foundation

in the World Are We Going?
Sunday Morning Session
The Philadelphia Society National Meeting
Philadelphia, April 2, 2006

The recent upsurge of violence in
Iraq seems to have reheated the old conservative debate about the nature and
extent of America’s responsibilities in, and to, the rest of the world. 
Those who opposed our going into Iraq in the first place have naturally
found justification for their position in the apparent inability of the Iraqis
to arrive at a settlement of their political affairs without recourse to bloody
violence.  Many others who approved
of the war to begin with have now lost heart. 
The tanking of what only three years ago had been record presidential
approval ratings has left still others in a state of considerable anxiety,
expressed in the conflicting views that we must immediately begin to reduce our
forces there or that we must immediately increase them. 
In short, comrades, we are back in the thick of what is by now a very old
debate.  Not that this debate has
ever left us, but it has now been intensified–to the point of having possibly
serious political consequences in the coming two years.

It would of course be easier and more pleasant for me to take up the
issue of America’s role in the world without reference to the war in Iraq, that
is, to speak in large, well-rounded generalities. But I will, with some
difficulty, resist the temptation to do so. For how can a whole-hearted
supporter of that war like me speak to our subject this morning without
reference to the two-hundred-pound gorilla sitting in the middle of the room?

First, however, I do want to say one large and general thing about the
role, whether voluntary or involuntary, inescapably played by the richest and
most powerful nation on earth. And it is this: If going to war, in Iraq
or anywhere else
, is a highly, even fearfully, consequential policy, so in
many cases has our not going to war. 
Or going to war and not staying the course, as in Iraq 1991, or going to
war without being committed to more than restoring the status quo ante as
in the case of Korea and Vietnam, and even so, in the case of Vietnam,
failing to do what was necessary in order to win. And if you are not only the
richest and most powerful but the most benign nation on earth—which I
fervently believe the United States has proven itself over and over to be—you
might, indeed you must, take into account not only the future trouble you are
storing up for yourself but the countless millions upon millions of lives
and untold suffering of others.

So: to the gorilla.  It might
sometimes on especially dark and gloomy days not seem so, but the United States
has now embarked on a policy in the Middle East. 
This policy, like the cold war before it,
two-steps-forward-one-step-back, is to defeat the forces of a militant and
terrorizing Islam and bring–call it democracy or call it merely some form of
decent comity–among the nations of a region that is vitally important to us and
our friends and allies.  Forget that
few of the latter have seen fit to join us in this effort. 
They will benefit from it all the same, and no matter how we may feel
about them, their benefit remains vital to our own.  
In pursuit of the policy we have now been three years at war in Iraq, at
war with Iraqi insurgents as well as with insurgent forces from nearby nations,
insurgents and their sponsoring neighbors who understand only too well the
implications for them of our ultimate victory in Iraq even if many too many
among us these days do not.  During
our days in Vietnam many among us poked fun at the idea of falling dominos, and
indeed, to the sorrow of countless millions of people the neighboring dominos
did not fall.  But that did not put
an end to the theory: for in Eastern and Central Europe they did, through both
the exertion of pressure and an often-disputed display of our military power.
Poland was a domino, Hungary was a domino, Czechoslovakia, and ultimately
Ukraine, the Baltics, and East Germany.  It
took us more than forty years.  We
did not always stay the course, for staying the course for nearly half a century
is a difficult thing to achieve in any democracy, but we were persistent enough
to achieve a massive transformation, one whose extent, I freely confess, that
back in the Cold-War years I myself had not expected to see in my own lifetime.

Something like 2400 young American lives have so far been lost in Iraq,
and it is a sad number.  Moreover,
it would be foolish not to expect that number to increase. 
It seems to me important to remember, however, that those lives are being
lost not to warfare but to Islamic terrorism, with such weaponry as rockets held
in unseen hands and roadside bombs. And following from this, to remind ourselves
that a greater number were lost on September 11, 2001, in New York City, the
Pentagon, and on a field in Pennsylvania. Moreover, how many will in the end
have been murdered in Europe and Britain, the Far East, and, yes, Russia?
Terrorism is not warfare but murder.

It is not likely that terrorism will come to an end, perhaps not for
years to come. But with our success in Iraq, the world would be standing, maybe
not on the threshold, maybe somewhere outside the door, of a new kind of
political and social and economic Middle East. 
Syria is tottering; Egypt is nearing a point of chaos, which could be
either creative or disastrous, depending on developments elsewhere; Iran is
swaggering its way into danger; Saudi Arabia is beginning to feel the
consequences of its own filthy policy.  For
the United States to stop now, in the very face of hope, would condemn the
entire Middle East, along with Nicaragua and God alone knows where else in Latin
America to years and years of ugly and expansive torture. 
A victory in Iraq, along with the overthrow of Ahmadinejad and his
mullahs in Iran would jolt the Middle East into the possibility of at least a
torture–and terror-free Middle East, and who knows? perhaps even into a life
free of torture and misery and oppression for untold millions of Arabs. 
This, of course, is George Bush’s vision, though it will not be realized
in his administration and perhaps not in many administrations to come. 
But it is–I will use the word–a noble vision. 

Does that sound silly? Overreaching? The Wise Men of Harry Truman’s
administration had such a vision about saving Western Europe for democracy, and
we call them wise. Ronald Reagan had such a noble vision, and we have by now
come near to beatifying him. Reagan succeeded, in the teeth of just such carping
and ridiculing and outright lying as we see and hear all around us these days. 
Why could not some future Reagan, building on the gutsiness of George W.
Bush, as Reagan did on the gustiness of Harry Truman, lead the United States to
the liberation of the Arab world from its terrors and its terror?

I will end by reminding you that for the richest and most powerful, and
most benign, nation on earth there is no escaping the heavy burden of
international consequence, for what we do or equally for what we fail to do. 
And think of what high spirits and civic courage might be unleashed, not
only in Cairo, Damascus, Riyadh, et all, but also in New York, Philadelphia,
Kansas City, Spokane, and even–I will say it–Los Angeles.     

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