President Bush's address to the nation Thursday night was more than just an inspired photo op and a tribute to the troops. It also was a welcome elaboration of the president's vision of what in an earlier administration was called "the new world order."
American forces accomplished two key objectives in Iraq: Saddam Hussein - a ticking time bomb - was defused, and the people of Iraq were liberated from a tyrant they hadn't the power to overthrow on their own. "In this battle," said the president, "we have fought for the cause of liberty, and for the peace of the world."
Note that he said "in this battle" - not "in this war." Iraq was indeed only one battle in what author Eliot Cohen, former CIA Director Jim Woolsey, and others have accurately termed World War IV (World War III having been the Cold War).
We had to lose many battles in this war - e.g. on September 11, 2001, against the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, at our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, at the World Trade Center in 1993, in Beirut in 1983 - before an American president decided it was time to fight back. For many years, many people in many countries doubted that Americans had the will to rise in their own defense.
The president addressed those doubters Thursday night. "The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror," he said. "We have removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because that regime is no more."
The president replied calmly to those who are now are charging that because American forces have not yet found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction there must never have been any WMD - ignoring the disturbing possibility that those WMD have simply been well hidden or, worse, transferred to other countries. "We have begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated," Bush said.
Thanks to reporting by the New York Times's Judith Miller, at least one Iraqi scientist, Nissar Hindawi, is now on the record saying his job was to create biological weapons, including botulinum toxin and anthrax, and that he lied about it to the U.N. inspectors.
Other scientists will no doubt come forward - but a mechanism needs to be put in place to give immunity to those scientists who speak out early and fully. Mr. Hindawi's confession, according to legal experts, has put him at risk of prosecution. Under international law it's not an adequate defense to say, as Mr. Hindawi has, that he was only taking orders and that he was too frightened to refuse.
Inherent in the Bush Doctrine is the determination that America in the 21st century should be known as a nation that protects its friends and destroys its enemies. The president has said often that a war against terrorism and the jihadist ideologies that drive terrorism is not a war against Islam. On the contrary, Bush is inviting - imploring - the Islamic world to join the Free World.
"The advance of freedom is the surest strategy to undermine the appeal of terror," Bush said. "Where freedom takes hold, hatred gives way to hope. When freedom takes hold, men and women turn to the peaceful pursuit of a better life."
Bush said America was "committed to freedom in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in a peaceful Palestine." In other words, the effort to make peace between the Arabs and Israel also can be seen as a front in the war against terrorism.
The Palestinians need to understand that. Their new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, a.k.a. Abu Mazen, needs to help them comprehend that there is no way President Bush will support the creation of another terrorist-sponsoring state in the Middle East. They need to accept that it is their responsibility to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism within their communities, and to embrace freedom and democracy.
As Bush stated in his paradigm-shifting speech of last June 24, only after the Palestinians have accomplished that can they expect progress toward independence. (Disappointingly, the "Road Map" to peace issued this week by the State Department is far less clear on this vital point than the president has been.)
For all that, the keystone of the president's address was Iraq - its painful past and its hopeful future. Nothing would please most Americans more than to have a free, democratic, and prosperous Iraq as both a friend and an ally sometime in the not-too-distant future .
"We have difficult work to do in Iraq," the president said. "We are bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous. We are pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime, who will be held to account for their crimes..The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our Coalition will stay until our work is done," until there is a government "of, by and for the people."
But the really heavy lifting can't be done by Americans. Iraqis will have to do it themselves. Americans can only provide support, encouragement, and assistance - and maybe keep the U.N. from messing things up.