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Saturday, December 27, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 5/15/2004

Remaining steadfast

PUBLIC opinion in America on the war in Iraq seems to be divided chiefly between those who think the cause is hopeless, and those who wonder why Iraq isn't Switzerland yet.

Those in the first group are further divided between those who think our cause is hopeless because we are undeserving (most prominent Democrats) and those who think it is hopeless because the Iraqis are undeserving (George Will, Richard Pipes).

Those in the second group tend to think that if we encounter any difficulties in Iraq, it has to be because some American (probably President Bush) was negligent.

Relatively few in our elites are those who recognize that what we are attempting in Iraq - to build the first true democracy in the Arab world - is both immensely difficult and immensely important. And - given the difficulty of the task we face - we're making respectable progress.

Victory in Iraq will come neither quickly nor easily. But unlike World War II or the Civil War, this is a war we cannot lose on the battlefield. This is a war we can only lose at the ballot box.

The past isn't always prologue. But it almost always is instructive. The election of 2004 is the most important since the election of 1864, and there are remarkable similarities between the election campaigns, then and now.

The Democratic Party today, as in 1864, has been captured by its Copperhead element. The Copperheads then wanted immediate peace with (that is, surrender to) the Confederacy. Most of the Copperheads were people who thought that putting an end to the immense bloodshed of the Civil War was more important than keeping the country together, much more important than freeing the slaves. But there were among them a significant minority who actually sought a Rebel victory.

The war weariness was easy enough to understand. More than 400,000 Union soldiers lost their lives, out of a population of 22 million. (An equivalent loss in the war we're fighting now would be 4.8 million.) There were (thank God!) no opinion polls in the spring and summer of 1864. But if there had been, they would have shown that President Abraham Lincoln was in deep political trouble.

President Bush's fate likely will be determined by what happens in Iraq. Fortunately, things are going better there than what a news media dominated by Copperheads would have you believe.

On May 4, about 150 of Iraq's most prominent Shiite religious leaders gathered in Baghdad to demand that Moktada al Sadr withdraw his militia from the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, stop storing weapons in mosques, and turn power back to the U.S.-supported Iraqi police.

The meeting took place after several thousand Iraqis gathered outside the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf to protest against Mr. Sadr, and a mysterious group that calls itself the Thulfiqar Army, began murdering members of his militia.

"Several Shiite leaders acknowledged that they had delayed issuing their statement until there were clear signs that public opinion among Shiites had moved strongly against Mr. Sadr," wrote John Burns in the New York Times.

The Shiite clerics also called for "a rapid return to the American-led negotiations on Iraq's political future," Mr. Burns wrote.

Their renewed interest in negotiations may have been prompted by the appointment (and swift removal) of a former Republican Guard officer to head the Iraqi forces supporting the Marines in Fallujah. Whether blind luck or a product of a deliberate ploy, this served to remind the Shiites that they don't hold all the cards.

In any event, the U.S. strategy of patience and "talk talk, fight fight" seems to working better than you'd gather from most of the news stories coming out of Iraq.

Abraham Lincoln made mistakes during the Civil War. But the cause was just, and he had the courage and steadfastness to see it through. Our cause in Iraq is just, and vitally important. President Bush has the courage to see it through. Do we?



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