The Road Ahead ...
Several days ago, George Bush made history by becoming the first President to land on an aircraft carrier in a fixed wing aircraft. After sitting in the co-pilot seat and flying, at one point, the S-3B Viking anti-submarine aircraft, the President landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln after its 10-month deployment in the Iraq conflict. He then delivered a speech to the sailors and Marines on board declaring that most of the major fighting in Iraq was over.
Many pundits in the United States were quick to dismiss the event as little more than a publicity stunt aimed at providing some Top Gun footage for a campaign video come next fall when the President is running for reelection. While its true that Karl Rove undoubtedly had a hand in the staging of so picturesque a moment as the President addressing the battle-hardened (but due to the obligations of international law, not yet explicitly victorious) troops, the President did not take every opportunity he had to grandstand. In fact, the ship slowed down so that the President could take a helicopter back to shore and not interfere with the emotional homecoming of the five thousand servicemen and women aboard.
Yet the shots of the President, clad in a flight suit with a helmet under his arm, waving to the deck crew, is one that will surely reappear next year. While some may declare so partisan a use of the President's authority as Commander-in-Chief inappropriate, in truth, this administration deserves to take some credit for leading this country to war with Iraq
For months, the United States had to deal with the diplomatic shenanigans of Iraq and a government whose conception of honest dialogue can best be summed up by the preposterous and ludicrous commentary provided by Mohammed Saeed Al-sahhaf, the Iraqi Information Minister of "www.welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com" fame. Such longtime "allies" as France went against their word and declined to advocate using "any means necessary" to disarm Iraq, as numerous United Nations Security Council Resolutions have promised. Even worse, France passed on the details of delicate diplomatic exchanges between it and the United States to Iraq in an attempt to aid that country. According to the April 28 Daily Telegraph online news service, documents found in the Iraqi Foreign Ministry indicate that French government worked in cooperation with the Iraqi secret service to obstruct a human rights conference in Paris that was set to discuss the humanitarian abuses of Saddam's regime.
Against this current of self-interested obstruction on behalf of countries historically close to the U.S., the President's focus on keeping the pressure on Iraq maintained. And after a conflict in which the military employed new strategies and outpaced even the most optimistic projections of time and casualties, the international community can see the evidence of decades of Saddam's evil regime whose use of torture and murder as political instruments places it among the most heinous in history. Every day brings new reports of mass civilian graves that have been uncovered.
It will be a significant challenge to uncover the "smoking gun" that the press seems to clamor for. Thanks to coaching from France, Saddam had months to prepare for the invasion by destroying large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Special teams using sophisticated detection equipment have picked up traces of weapons of mass destruction at several sites, but it still may take time to discover the location of other weapons, and determine how much has been destroyed. Although Saddam's weapons have not been uncovered, documents that discuss the close ties between Iraq and Al Qaida have been recovered, proving one of the more contentious points, that state-sponsored terrorism had a friend in Saddam Hussein.
So if the President seemed just a bit pleased with himself, perhaps for that one moment it can be allowed. He stared down an evil dictator who had managed to toy with the U.S. and make a mockery of its ultimatums for over a decade. And he realizes that the U.S. now has a difficult task ahead of it. We need now to rebuild Iraq -- not from the war, but from years of despotic decay. Iraq's vast supply of oil makes this task only slightly easier, for the questions of political rule remain. And just as maintaining a commitment to oppose terrorism is difficult in a climate of appeasement, so too will be demanding that the Iraqi people get the kind of government they deserve, one which does not trade democracy for another regional tyrant.