Eyes on the Prize

So far so good. The war has begun, and the world hasn’t ended (alarmists, pessimists and prophets on left and right please note). Saddam Hussein may be hurt or dead. And so, on to Baghdad.

An old song from the American civil rights is on my mind and seems on point. It’s about how far the movement had come and would go as long as all involved remained focused, in spite of setbacks, on the new day that was coming. “Keep your eyes on the prize, oh Lord, oh Lord,” went the refrain.

That’s what the coming week is about. As we become, inevitably, bogged down and fogged down by the dailyness and messiness of war, we should keep our eyes on the prize. One senses it is going to be bigger than we think.

We are about to startle and reorder the world. We are going to win this thing, and in the winning of it we are going to reinspire civilized people across the globe. We’re going to give the world a lift.

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This is what the American victory in Iraq is going to mean:

It is going to mean, first, that something good happened. This sounds small but is huge. The West has been depressed since Sept. 11, 2001. It has been torn, riven. It has been a difficult time. The coming victory is going to be the biggest good thing that has happened in the world, the West and the United States since the twin towers fell.

The deeper meaning there is that we are witnessing a triumph of activism over fatalism. Victory will remind the world that faith and effort trump ennui and despair. It will demonstrate to the civilized world that the good do not have to see themselves as at the inevitable mercy of barbarians. It will demonstrate that we are not part of a long and unstoppable slide, that we can move forward and win progress, that we don’t have to cower in blue suits behind the Security Council desk. We can straighten up, join together and make things better.

An American victory is going to remind the world, too, that while many have tended to see terror states and terror groups as talented, disciplined and competent, they are not, always. The reigning Iraqi claque has been revealed, or so it seems, to be what many of us hoped it was: a house of cards. It is not bad for the world to see it collapse.

Another thing, and a crucially important one. The United States is showing to the world, to its friends and foes, that it will pay a high price to make the world better. We will put it all on the line. This country is, still, the place that will take responsibility when no one else will. In this our entire country is like the firemen of 9/11 who looked up, saw the burning towers and charged. In the past few days, weeks and months, America charged. It has a lot to be proud of. (Being America it will soon be beating itself up again, but it should take some time over the next few weeks to feel the healthy pride it’s earned.)

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The American president has, meanwhile, demonstrated to the entire world that he is neither a bombastic naïf nor a reckless cowboy but, in fact, another kind of American stereotype: the steely-eyed rocket man. Don’t tread on him. It is good for the world that it see him as he is. As for leadership style, remember Jimmy Carter micromanaging the failed hostage rescue mission in 1980? This president was told Wednesday night we may have to move early to take advantage of potentially key targets that had presented themselves. Bush said, “Let’s go.” It takes guts and judgment to trust others who know how to do their jobs.

The American victory will mean that the United States has removed a great and serious threat to the innocent people of the world. An evil man who was gathering to himself weapons of mass destruction was, is, a danger to the world. And so, with the successful prosecution of the war, the world will be safer.

We will have helped the Mideast become more stable. There were those who warned that invading Iraq would lead to instability in the Mideast, to which the only response was: lead to? The Mideast was instable. Saddam was part of that instability. His removal opens up the possibility of stability.

With Iraq taken care of the United States will be able to move with enhanced strength toward an Arab-Israeli peace that might last. There are those who say Mr. Bush cannot move forcefully here because his base is composed in part of Christian Evangelicals deeply enamored of Israel. And so it is. But with victory in Baghdad Mr. Bush’s base widens, and it will damage him not at all either in the world or domestically to come out strong and do what needs to be done.

And, finally, victory in Iraq means this: every terror state and terror group is more than ever on notice and newly aware that the West does not exist to play victim.

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A victory in Iraq is about to enhance America’s stature in the world. America deserves it. Because of all the powerful countries in the world, it is the most trustworthy, reliable and constructive.

Soon this war will be over. It was hard getting there, hard doing it and there will no doubt be hard going. But it will be over, and we won’t come back from hell with empty hands. We will have won a great deal. In the next week and weeks it will be good to keep that in mind, and keep our eyes on the prize.

We have 2.7 million members of the active and reserve American armed forces today. The world owes a great deal to America, and America owes a great deal to them, and not only because of their courage but because of their faith in us. And they have faith in us, and in this place we all live in, this great country, or else they would never risk their lives for us. Which leaves us humbled, and wishing we could say to them what the world should be saying to the country they represent:

Thank you.