Thursday, December 28, 2006

ROGER COHEN: Words of Hope for Iraq, if Only Bush Had Said Them

Here's a speech President George W. Bush might address to Iraqis as a year of bloodshed draws to a close:

I want to address myself today to the Iraqi people. You stand at the end of a year of anguish that has made you doubt your government, your army and police, your American ally and, no doubt, the very existence of your fragmented country. I share your dismay and I sense your outrage. Some of your suffering results from mistakes for which I take responsibility. But we must all try to look forward. The past is instructive. Yet the past will not put food on your tables, nor deliver electricity to your homes. It can feed hatred; it cannot feed you.

I spoke of mistakes. We freed you of the tyrant
Saddam Hussein. Yet we did not have a serious plan for the consolidation of that freedom nor a serious estimation of the social revolution that the end of tyranny would bring. I understand now the instinct of liberated Shiites to be among Shiites, Sunnis among Sunnis, Kurds among Kurds. Each group feels safer that way. Each would prefer to rule than be ruled. Each would rather wield the stick than suffer its blows. Modern Middle Eastern history scarcely counsels any other course.

Yet consider the millions of cellphones you have all acquired since the dictatorship was ended. They are made for communication, not for the building of walls. Consider the goods you've imported, the cars and the air conditioners. That trade is about opening up, too. I know, we've put walls around the Green Zone, we've put concrete and razor wire between you and your government. But those walls will come down one day as surely as the barriers of hatred that have hardened these past three years.

Walls take you backward. They crumble before the liberating technologies of our age. Iraq is marked today by lines of division. Yet it can rise above them. It must, because the alternative is too terrible to contemplate. I ask you: If Iraq were so unnatural a creation, would it take so much blood to try to break it apart?

Some of my critics have found a new name for my decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein. They call it: "The War of the Imagination." By that, I guess they mean that I imagined the threats Iraq posed, imagined its weapons of mass destruction, imagined a wave of liberation in the Middle East and imagined a smooth transition from dictatorship to democracy. O.K., perhaps I did let my imagination run away with me a little.

But there's a publication over here called The New York Review of Books, no friend of mine, and it recently ran an article called "The War of the Imagination" over a photograph of an Iraqi searching for the remains of his relative among one of Saddam's mass graves. One thing I did not imagine was those graves. One thing I did not imagine was Saddam's secret police coming for you in the night. One thing I did not imagine was a terror so deep you were scared even to think ill of the now-judged despot.

One thing I did not imagine was how Saddam borrowed from the Nazis to organize his Baath Party and borrowed from Stalin for his personality cult.

America helped free Europe of those totalitarian scourges. There are those who believe the Middle East was unworthy of, or unready for, or unmovable by, a similar liberation. They argue that the drawing of such parallels between Europe and the Middle East is foolish or naïve. I think otherwise. And I cherish the hope, still, that you will not squander the opportunity the United States has now offered you.

The description I prefer is a "War of Creation." What's at stake now is nothing less than the creation of modern Iraq. That's the solemn responsibility of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, and I give my solemn undertaking that the United States will do all it can to help him. You never owned the Iraq of Saddam. You never owned the Iraq of the Baathists, nor of the monarchy, nor of colonial rulers. Yet you can own this Iraq.

You can make it yours, make it one and make it whole. For that to happen, loyalty to the flag, to your elected government, to the new uniforms of the army and the police, must rise above loyalty to tribe. I know how hard that will be. We fought wars against our former rulers and among ourselves to forge our nation. These are not matters of days or weeks or even years. They are generational struggles. Yours has just begun.

I spoke of mistakes. We will not compound them by cutting and running, or even cutting and walking. But America cannot make the new Iraq; you must. Wherever and whenever we can we will hand responsibility to you.

Over time we will cut and, if that is your wish, end our military presence.

Germany is a friend and we still have soldiers there. Vietnam is now a friend, too, and our soldiers are gone, but we have forces nearby. People tend to forget the role America's far- flung garrisons play in the unprecedented peace and stability that much of humanity enjoys. Neither you nor I have the privilege of such forgetfulness.

It is fashionable to mock my country and to describe Iraq as lost.

But fashion is not the best moral compass, nor the best policy guide. We will work hard in the coming year to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer, to engage where we can with your neighbors, and to blunt fanaticism.

For too long America was a status- quo power in the Middle East while it changed the status quo in Europe and Asia. You suffered from that as you have suffered from our policy change. The difference is you now have your future in your hands. I urge you to seize that opportunity.

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