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Today's Progressive Spirit

The scenes in Baghdad flow from understandings realized at the American founding.

1:00 PM, Apr 9, 2003 • By DAVID BROOKS
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I WISH MICHAEL KELLY were alive to see this day. He would have known how to savor it. I wish Ronald Reagan could be aware of the scenes being played out in Baghdad. He would know that the liberationist sentiment he rekindled in the American heart didn't die out with the liberation of eastern and central Europe.

With his optimism, Reagan revived the progressive spirit that courses through our founding Declaration, that all human beings are created equal and all are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Reagan felt deep in his bones that this statement is true, and contains an implication. It assigns us the task of doing what we can to see that all human beings are able to realize these rights, in Europe, in the Arab world, and everywhere.

After September 11, George Bush was seized by this sense of mission, and has remained true to it. Happily, he is alive to see this day. I doubt he will bang bongo drums or light up cigars for the cameras, a la Bill Clinton. But I'm sure he must feel some quiet satisfaction that he, more than anyone else on earth, is responsible for liberating the Iraqi people and destroying the most murderous regime of our age.

I'm glad that many, though sadly not all, members of the U.S. and British armed forces can see this day, and know that their sacrifices have paid off so handsomely.

I'm glad that the much maligned hawks are around to watch the images of Saddam's statue falling and the torture chambers emptying. Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld deserve their share of the glory.

I'm glad Tony Blair can see these pictures (if indeed the BBC is willing to broadcast them). I'm glad he can share his reflections on them with the leaders of Spain, Portugal, Poland, and central Europe.

I'm sure there is some sense of joy in the hearts of others who made their own sort of sacrifice. On the left, Michael Ignatieff, a Harvard professor, has endured the scathing criticism of his colleagues because he knew what was right for the Iraqi people. Paul Berman of NYU recognized that the Whitmanesque spirit of optimism and progress demands that we do what we can to liberate peoples and advance the cause of self-determination.

There are millions of others who deserve recognition today. Sure, big challenges remain. But destroying the Baath regime is already a great gift from America and Britain to the world. We don't know what the Iraqi people are going to do with the opportunity to be free. But they are being given this opportunity, which is not nothing.

I'm curious about how all the war opponents are going to react if things continue to go well. Sure, they opposed Saddam, they will say. They just didn't want to do anything about him. They had no practical suggestion for how to end his murderous reign and spread freedom. They were tolerant. Tolerant of tyranny. They doubted, and continue to doubt America's willingness and ability to serve as a force for good in the world. That was their crucial mistake.

I suspect they will not even now admit their errors. I doubt the people of Europe will say: We were wrong. You really are the liberators of the Iraqi people. I doubt the Arab propagandists will say: We will never spread such distortions again. We will never again be so driven by resentment and dishonesty.

Sad to say, human nature doesn't work that way. The rump 15 percent of Americans who still oppose this war may perhaps grow more bitter, lost in the cul-de-sac of their own alienation.

But, however things shake out over the next months and years, this is the sort of day that represents what the United States is on earth to achieve. Thank God we have the political leaders and the military capabilities to realize the ideals that have always been embodied in our founding documents.

David Brooks is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.