The Magazine

Please Say This . . .

(Advice on the State of the Union. No charge.)

Jan 22, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 18 • By DAVID GELERNTER
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"I have spelled out good reasons for Americans to be impatient with our war in Iraq, good reasons for us to ask more of our Iraqi allies, good reasons to change our own plans. We must fight this war the best and smartest way we can. But realism is a two-way street. So now let me tell you why I am optimistic and why I know we will win; and then let me show you the big picture.

"If the fight to topple the tyrant had dragged on for years, I might be pessimistic today. If Saddam had launched poison gas at our troops and killed thousands, that would have been a disaster. If the tyrant's foul sons had escaped to rally loyalist opposition, that would have been a serious blow. If Saddam himself had escaped to haunt the world like an evil spirit--if the eminent murderer Abu Musab al Zarqawi were still alive and free--then I might be pessimistic. If the Iraqi people had failed their two largest tests, that would have been terrible--but the election worked beautifully; the trial of Saddam Hussein was managed well under difficult circumstances. If (on the other hand) an outburst of violence had marred or derailed the election, if the trial or execution of Saddam had led to the large-scale violence so many people predicted, I might be pessimistic today.

"But I am not. Many important things have gone wrong. Those that have gone right are even more important. Under the circumstances, I owe it to our troops, our allies, our Iraqi friends, and above all to the American people to be a realist and an optimist. We and the Iraqi people will win in the end.

"Of course some people argue that the war itself was a mistake; that all we can hope for today is to minimize our losses and get out fast. You know their reasons. Let me give you mine for believing that we were right to go into Iraq, righter than we ever knew.

"If we hadn't, Saddam would still be writing checks to subsidize Palestinian terror against Israel; Israel would still be shadowed by Iraqi Scuds. But maybe those are not our concerns. Breakthroughs in Lebanon and Libya would never have happened; probably we would never have traced a worldwide black market in nuclear know-how to Abdul Qadeer Khan in Pakistan. Those are American concerns. Today we might face two Irans, not one--two America-hating tyrant regimes with their weapons programs heated to max-boil. Those are American concerns. Above all, how many 9/11s did we avert by showing that we would hit back and hit hard, and stand and fight for as long as it takes? Terrorists understand bullets, not baloney. U.N. resolutions don't impress them. Did we encourage 9/11 by standing down and backing off during much of the 1990s? We'll never know for sure. But a great nation must act on its best judgment, not hang back and dither, when its safety and the world's are at stake.

"Now let me show you the big picture in Iraq. This war against terror and tyrants is a war over nothing less than life and death--a war between the champions of life and the party of death. Let me explain.

"First, there is no basic difference between a tyrant like Saddam and a terrorist like bin Laden or Zarqawi. Terrorists are would-be tyrants who hope to rule the world and destroy every trace of freedom. A tyrant is a terrorist in office. Tyrants rule by terror, and maintain their own stable of in-house terrorists called the secret police.

"Our enemies in this war seem varied but share one doctrine. Secular and Islamic fanatics, terrorist tyrants, and tyrannical terrorists all agree on death. They believe in and cultivate death; they are the party of death. And we are the party of life--and they hate us for that and hope to destroy us because of it. No war we have ever fought is more fundamental than this.

"Obviously we can't confer life; can't even protect and preserve it--not always. But we do our best. Life comes from God, and we hope to be its champions. We told the world so in 1776; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the things we stood for. Those words echoed John Winthrop's as he sailed to Boston in 1630. He wrote about the city on a hill he hoped this land would become. He was quoting the Bible, and finished by citing another biblical verse: 'Choose life and live, you and your children!' On those words we set to work and built this great American community.

"We claim no special credit for being the party of life. We invite every person and people in the world to join us. The less exclusive this party, the better. But as champions of life, we have awful responsibilities. We have spent American lives, the dearest thing we have, to sweep away two murderous tyrannies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Two nations once ruled by death now have the chance to choose life. We pray God they take it, and we mean to help them.