PRESIDENT BUSH made his visit with Iraqi Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, yesterday into something more than a feel-good photo op with natural fans. Bush used the occasion to hammer on two crucial themes. One was America's unequivocal commitment to the rebuilding of Iraq. The other was his conviction that free Iraqis, with appropriate help, will do the job themselves. Both points deserve to be underlined.
Think back a few years to the 1990s, when presidential commitments were habitually hedged. The Bill Clinton who said he would have voted with the majority on the first Gulf War, though he agreed with the arguments of the minority, turned into a president notorious for verbal gymnastics and quick footwork. This president is having none of it. He is staking his presidency on a four-square promise: "America pledged to rid Iraq of an oppressive regime, and we kept our word," he said in Dearborn. "America now pledges to help Iraqis build a prosperous and peaceful nation, and we will keep our word again."
It is this granite commitment that makes all talk of turning reconstruction over to the United Nations so fatuous. You simply can't delegate such a responsibility. You have to meet it yourself. You especially can't delegate it to a faceless council and multilingual bureaucracy. In the end, it is a person who answers, and in this case he is George W. Bush.
In keeping with his second theme, the president devoted much of his Dearborn speech to Iraqis' own contributions to their country's rebirth. Thus, he retold the wonderful stories of the Iraqi citizens who, at great risk to themselves, took the initiative in helping Marines find Jessica Lynch at a hospital in Nasiriyah and seven other American prisoners of war who were rescued in northern Iraq. He spoke of hundreds of police volunteers in Basra, residents helping troops gather up unexploded munitions and warning our soldiers about enemy hideouts, and Iraqi engineers working side by side with their U.S. Army counterparts to repair power plants and water systems. (He could have cited the parents and teachers clearing debris and washing floors and painting walls at a Baghdad school memorably described in today's Washington Post.)
Always, he kept the spotlight on the personal costs of the Baathist tyranny, which "impoverished the Iraqi people in every way." Again and again, he stressed the new energies that are being released as Iraqi people are freed to "build their own prosperity."
The ideology of freedom that Bush expresses is second nature to most Americans; so is the belief that, as he put it, "the desire for freedom is not the property of one culture." This is another reason why Americans--not U.N. functionaries, many of whom operate from statist assumptions--must be the ones to wrestle with the difficulties of the present chaotic, creative phase of Iraq's liberation. At least Americans believe in both the goal and the means.
Fittingly, Bush ended with a call for the lifting of U.N. sanctions, which, are "pointless" now that Iraq is free.
It will be interesting, after all this is over, to look back on the Dearborn speech--along with Bush's brief message to the Iraqi people on April 10, another firm, clear statement of purpose--in the light of how it all comes out. The question of the century is whether Bush's leadership, the can-do follow-through of coalition forces and other reconstruction participants, the patience of American taxpayers, and the civic instincts and sheer endurance of the Iraqi people will succeed in vindicating the great principle of freedom.
Claudia Winkler is a managing editor at The Weekly Standard.