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[casi] WSJ: 'The Central Front'

Wall Street Journal's

'The Central Front'
The terrorists are in Iraq, not New York. That's huge progress.

Tuesday, September 9, 2003 12:01 a.m. EDT
Yes, sure, President Bush's remarks to the nation Sunday evening could have
come sooner. But the critics can no longer claim that Mr. Bush hasn't been
forthright about either his strategy for victory in Iraq, or the cost of
achieving it.

"Iraq is now the central front" in the war on terror, he told the country.
"Enemies of freedom are making a desperate stand there--and there they must
be defeated. This will take time and require sacrifice." He proved the
latter point by announcing a request to Congress for $87 billion more for
Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terror, and of course he spoke about the
dangers facing U.S. troops.

This expression of resolve was especially needed in the wake of Mr. Bush's
decision to invite United Nations help in Iraq. His adversaries have
portrayed this as a sign of weakness, the desire to cut and run. Mr. Bush
made clear it is no such thing. Instead he challenged the U.N. as a matter
of its "responsibility" to help Iraq become free and democratic. The speech
contained no evidence that Mr. Bush is willing to turn Baghdad into some
French co-prosperity sphere.

Some critics, especially Democrats, hailed the speech as a U-turn. And they
have a point in that Sunday's sober remarks were an implicit admission that
Mr. Bush's aircraft-carrier speech on May 1 was a premature celebration. The
Administration underestimated the ferocity of the guerrilla campaign in
Iraq, not to mention the damage done to that country's psyche and physical
plant by 30 years of Saddam's rule.
But in a larger strategic sense, Mr. Bush's May 1 speech was the exception,
and Sunday's remarks more consistent with his themes since September 11. The
war on terror was always going to be long and hard, very much like the Cold
War. Most important, we are better off fighting it far from our shores, in
places like Iraq, rather than placing our hope in a Maginot Line called
"homeland security."

"The surest way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy
where he lives and plans," Mr. Bush said, in what for us was the heart of
his speech. "We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so
that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities."

In this, as in so many ways, the American public is wiser than political and
media elites. The Washington Post devoted page-one space the other day to a
piece professing amazement that some Americans still think Saddam had
something to do with 9/11. (Those rubes outside the Beltway again!) But
Americans realize that al Qaeda and Saddam share a common goal of killing
Americans and driving us from the Middle East. They don't need proof of
collusion beyond a reasonable doubt to know that ridding the world of a
dictator who supports terror is an act of American self-defense.

            Casualties of War
            American death toll from terror
                  World Trade Center, 1993 6
                  Khobar Towers, 1996 19
                  African embassies, 1998 12
                  USS Cole, 2000 17
                  Sept. 11, 2001 2,902
                  Operation Enduring Freedom
                  (Afghanistan, Philippines, other countries)
                  Iraq, since March 2003 287*

            *Military deaths
            Sources: Pentagon, WSJ research

The table nearby shows the number of Americans who have died in major acts
of terrorism in the past decade, followed by the casualties from fighting
terror since 9/11. The 2,956 murdered by terrorists, nearly all
noncombatants, exceed by nearly eight times the 374 who have died fighting
back. Service in Iraq--and the Philippines, for that matter--is tough,
dangerous duty. But Americans understand, even if talking heads on CNN do
not, that U.S. troops are risking their lives there to prevent another 9/11
in Miami or Chicago.

What Americans want to know in wartime is that their leaders have a strategy
to win, and that they are being honest about the cost. Mr. Bush was telling
Americans Sunday night that more U.S. soldiers will die in Iraq, perhaps
many more. But he also laid out a plan for victory that looks achievable.

Most of Iraq is not in "chaos." The Marines in the South and the Army's
101st Airborne in the North have earned Iraqi respect and support. Local
self-government is sprouting up throughout those regions. The battles
between Kurds and Arabs, or Shiite and Sunni Muslims, simply haven't
happened. The Sunni Triangle surrounding Baghdad remains a war zone, and
invading jihadis will do more damage before they can be killed. But the
larger story, missed by most of the media, is one of slow progress toward
stability and Iraqi self-government.
The danger now is not that the U.S. will be drawn into some quagmire, a la
Vietnam, but that we will show a desire to leave too soon, as in Somalia.
Terrorists thrive on such weakness, indeed it is the basis for their current
strategy. They think that if they can impose enough casualties, or create
enough havoc, the voices of retreat will begin to say once again, "Come
home, America." Judging by Sunday night, those voices will first have to
defeat Mr. Bush in 2004.

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