By Pete du Pont, October 16, 2002
Mr. du Pont, a former governor of Delaware, is policy chairman of the
Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis (http://ncpa.org). His
column appears Wednesdays.
Five times in the last century America made substantial international military
commitments to rid the world of serious threats to civilization: World War I,
World War II, 1947 (when President Truman began to resist communist
expansion in southern Europe), Korea and Vietnam.
They were long-term commitments. Our containment commitment lasted until
the U.S.S.R. disintegrated in 1989; we are still keeping the 1941 commitment
with U.S. troops in Germany and Japan, and U.S. forces secure South Korea’s
freedom. Indeed, we help maintain a safer world by stationing troops in more
than 100 countries.
In 2002 the threat is not the Kaiser, Hitler or Stalin, but Islamist terrorism. Once
again, America is making an international military commitment, this time to see
that terrorists and rogue states do not destroy the peace, security and liberty
we secured in the past half century.
Our commitment in 2002 is as noble as that of D-Day in 1944, the
Korean War or the Berlin Airlift. It is a commitment to keep America, and the
world, safe from future Sept. 11ths.
In taking on Saddam Hussein, there is a broader agenda, something of more
lasting significance than eliminating the immediate threat posed by his weapons
of mass destruction. America’s long-term goal is to change the dynamics of the
Middle East, the most dangerous region in the world today.
The fundamentalist and authoritarian cultures of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi
Arabia and Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority are a serious danger — not
greater than Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia in their time perhaps, but the
greatest challenge to the peace and prosperity of the world community today.
President Bush seeks immediate regime change in Baghdad, but Saddam’s
demise will be the beginning of Iraq’s transformation into a free and stable
nation — just as the end of the Taliban was only the beginning of a free
When Iraq is free of Saddam’s dictatorship, it can begin its
transformation into a nation where, in the president’s words, people can “speak
freely; choose who will govern them; worship as they please; educate their
children, male and female; own property and enjoy the benefits of their labor.”
The people of other Middle Eastern nations — Iran, Saudi Arabia and perhaps
even Syria — will begin to see the advantages of liberty too. It may not come to
them quickly. It didn’t come quickly in Poland or Hungary where a dictatorship
as repressive as some in the Middle East similarly prohibited these things.
But the concepts of individual liberty, representative democracy and
market economies will take hold within Middle Eastern nations, just as they did
in post-Soviet Eastern Europe. Or at least that is the unstated, long-term hope
of the Bush administration.
The war against terrorism will be long and difficult; so will the American effort
in Iraq. Will we be in Iraq for decades, as we have been in Europe and Korea?
Perhaps, for it takes years, not weeks, to help nations ravaged by war,
terrorism and dictatorship to discover and then begin to practice freedom and
To achieve these goals America must exercise its power. No one else can, and
many nations would not even if they could, so if peace is to be preserved we
must preserve it. America will act, Saddam and his terrorist government will be
replaced or destroyed, and then the concept of liberty will begin to take root in
Middle Eastern society.
Not everyone in America agrees with this objective or our course of action to
The far left (allegedly with 10,000 university professors signed on) has
been staging “peace” protests, arguing that there is no right and wrong or good
and evil, that all cultures are equal, that we should be more afraid of attacking a
totalitarian regime than of being attacked ourselves. This opposition believes we
should not use military force, but instead push for alternatives to war (“peace
through niceness” in James Taranto’s phrase). They prefer that America not
pursue its own vision, but ask the United Nations for permission.
They remind me of the violent European reaction in the 1983, when Ronald
Reagan decided to put Pershing missiles in Europe to counter the Soviet military
threat. Millions of people marched in Germany, France and England, morally
equating America with the U.S.S.R. The protesters demanded unilateral
disarmament (the actual program of the German Social Democrats) and
recommended a “security partnership” with the Soviet Union.
In retrospect, it is easy to see who was right and who was wrong. Six
years later the U.S.S.R. imploded and Europe was free of the greatest threat to
its future liberty. In a few months it will become even clearer that the American
left is as wrong in 2002 as the European left was in 1983.
In 1801 Thomas Jefferson went to war against the Barbary Pirates, who sought
an annual ransom from the United States; two centuries later George W. Bush
is going to war against Iraq.
In the first case only money was at stake and there was no direct threat
to America; in the second, the stakes are higher, for the threat to America is
real — another Sept. 11.
So the U.S. Senate agreed by a 3-to-1 margin that protecting America’s
security is a good idea. Perhaps the senators did not consider that they were
approving a long-term commitment to change the dynamics of governance in
the Middle East, but it will turn out that is what they have done. And as we are
likely to come to understand over time, it is a very good thing to have done.