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July 04, 2005

July 4, 2005

Last night the horizon around Barnegat Bay spouted fire.  The foreground was amateur flares from nearby docks; in the distance balls and hoops and swoops from professional firework teams at clubs and amusement parks.  The air smelled as it must have to Francis Scott Key as he watched the bombardment which inspired the Star Spangled Banner.  We played Toby Keith’s CD with his post-9/11 number Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (Angry American) as loudly as we could amplify it.  Our children and most of our friends would, I’m sure, disapprove both of our musical taste and our jingoism (although daughter Kate did give me the CD).

In other parts of the world the flash and smash of rockets and smell of cordite is not for fun.  That does take some of the joy out of our celebration.  And it also helps explain why we’re in Iraq.

We’re not there to make the Iraqis free; that would be a great result but freedom and democracy are things they’ll have to accomplish on their own.  Moreover, Iraqi freedom by itself is not a reason to risk American lives.  We’re there as part of the War on Terror which started on 9/11/2001.  Bear with me a minute before objecting that Saddam appears to have been lying when he boasted about having weapons of mass destruction and that there is no public evidence linking him directly to the attack on the World Trade Center.

Critics of the war in Iraq correctly point out that Iraq and Afghanistan have become magnets for terrorists.  Islamic extremists from all over the world are pouring into these countries to prevent the dreaded (by them) eventuality that modern democracies succeed in Moslem nations.  It is better for most of us to fight these extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan than in New York and Washington.  On 9/11 Osama bin Laden chose the time and place for an attack.  Since then we have engaged terror in places and at times of our own choosing.  I think that our relative freedom from terrorist attacks here since 9/11 (cross your fingers) is more a result of our engaging terrorists far away and drawing them into battles there than of yellow and orange states of alert.

It has also helped that George Bush kept his word from his speech on the evening of 9/11 and that we have equally pursued terrorists “…and those who harbor them.”  No self-interested government (and there is no other kind) would now consider giving the full and open support to terrorists the Taliban did.  Libya has come out with its hands up and renounced both terror and its nuclear program.  Even Iran and North Korea seemed to understand the lesson of Iraq until the French and Germans reassured them that America was such a pariah that they had nothing to fear.

I wish the President had made this point in his latest speech.  I wish he had said strongly and firmly that the measure of success in Iraq is not the state of the electrical grid in Baghdad (as useful as it would be to our cause to protect it from terrorists) but the safety of Americans at home and abroad.  That’s what the War on Terror is about.  My two children living in Europe make me painfully aware that the war on Terror hasn’t helped the POPULARITY of Americans.  I think it has made us safer.  I think we will succeed if we don’t confuse the very good strategy of bringing democracy to the Middle East with the goal of protecting America.  We will succeed unless we again let terrorists choose the time and place of engagement.

Most importantly this Fourth of July, thank you very much to the American soldiers who are very much in harm’s way so that we can see fireworks here without fear.

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