Relax, Celebrate Victory

From start to finish, President Bush has led the United States and its coalition partners to the most important military victory since World War II. And like the allied victory over the axis powers, the liberation of Iraq is more than the end of a brutal dictatorship: It is the foundation for a decent, humane government that will represent all the people of Iraq.

This was a war worth fighting. It ended quickly with few civilian casualties and with little damage to Iraq's cities, towns or infrastructure. It ended without the Arab world rising up against us, as the war's critics feared, without the quagmire they predicted, without the heavy losses in house-to-house fighting they warned us to expect. It was conducted with immense skill and selfless courage by men and women who will remain until Iraqis are safe, and who will return home as heroes.

In full retreat, the war's opponents have now taken up new defensive positions: "Yes, it was a military victory, but you haven't found Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction." Or, "Yes, we destroyed Saddam's regime, but now other dictators will try even harder to develop weapons of mass destruction to make sure they will not fall to some future American preemptive strike."

We will find Saddam's well-hidden chemical and biological weapons programs, but only when people who know come forward and tell us where to look. While Saddam was in power, even a hint about his concealment and deception was a death sentence, often by unimaginable torture against whole families. Saddam had four years to hide things. We have had a few weeks to find them. Patience--and some help from free Iraqis--will be rewarded.

The idea that our victory over Saddam will drive other dictators to develop chemical and biological weapons misses the key point: They are already doing so. That's why we may someday need to preempt rather than wait until we are attacked.

Iran, Syria, North Korea, Libya, these and other nations are relentless in their pursuit of terror weapons. Does anyone seriously argue that they would abandon their programs if we had left Saddam in power? It is a little like arguing that we should not subdue knife-wielding criminals because, if we do, other criminals will go out and get guns. Moreover, this argument, deployed by those who will not take victory for an answer, confuses cause and effect: Does any peaceful state that neither harbors terrorists nor seeks weapons of mass destruction fear that we will launch a preemptive strike against it? Who are they? Why would they?

Iraqis are freer today and we are safer. Relax and enjoy it.

Richard Perle, assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and a member of the Defense Policy Board, is a resident fellow at AEI.

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