Saddam: Death machine's gone forever.
October 30, 2006 -- AT the polls next week, many Americans will cast their ballots on the basis of what's going on in Iraq.
This is not surprising. The war was always opposed by a large and vocal segment of the U.S. political and cultural elite. With the economy doing well and the nation so far protected against a repeat of 9/11, the American opposition has few horses to run against President Bush and his party. And Iraq is an attractive horse, illustrated by gruesome TV images almost every night.
Most Americans are unfamiliar with Iraq's complex political, ethnic, religious and cultural realities. So, when television presents a charred vehicle left by a suicide bomber and experts pronouncing Iraq a failure, many decide that it is a lost cause - and the sooner the Americans extricate themselves, the better.
This is precisely why the Saddamite desperados and the jihadists keep fighting a war in Iraq that they cannot win.
Their strategy is based on a simple assumption: Americans will be so shocked and disheartened by the daily carnage that they'll force their government to "cut and run" - or, if it refuses, replace it with one that will.
In Jihadist circles, that strategy is known as "the Madrid Logic" (mantaq al-Madrid), after the deadly terrorist operation in the Spanish capital that succeeded in changing that country's government and its foreign policy.
This logic works because the Western democracies' political elites, and beyond them the electorate, seldom take the time to even ask the key questions, let alone find proper answers.
Start with three questions:
* Why did the United States and its allies intervene in Iraq?
* Was it worthwhile, especially with reference to the national interests of the U.S. and allies?
* Has it achieved its goals?
For those who claim that the United States went to Iraq out of hubris, or to steal Iraq's oil or to please Israel, the intervention was self-evidently worthless, and a failure. But the majority of Americans should judge liberation not with reference to conspiracy theories, but on the basis of their leaders' stated objectives.
* To topple Saddam Hussein's regime, which had provoked two major regional wars and defied the will of the United Nations over two decades, and to dismantle its machinery of war and repression.
* To restore power to the people of Iraq and help them set up a new political system of their choice.
* To build new Iraq as a model for all Arab countries still under archaic despotic regimes.
All three goals have been achieved, albeit in varying degrees of success:
* Saddam is in prison, with his machinery of war and repression shattered.
* Power has been restored to the people of Iraq, who have written their own Constitution, held a series of free elections and formed a coalition government of their choice.
* Despite its obvious difficulties, new Iraq has inspired democratic aspirations across the Middle East, and forced some of the despotic regimes into making concessions to their peoples.
Does all that justify intervention? Some might think not. Others, however, will assert that helping free a nation of 25 million from one of the worst regimes in recent history was a noble deed.
Did it serve the interests of America and its allies? Again, some might say: No, it angered some U.S. allies and partners, notably France and Russia, while causing anxiety among Washington's Arab protégés.
But it is also possible to argue that the United States can never be secure until the Middle East is democratized. The region's undemocratic states, obsessed by Arab chauvinism or raving pan-Islamism, operate as swamps that breed the mosquitoes of terror. An Iraq under a democratic regime, based on the will of its peoples, poses no threat to America or its allies; a Saddamite or Qaeda-ist regime would.
Was the intervention successful? Yes. The U.S.-led Coaltion achieved all its objectives in Iraq in just three years. What is at issue now is how to protect that success against enemies out to undo it.
It is on this account that the U.S.-led Coalition's policies and performance in Iraq are open to a range of criticism. Such criticism, however, should not cast doubt on the legitimacy and basic success of the intervention so far.
It is no surprise that so dramatic a success would provoke much equally dramatic hostility. The remnants of the Saddamites were never expected to shed their uniforms and go home to cry, nor the jihadists to swallow the coming of democracy to the Arab heartland.
Nor could Tehran's mullahs be expected to tolerate a Shiite majority democracy next door to the theocratic prison they have created, or Arab despots to welcome an Iraq where people can change the government through the ballot box.
Political mavericks such as Muqtada Sadr, backed by militias financed and armed by Tehran, could not be expected to ignore opportunities to win by force the power they can't get in free elections. Nor would the Mafia-type criminal gangs that thrived in Saddam's final years simply go away.
New Iraq has many vicious enemies because it is a success. It is not a failure to be jettisoned quickly, but a victory that must be defended within the timeframe needed to crush its enemies.
So far, those enemies have failed to derail the political process in Iraq or to extend their initial constituencies. Yesterday's column detailed how these forces failed to achieve any of their stated goals for the bloody Ramadan just concluded. Their only success has been in the field of perceptions in America and the West in general.
It is largely the hope of breaking the will of the American people that keeps the insurgency alive. In that context, the only policy that is both moral and realistic is to stay the course. This does not mean sticking to policies and tactics that produce few results or are manifest failures - but sticking to the strategy of defending the emergence of a democratic Iraq as a model for reform in the Middle East.
Such a strategy would achieve quicker success if it enjoyed bipartisan support in America. The biggest blow to the many enemies of new Iraq would be a clear message from the United States that, whoever controls the next Congress, Americans won't hand Iraq over to the jihadists, the Saddamites or the mullahs of Tehran.
Having won an historic victory in Iraq, the United States and its allies should have the courage to preserve it.
Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates