Mark Steyn

Now it’s up to the Iraqis

America has succeeded in Iraq, says Mark Steyn, but the war on terror can still be lost at home

New Hampshire

‘Let freedom reign!’ scribbled President Bush in the corner of the briefest of hand-written notes from his national security adviser:

‘Mr President,

‘Iraq is sovereign. Letter was passed from Bremer at 10.26 a.m. Iraq time — Condi.’

And that was it. No ostrich feathers, no Princess Alexandra, no tea on the lawn at Government House. After 15 months of running Iraq, the Americans are out. Sure, they’ve got a lot of troops there, but they’ve got a lot of troops everywhere — Germany, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, Kosovo, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Diego Garcia … What’s one more?

What the future holds for Iraqis is up to them. But the Americans have bequeathed them a better Iraq than the one the British invented for them eight decades ago: no imported princeling, no rigged referendum installing him as king, no exclusion of the majority population from political power. Iraq now has the most representative and progressive government in the Arab world. They may not keep it. They may lapse back to some reformed Baathist strongman or charismatic mullah. But they won’t be in the hands of a mass murderer and his even more psychotic sons. So I’m relaxed about Iraq: its future lies somewhere between good enough and great.

But Iraq was never really the issue. Goh Chok Tong, the Prime Minister of Singapore and a man who talks a lot more sense than most Continental prime ministers, was in Washington in May and put it in a nutshell: ‘The key issue is no longer WMD or even the role of the UN. The central issue is America’s credibility and will to prevail.’

That’s always been the question, ever since September 11. And that’s the real reason Saddam had to go: he was the living embodiment of the credibility gap.

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