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Tue, Dec. 10

Bush's Mideast policy is paying off big

WASHINGTON – The holidays traditionally inspire renewed faith in and optimism about the future. This is certainly truer now than it has been for quite some time.

At least since Sept. 11, 2001, the world seemed to be darker as global criminals kill innocent people and terrorize nations at random. But then America's wrath led to the crushing of two of the world's worst terrorist regimes.

A lot of good has happened since the U.S. freed Afghans and Iraqis from oppression – much we don't yet fully understand, especially if you listen to the relentlessly pessimistic news media.

Critics here and abroad bemoaned the costs of and difficulties with establishing democracies in ancient lands whose histories are full of religious and ethnic hatred, tribal wars and bloodshed. Some, such as currently high-profile Democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean, seemed to question whether the Iraqis were better off after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime and whether we're safer after Saddam's capture.

But as we deal with the obstacles of war, and its messy aftermath, a larger and more positive picture is emerging – for the United States and the world at large.

What's happening in Afghanistan and Iraq is historic – two democracies are soon to be born in what were once the centers of tyranny. In the coming year both countries will freely elect their leaders, write governing constitutions, and become stabilizing forces in a part of the world that has little experience with liberty or peace.

Equally important is the impact this has all had on other terrorist nations. Iraq's neighbor, Iran, has suddenly agreed to inspections of its nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency, sending signals that it wants to moderate its image.

The Saudis have conducted new roundup raids on al-Qaeda suspects and their financiers. And Syria seems more cooperative lately, too, in the effort to stop terrorists from crossing over their border. Even North Korea, demanding that it would discuss its nuclear program only in one-on-one bilateral talks with the United States, caved in this year to President Bush's insistence that only multilateral negotiations with the United States, China, Japan and Russia would do.

To paraphrase a diplomatic observer who surveyed these changes, Bush's postwar message has come through loud and clear: Cooperate with us now or deal with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld later.

Nowhere has the positive postwar fallout been more welcome than the startling change in attitude by Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, who has agreed to surrender his weapons of mass destruction and end his nuclear development program.

It is no coincidence that Libya began making overtures about getting rid of its nuclear and chemical weapons just before the United States launched its war in Iraq on March 19. That started nine months of secret negotiations with the United States and Britain that led to last week's stunning concessions.

Gaddafi apparently did not want to remain on Bush's list, and what happened in Iraq most likely convinced him that he and his weapons of mass destruction could be next.

Libya's decision to give up its banned weapons under an international inspection program that would oversee their destruction showed "that recent events and political determination are opening up possibilities which just a few years ago would have been unthinkable," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

They have indeed. One can argue, I suppose, how much safer we are with Saddam in prison, in light of this week's latest elevated security alert. I think we and the Iraqis are noticeably safer. But no one can argue with the fact that the West has been made immeasurably safer from the events that have flowed from the United States-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

If Bush had not acted as he did, terrorist thugs would be in charge of Kabul and Baghdad, Iran and Libya would feel no compunction to submit to arms inspections, and the United States and much of the world would surely be a more dangerous place this holiday.

Thankfully, there is now every reason to hope for peace on Earth and "glad tidings of great joy" for many holidays to come.

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