Finishing the job

Friday, April 16, 2004

A prominent theme of President Bush's remarks during his televised press conference earlier this week was that the United States is committed to finishing the job of stabilizing Iraq's internal affairs and handing over the reins of government to Iraqis.

The Iraqis, Bush said, don't want to be an occupied country -- just as the president or any other American would not want the United States to be occupied.

But the situation in Iraq makes the transfer of power complicated and time-consuming. Bush indicated more U.S. troops may be needed -- and will be supplied, if that's what it takes to get the job done.

Critics of the Bush administration have found many ways to highlight the consequences of war, particularly a war involving religious zealots who have so little regard for the lives of their fellow countrymen.

Body counts have become the main fare of daily news digests among major news-gathering organizations -- including the Associated Press, which supplies news to the Southeast Missourian and most daily newspaper and broadcast outlets in this country. Absent is any news perspective that gives viewers and readers, thousands of miles from Iraq, some idea of the positive changes that have occurred in a nation released from the iron fist of a murderous and treacherous dictator.

Most Americans know very little about the Iraqi hospitals treating the ill and wounded, the schools educating Iraqi youngsters, the waterworks and sewage-disposal rebuilding projects throughout Iraq, the Iraqi power plants generating electricity, the Iraqi businesses now able to sell their wares to customers, the wells and pipelines delivering more Iraqi oil than anticipated -- all because of U.S. military and civilian contractors who are rebuilding a ravaged nation.

Nor do many Americans know about the scope of the war on terror or the details of thwarted plots that have prevented more terrorism inside our borders.

Which brings us to the politically charged questions asked during the president's press conference about regrets, mistakes or apologies George Bush might want to own up to. Strangely, these same questioners aren't pestering John Kerry, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, on any of these issues. Instead, the Kerry camp is busy sharpening the campaign rhetoric of blame and accusations without offering any Iraq plan or any alternative with substance.

President Bush has his eyes on a prize much larger than political victory in November. He is aiming for a legacy of a safer world. News gatherers who grandstand at presidential press conferences would do well to ask Kerry what he intends to do. Abandon the Iraqis? Let the United Nations step in? -- a shift Bush said he would welcome but which Secretary General Kofi Annan has said can't happen until Iraq is stabilized.

That's what the president is trying to do: stabilize Iraq. That's called finishing the job. Question for John Kerry: How do you propose to stabilize Iraq?

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