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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

No time for boasting

It looks like President Bush has been vindicated on the Iraq war, but what if he was wrong?

No time for boasting

For at least two long years, in the collective mind of the American (and European) mainstream media, George W. Bush could get nothing right in his conduct of foreign policy. He was the cowboy from Texas who misunderstood every nuance and saw the entire world only in shades of black and white. To the intelligentsia, George Bush was a simpleton.

Then, suddenly, Mr. Bush's fortunes began to turn. Grab your calendar, and circle Jan. 30 as the day the media symphony began to change its tone from harsh to mellow. That, of course, was election day in Iraq. Increasingly through the month of February, even those who before had scorned Mr. Bush's view of the world began to change their tunes. They were fearful words to utter, but liberal columnists and commentators actually asked them: "Might Bush be right?" (See WORLD, March 19, page 25)

That was only the tip of a thawing iceberg. Terrorists were still producing corpses by the dozen in Iraq and elsewhere, but thoughtful observers from every vantage point around the world were suddenly seeing the Middle East's glass as half full instead of running on empty. Jackson Diehl wrote in The Washington Post: "As thousands of Arabs demonstrated for freedom and democracy in Beirut and Cairo last week, and the desperate dictators of Syria and Egypt squirmed under domestic and international pressure, it was hard not to wonder whether the regional transformation that the Bush administration hoped would be touched off by its invasion of Iraq is, however tentatively, beginning to happen."

Some of us have hoped against hope for the last two years that all this might happen. In this space two years ago, I wrote optimistically: "The evidence grows that the administration is seeking to do far more than simply neutralizing Saddam Hussein. Silencing the threat of so evil a power is certainly part of the goal-but only a part, and just the beginning. The larger, and much more strategic, objective is to establish right in the heart of the troubled Middle East a nation state that will be an anchor of stability and balance rather than a fountain of hatred, deception, constant unrest, and violence. And, the thinking goes, if such a nation can indeed be established, perhaps a reverse kind of 'domino effect' might follow."

So many developments over the last 24 months have done precious little, I must admit, to support that optimism. Much as I wanted such a scenario to unfold, actual events seemed stubbornly uncooperative. What few gains were reported seemed so fragile that we dared not rest an enduring argument on them. Even those of us who have supported the president in his prosecution of the war worried that the elections might have been scheduled a little too soon.

So how, after cheering for the best but bracing for the worst all this time, do we now posture ourselves in the face of all this giddy approbation-especially when it comes from such unlikely sources?

We properly posture ourselves, I think, with careful modesty and understated expectations. We remember that the terrorists who populate the Hezbollah movement to the west of Iraq, and the terrorists who rule Iran to the east of Iraq, have in no sense relinquished their weapons. We remember that they are the ones with the weapons, and the idealistic proponents of democracy for the most part have none.

We remember the lesson of Hungary and of Tiananmen Square-that idealists don't always win. We remember that for all the heart-warming thrill of the purple-fingered voters in Iraq on Jan. 30, representative democracy still has a record of something like 0-25 in the Arab-speaking world. As Christians, we thank God for His common grace on people throughout the world. But we also keep in mind how evil fallen men can be, even in very recent history.

So yes, we rejoice at the unexpectedly good things that have happened, especially since Jan. 30. But we also understand the possibility that we ourselves might someday have to admit that George W. Bush was wrong-at least on some of the details. In God's great scheme of things, He's still the One with the final word.