This double triumph of American and British military machines could hardly have been better timed, as U.S. President George W. Bush and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair prepared for their summit in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Their war plan vindicated, their critics at least briefly silenced, the two English-speaking leaders who had defied so much of world opinion and conventional wisdom enjoyed another extraordinary bonus as their predictions of a liberator's welcome by the Iraqi people finally came true.
Confounding the Arab media and the pundits who had talked darkly of a new spirit of Iraqi patriotism resisting the invaders, the people of Basra braved gunfire to dance in the streets and cheer for the British troops who finally broke the grip Saddam's dreadful regime had exerted on Iraq for so long. This reporter saw one Basra citizen even kiss a British tank.
Iraq, the Middle East and -- if they so choose -- a new world order is now for Bush and Blair to define. The world's enduring, and only reliable military alliance has done it again. Or rather, the world's two best militaries delivered the outcome their political masters ordained, and did so with minimal friendly and civilian casualties.
But as Bush and Blair hail the magnificent achievements of their troops Monday, there are some small and familiar but ominous clouds on the horizon. Each man will have been delivered briefing books by his respective staff on the new post-war challenges. There will be fat tomes on relations with Russia's prickly President Putin, with France and Germany and that curiously named entity the European Union, a body which seems designed to illustrate that traditional Texan description "all hat and no cattle."
The two men also have to agree on the governance of postwar Iraq and the role of the United Nations, that body which reacted to its first real post-Cold War crisis by reverting to Cold War-style division and immobility.
All of these issues boil down to one overwhelming question -- what does the Anglo-American alliance now do with a world that so dislikes what is good for it?
It is very odd. The Americans and British stand for a world based on a handful of principles that have stood the tests of time: representative and democratic government; free speech and free press; free economies, free trade; human rights and the rule of law.
And the verdict of our times is already in. Those countries and regions that have embraced these core principles, from Japan to Western Europe, from South Korea to India, have seen their people prosper beyond any dreams possible in the wreckage of 1945. Middle Eastern countries that try the same medicine may in the not so distant future look back on this seedbed year of 2003 with a similar complacency.
And yet so many of the beneficiaries of the Anglo-American principles that defined, protected and enriched the West after 1945 evidently resent their benefactors. Throughout the grim diplomatic weeks before the Iraqi war began, the U.N. became a conspiracy of anti-Anglophones, conspiring to frustrate the best efforts of Washington and London to make U.N. resolutions actually mean something
There are two big questions for Bush and Blair to tackle in Belfast Monday. Why should this be? And does it matter?
And there is one simple answer. Stick to the Anglo-American principles that have worked. If other countries and institutions want to cooperate for their own good, fine. They deserve all the help and support that world's only two serious powers can provide. If they don't, that is their problem. The Anglo-American principles are too proven in their success to be compromised for any passing diplomatic comfort or advantage.
And build on success. The Anglo-American alliance, based on principles, political will, and a mutual loyalty and trust unique among nations, has once more proved its value. Strengthen it further, by allowing British and American -- and Australian -- citizens to live and work and study and trade in one another's countries at will. In everything that maters, they comprise a single culture, and Blair and Britain should be rethinking their "European vocation' with that plain fact firmly in mind.
If Bush and Blair should mark one small regret about the double liberation of Baghdad and Basra, it is the seizure by U.S. tanks of the Ministry of Information in Baghdad. The end of the daily antics of the Minister, Mohammad Said al- Sahhaf, the Baghdad Blowhard, is a sad loss. He provided comic relief throughout the 19-day war. Silence may now befall the man who produced a timeless comic masterpiece in his wondrous response to the capture of Baghdad airport -- "We have them where we want them -- surrounded and doomed."
War crimes trials permitting, this man has a future on Comedy Central -- or maybe Madison Avenue. After all, one of the many things that Anglo-American alliance has in common, to the bafflement of much of the rest of the world, is a sense of humor.
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