US Administrator Paul Bremer boarded a military aircraft for his last flight out of Iraq after completing the transfer of sovereignty to the new government in Baghdad on June 28.
WOULD ANY Iraqi take it into his head to write about June 28, 2004 — the date on which the United States transferred sovereignty to the new government in Baghdad — what John Adams wrote about that steamy July day in 1776 when the Continental Congress adopted a resolution on American independence?
"I am apt to believe," Adams exulted in a letter from Philadelphia to his wife Abigail in Massachusetts, "that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance…. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forevermore."
Who would think of greeting Iraqi autonomy with such jubilation? After all, as the papers and the TV talking heads keep instructing us, Iraq is beset by problems. Sovereignty or no sovereignty, insurgents' bombs daily claim new victims, hospitals are desperately short of medicine, power blackouts last for hours, oil production has been crippled by sabotage, and terrorists cross the border with impunity. So why would June 28 be anything to celebrate?
Well, why was July 4, 1776, anything to celebrate? Declaration of Independence or no Declaration of Independence, the American colonies were a godawful mess. American troops were ill-trained and poorly equipped, they were fighting a military superpower, the economy was a shambles, inflation was about to worsen into hyperinflation, and thousands of colonials loyal to the enemy — Tories — were taking up arms and committing sabotage in order to undermine the American cause.
Journalist Karl Zinsmeister, whose new book, Dawn Over Baghdad, is the first on the remaking of post-Saddam Iraq, notes in a recent article that we are now 16 months into the Iraqi war. There is no shortage of hurdles that must be surmounted and there is no denying the violence and instability that so complicate the mission of building Iraq into a free and decently governed nation.
Yet 16 months after George Washington took command of the Continental Army, Zinsmeister observes, things were far worse. American forces were experiencing "a series of traumatic defeats. They'd lost every single battle since the Declaration of Independence, and had depleted 90 percent of their military strength in heavy fighting. Most of the remaining soldiers declared they were going to go home when their enlistments expired, and in many parts of the new nation, citizens were pledging fresh oaths of allegiance to the tyrant King George."
"I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this declaration," wrote John Adams from Philadelphia to his wife Abigail in Massachusetts.
So was Adams simply deluded, to be rhapsodizing about "the great anniversary festival" that should be celebrated "from this time forward forevermore?" Did he really not understand just how dire the American predicament was?
"You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not," his letter to Abigail continued. "I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction."
Posterity did indeed triumph in the "transaction" of July 4, 1776. With luck and hard work — and with some of the faith and fervor that sustained John Adams — the posterity of today's newly liberated Iraqis will likewise triumph in the transaction of June 28, 2004.
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Several hours after Ambassador Paul Bremer boarded a US Air Force C-130 for his last flight out of Iraq, a Baghdad dentist named Mohammed posted his thoughts on "Iraq the Model," the weblog he maintains with his brothers Ali and Omar. Some excerpts:
It's a great day for all freedom lovers. No doubt is left now that we're winning, while the forces of darkness and evil are losing a key round in this war….
I can see only one bright road. I believe that going to the end is worth the sacrifices…. Today we were freed forever from the fear that a man and his family might once again control Iraq….
A big salute to the courageous and noble man, Mr. Bremer, who we said good bye to this morning…. He struggled together with his Iraqi brothers to overcome the hardships in a critical era for this country and the whole world. I'm going to miss his presence and so will many Iraqis, because we feel that [the man] who left today is one of Iraq's sons….
It's hard to [fully] appreciate the efforts of all those who helped us to get our freedom and rebuild our country. We will never forget them. We will keep them in our hearts.
God bless Iraq and her people. God bless America and her people. God bless the coalition forces who supported Operation Iraqi Freedom.
And may God bless the souls of all those who sacrificed their lives to free Iraq.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)
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