Staying Power in Iraq

President Bush's shocker Thanksgiving visit to Baghdad came just in time. Last month, coalition casualties in Iraq spiked, while a US plan to hand over authority by July verges on a meltdown.

Too much in Iraq still rests on Mr. Bush's willingness to stick it out rather than the self-evident logic of the task. His secretive trip was in large part designed to deliver this message to anxious troops, Americans, and allies in what's become a war of wills: "We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost of casualties, defeat a ruthless dictator, and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins."

Bush's visit was a personal display of stoic tenacity. He took both physical and political risks to show he's determined to put Iraq on some sort of road to democracy and create a shining model nation for Arabs. Words and Oval Office edicts weren't enough.

That stoicism was also on display among a few key allies in recent weeks. Spain, Italy, South Korea, and Japan were the latest US partners - beyond Britain - to have their nationals in Iraq targeted by "assassins" eager to deflate the staying power of the US-led coalition.

Despite the shock of those killings and enormous opposition to the war, leaders in those countries have decided to stand by the United States, seeing the effort in Iraq as part of the global campaign against terrorism.

Their perseverance far surpasses that of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. After their workers were killed, those groups all but folded up their tents and went home.

Still, finding the best role for the UN in Iraq remains a priority for both Bush and the UN's secretary-general. Monday, Kofi Annan met with a group of 17 nations (including the US) that he selected to advise him on Iraq. If the process to hand over sovereignty to Iraqis falters in the next few months, the UN might need to step in.

So far, Bush has found the 24 members of the US-chosen Iraqi Governing Council to be more eager to linger in power than quickly move to an elected, constitutional government. That group, along with the Islamic leaders of Iraq's Shiite majority, appear eager to take advantage of any American inclination to bolt from Iraq under pressure.

As the political and military "fronts" in Iraq become more complex for the US, Bush must reemphasize his simple doggedness to stay the course toward a free and democratic Iraq. His tenaciousness is still winning, even if events on the ground are slow to follow.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.