WASHINGTON, DC — President George W. Bush declared vic­tory today in his Administration’s push to ouster for­mer Iraqi pres­i­dent Saddam Hussein from the world’s stage.

I’m pleased to be able to stand before you today and declare a deci­sive blow against tyranny in the Middle East,” Mr. Bush said at this morning’s reg­u­lar press brief­ing. “Last week, as you all know, free and demo­c­ra­tic elec­tions were held in Iraq for the first time in more than two decades. And the Iraqi peo­ple have spo­ken as one. Saddam Hussein is no longer the leader of the Iraqi people.”

The results came as no sur­prise to the Bush Administration, which has long declared a con­fi­dent faith in the election’s outcome.

We were there with the UN from the begin­ning,” Secretary of Defense Eric Shinseki said. “When the Iraqi ambas­sador sug­gested peace­keep­ing forces could help ensure the fair­ness of the elec­tions, help pre­vent poll fraud, we were pleased to help out.”

Shinseki, whose posi­tion was gained imme­di­ately after the post-​​9/​11 events in Afghanistan forced Donald Rumsfeld to resign in dis­grace, spoke from the Rose Garden after the President’s address. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. But the credit belongs with the Iraqi peo­ple, not with any­thing I or this Administration have done.”

Asked whether the con­tin­u­ing pres­ence of UN and American sol­diers in Afghanistan might have had undue influ­ence on the election’s results, Shinseki replied in the neg­a­tive. “The world has had nearly half a decade now to see that our role in Afghanistan was, first, to elim­i­nate the Taliban and ter­ror­ism from the midst of the peo­ple; and sec­ond, to help the coun­try recover from thirty years of almost con­stant inter­na­tional and internecine warfare.

Our assis­tance in estab­lish­ing a sta­ble demo­c­ra­tic régime there, our assis­tance in main­tain­ing order, is actu­ally nearly fin­ished — we’ll scale a com­plete with­drawal of all troops by the end of the year, and Afghanistan will be a com­pletely autonomous, self-​​governing and peace­ful nation, some­thing it hasn’t had an oppor­tu­nity to be since before the Cold War ended.”

Shinseki’s rise to Secretary of Defense came about when for­mer Secretary Rumsfeld badly mis­cal­cu­lated the num­ber of troops that would be nec­es­sary in order to estab­lish peace in post-​​strike Afghanistan.

That nation was bombed and invaded in response to the ter­ror­ist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Multiple al-​​Qaeda train­ing camps were known to have existed there.

Rumsfeld’s dis­grace was fur­thered when he was impli­cated in sug­gest­ing that Iraq, rather than Afghanistan, was a true host for anti-​​American ter­ror­ist forces. President Bush asked for his res­ig­na­tion soon after Rumsfeld, cul­mi­nat­ing sev­eral months of increas­ingly inflam­ma­tory speeches regard­ing Iraq, made the claim that Iraq was prepar­ing to man­u­fac­ture nuclear weapons.

No evi­dence to sup­port the claim has ever been found.

In addi­tion to Rumsfeld, sev­eral other White House offi­cials lost their posi­tions, notably for­mer National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. The Bush White House has never for­mally given any rea­sons for the high staff turnover that took place just a few months after the 9/​11 attacks, but insid­ers have sug­gested a pri­mary rea­son was that sev­eral key indi­vid­u­als had actively down­played for­mer Clinton staffers’ warn­ings regard­ing ongo­ing and seri­ous ter­ror­ist threats to the nation’s security.

If [Rice] and [Rumsfeld] had lis­tened,” one source said at the time, “the attacks would never have hap­pened — but they didn’t tell the President, and we were caught with our pants down.”

Prior to the 9/​11 attacks the Bush admin­is­tra­tion had been tak­ing crit­i­cism for appar­ently being too focused on par­ti­san pol­i­tics, seek­ing to dis­credit the Clinton admin­is­tra­tion in par­tic­u­lar and Democrats in gen­eral, as well as for the President’s fre­quent absences to his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

All of that changed on the morn­ing of September 11, 2001. The day of the attack, Mr. Bush imme­di­ately left the pri­mary school he had been vis­it­ing, insist­ing on being present in the White House as soon as pos­si­ble. “America needs me now,” he said. “And I will not turn from her.” He arrived only an hour after United flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, the plane whose appar­ent tar­get had been the White House. Against the advice of the Secret Service, the President refused to evac­u­ate, but he did take care to see his fam­ily to safety.

Even the harsh­est crit­ics of the admin­is­tra­tion have had to con­fess that 9/​11 was a “wake-​​up call” for the President. “He was sloppy and lazy before [the attacks],” Ted Kennedy (D-​​MA) remarked recently. “But he’s turned out to be a man any of us would fol­low into hell, if we had to.”

Fortunately,” he added, “we haven’t had to,” refer­ring to the way that the Afghanistan con­flict resolved with remark­ably lit­tle loss of life for either side, fol­lowed by a US-​​led sta­bi­liza­tion of the coun­try which has led to what some are call­ing a “golden age of free­dom, peace and pros­per­ity” for the Middle East, an era that began shortly after Shinseki’s attain­ment to the post vacated by Rumsfeld.

On being appointed Secretary of Defense, Shinseki became instru­men­tal in for­mu­lat­ing what became known as the Bush Doctrine for the Middle East. By sta­bi­liz­ing Afghanistan, he rea­soned, the United States and allies could do for the Arab coun­tries essen­tially what had been done for Germany and Japan after World War II.

The plan was approved by a reserved, yet opti­mistic, White House, and soon there­after Operation Afghani Freedom was fully under­way. Within six months there was a civil­ian gov­ern­ment in place, but “Only com­par­a­tively recently has the sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan set­tled to the point that UN and US troops are sen­si­bly pre­pared to with­draw,” Shinseki said.

It was the suc­cess­ful recon­struc­tion of Afghanistan that led to détente with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who was as eager to elim­i­nate al-​​Qaeda from the world’s stage as were the United States and its allies.

What fol­lowed was the World Alliance Against Insurgents and Terrorism. While ini­tially belit­tled by hard-​​right con­ser­v­a­tives, the tac­tics employed by WAAIT seem to be suc­cess­ful. Plots to bomb both Spanish and British pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tems have been detected and foiled, and effec­tive infil­tra­tion of al-​​Qaeda oper­a­tions by Iraqi spies ren­dered the orga­ni­za­tion almost totally pow­er­less within three years of the coalition’s formation.

The crown­ing achieve­ment for WAAIT came when the body of Osama Bin Laden was found out­side a clus­ter of caves along Pakistan’s north­ern bor­der in 2005, appar­ently a vic­tim of foul play per­pe­trated by one of his for­mer fol­low­ers. A hand­writ­ten note attached to the decap­i­tated corpse declared in part, “You have been mea­sured and found want­ing by Allah. Your failed jihad betrays you as an infidel.”

Further nego­ti­a­tions with President Hussein led to his deci­sion to agree to full demo­c­ra­tic elec­tions in his coun­try, over­seen by UN, US and WAAIT representatives.

Ibrahim al-​​Jaafari was elected President by an 85% major­ity last week. “The mas­sive sup­port given to President al-​​Jaafari shows he has the man­date nec­es­sary to unite all the peo­ples of Iraq under one fair and rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment,” President Bush said. “Be they Shi’ite, Sunni, Kurdish or even Ba’athists, the con­sen­sus is clear. The peo­ple of Iraq have cho­sen their leader.” Al-​​Jaafari has already begun assem­bling a diverse cab­i­net, and nego­ti­a­tions with Afghani and Saudi offi­cials seem to be pro­gress­ing smoothly.

Asked if Iran’s con­tin­u­ing nuclear pro­gram posed a threat to the sta­bil­ity of the Middle East, President Bush gave his trade­mark chuckle. “Well, we’ve shown that free­dom can take hold in even the stoni­est of soil, both in Afghanistan and now in Iraq,” he said. “We’ve seen the ongo­ing nego­ti­a­tions lead­ing to a set­tled and friendly state between Israel and Palestine. We’ve seen Saudia Arabia begin to back off on its reli­gious mes­sages to its cit­i­zens, cool­ing down on the indoc­tri­na­tion of its youth in fun­da­men­tal­ist messages.

Do I think Iran is a threat? Possibly,” Mr. Bush said. “Do I think it’s a threat to the sta­bil­ity of the Middle East? At one time I might have said yes. Today, no, I don’t think so. I think it’s more like how it was with Mr. Kim, des­per­ate, but able to be nego­ti­ated with.”

The ref­er­ence was to North Korean pres­i­dent Kim Jong Il. When his nation first began accel­er­at­ing its mis­sile and nuclear pro­grams, WAAIT and United Nations forces were mobi­lized to show sol­i­dar­ity with China, Japan and South Korea. In addi­tion eco­nomic and polit­i­cal sup­port was extended to the nation in exchange for reduc­tion of its arma­ment programs.

Kim Jong Il refused to speak with any but Chinese President Hu Jintao, who was able, after sev­eral weeks, to bro­ker an accept­able com­pro­mise. While the sit­u­a­tion in North Korea is still far from sta­ble, it is nowhere near as uncer­tain as it once was.

In a very real way,” Mr. Bush said, “Iran is a lot like North Korea, stand­ing alone, at odds with all its neigh­bors. We’ve done this kind of thing before. I’m sure we’ll be able to han­dle any­thing that may come up in the next few months.”

Asked if he would be tak­ing time off to visit rel­a­tives and friends in Crawford — some­thing the President has been unable to do for the last three years due to press­ing mat­ters of state includ­ing being per­son­ally present, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, at every diplo­matic meet­ing between Israeli and Palestinian author­i­ties, as well as play­ing an active role in the suc­cess­ful and nearly total recon­struc­tion of New Orleans just six months after it had been com­pletely evac­u­ated in the face of hur­ri­cane Katrina, the first time in US his­tory a storm of that mag­ni­tude left no deaths in its wake — Mr. Bush only chuck­led again.

There’ll be plenty of time for me to relax in two more years,” he quipped, refer­ring to the end of his sec­ond term in early 2009. “Of course,” he went on over the laugh­ter, “then I’ll have to write my memoirs.

If you thought Bill Clinton’s book was thick, wait’ll you see mine.”

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