Americans are famously impatient -- and with good reason. Throughout our country's existence, we've enjoyed steady progress. Indeed, we consider progress to be our birthright. Consequently, we're almost always in a hurry to move forward.
Perhaps that's why geopolitics often frustrates us.
When it comes to international relations -- whether at the United Nations or on the battlefield -- it's often impossible to move ahead quickly, or even steadily. A small strategic gain is often followed by a long period with no progress. Sometimes we even need to look backward to see the way forward.
And that's not the only contradiction geopolitics can generate. Sometimes we find ourselves, as in Iraq, Making War to Keep Peace. That's the title of a new book the late Jeane Kirkpatrick finished shortly before her death last year.
Kirkpatrick was a master of the geopolitical scene, an art she had honed during her years as a professor before she became Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the United Nations. She takes an in-depth look at U.S. foreign interventions since 1991. She explains, for example, why the first Gulf War was a success while our involvement in Haiti wasn't.
She admits that, while she supported President Bush's post-9/11 intervention in Afghanistan, she didn't think the United States should invade Iraq in 2003. Yet, even though she wasn't sold on the invasion, she strongly supported our right, under international law, to go into Iraq.
In fact, Kirkpatrick successfully argued just that before the United Nations Human Rights Commission. "The 2003 act of force on Iraq was not going to war," she told delegates in Geneva. "It was, rather, the continuation of the 1991 Gulf War, and thus wholly permissible under the rule of law.''
She carried the day with that argument, because it's correct. Iraq had spent some 12 years ignoring or violating U.N. Security Council resolutions. Meanwhile, the United States and our allies were fighting to enforce those resolutions. Our intervention in 2003 wasn't an invasion as much as it was a change of tactics. Instead of "keeping Saddam Hussein in his box," we finally decided to remove him.
And direct intervention was the only way to get rid of him. Kirkpatrick also writes that Saddam "was a ruthless ruler with a boundless appetite for power and an unlimited capacity for violence, a man who needed war like fire needs oxygen."
By removing him, we've created the opportunity for change in Iraq. That country has now had three open elections and is operating under a constitution written by Iraqis. Its experiment with democracy may indeed fail, as Kirkpatrick feared. But it also may very well succeed.
Many want to set a firm timetable for Iraq. Both houses of Congress have tried to impose deadlines for our troops to come home, and even the president has admitted our country doesn't have infinite patience.
But the war in Iraq won't end as quickly as we'd like it to. It is, after all, part of the long war against radical Islamic fundamentalism, which Kirkpatrick correctly defines as "an ideology of expansionist tyranny, propelled by an unrelenting will to dominate other nations, cultures and religions."
It's understandable that Americans want to exit Iraq swiftly. But we should realize we won't be able to make much progress elsewhere if we don't win in Iraq, where our troops continue the difficult task of making war to keep peace.
Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times