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The final piece of the puzzle, declaring the official end of the oil-for-food program, does much more to put an episode that was awfully embarrassing to the UN in the international body’s rear view mirror than accomplishing anything meaningful for Iraq. The oil-for-food cesspool festered from 1996 to 2003. The idea was certainly noble: to allow Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to sell oil on the world market, but to limit the use of the profits to buying food and medicine for the people in Iraq who were suffering under sanctions imposed after the First Gulf War. The problem was that the UN ran the program and the UN could give the Chicago Machine lessons in corruption. UN inspectors grew rich, Saddam was able to rearm and his sons were able to maintain their lavish lifestyles. The 2003 invasion of Iraq effectively put an end to the corruption, but the program remained nominally in place until the UN drew the final curtain this week.
We can debate, and we certainly will continue to do so, whether our motivations for invading Iraq were justified, whether the expense was worth it and whether the price our men and women in uniform ultimately paid justified the ends. But, no one should dispute the fact that the United States and our allies have won an incredible victory that – in the darkest days of the war – few thought was possible. Thanks to the dedication and professionalism of our armed forces and the gutty tenacity of a few brave leaders, modern-day Iraq now stands as a bulwark of liberty and self-determination, lying squarely in the middle of the troubled Muslim world. Might the situation in Iraq still unravel? It could, but each passing day makes that prospect less likely. Many skeptics believed that regime-change could never be effective in a distant land dominated by an alien religion and unfamiliar cultural values. Our Iraq experience suggests something else. Perhaps the virtues of liberty and democratic institutions are obvious to all, regardless of race, culture and creed. Perhaps, given the time and security necessary to do so, people of any tradition would appreciate the innate worth of having a voice in deciding their own futures. Maybe – just maybe – Iraq’s new dawn also represents a new dawn for the rest of the civilized world. This week’s actions by the UN seem to suggest that is indeed the case. Iraq’s challenge, and our challenge, and the challenge faced by the rest of the free world is simple: to ensure that Iraq continues to shine the light of liberty and freedom in the Mideast.
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