”In Iraq we are bringing peace, and we are at this moment giving them such freedom and self-government as they could never under any conceivable conditions have obtained had we turned them loose to sink into a welter of blood and confusion, or to become the prey of some strong tyranny without or within. The bare recital of the facts is sufficient to show that we did our duty; and what prouder title to honor can a nation have than to have done its duty? We have done our duty to ourselves, and we have done the higher duty of promoting the civilization of mankind. The first essential of civilization is law. Anarchy is simply the handmaiden and forerunner of tyranny and despotism. Law and order enforced with justice by strength lie at the foundations of civilization. Law must be based upon justice, else it cannot stand, and it must be enforced with resolute firmness, because weakness in enforcing it means in the end that there is no justice and no law, nothing but the rule of disorderly and unscrupulous strength. Without the habit of orderly obedience to the law, without the stern enforcement of the laws at the expense of those who defiantly resist them, there can be no possible progress, moral or material, in civilization. There can be no weakening of the law-abiding spirit here at home, if we are permanently to succeed; and just as little can we afford to show weakness abroad. Lawlessness and anarchy must be put down in Iraq as a prerequisite to introducing the reign of justice.

Barbarism has, and can have, no place in a civilized world. It is our duty toward the people living in barbarism to see that they are freed form their chains, and we can free them only by destroying barbarism itself. The missionary, the merchant, and the soldier may each have to play a part in this destruction, and in the consequent uplifting of the people. Exactly as it is the duty of a civilized power scrupulously to respect the rights of all weaker civilized powers and gladly to help those who are struggling toward civilization, so it is duty to put down savagery and barbarism. As in such a work human instruments must be used, and as human instruments are imperfect, this means that at times there will be injustice; that at times merchant or soldier, or even missionary, may do wrong. Let us instantly condemn and rectify such wrong when it occurs, and if possible punish the wrongdoer. But shame, thrice shame to us, if we are so foolish as to make such wrongdoing an excuse for failing to perform a great and righteous task. Not only in our own land, but throughout the world, throughout all history, the advance of civilization has been of incalculable benefit to mankind, and those through whom it has advanced deserve the highest honor. All honor to the missionary, all honor to the soldier, all honor to the merchant who now in our day have done so much to bring light into the world’s dark places.

Let me insist again, for fear of possible misconstruction, upon the fact that our duty is twofold, and that we must raise others while we are benefiting ourselves. In bringing order to Iraq, our soldiers have added and continue to add new pages to the honor roll of American history, and they incalculably benefited the Iraqis themselves. Under the administration of a new democracy, it can be possible for Iraq to enjoy a peace and liberty of which they have hitherto never even dreamed. But this peace and liberty under the law must be supplemented by material, by industrial development. Every encouragement should be given to their commercial development, to the introduction of American industries and products; not merely because this will be a good thing for our people, but infinitely more because it will be of incalculable benefit to the people of Iraq.

We shall make mistakes; and if we let these mistakes frighten us from our work we shall show ourselves weaklings. A century and a half ago Minnesota and the two Dakotas were Indian hunting-grounds. We committed plenty of blunders, and now and then worse than blunders, in our dealings with the Indians. But who does not admit at the present day that we were right in wresting from barbarism and adding to civilization the territory out of which we have made these beautiful States?

In Iraq let us remember that the spirit and not the mere form of government is the essential matter. The Iraqis have a hundredfold freedom under us that they would have if we abandoned them altogether. We are not trying to subjugate a people; we are trying to develop them and make them a law-abiding, industrious, and educated people, and we hope ultimately a self-governing people. In short, in the work we have done we are but carrying out the true principles of democracy. We work in a spirit of self-respect for ourselves and of good will toward others, in a spirit of love for and infinite faith in mankind. We do no blindly refuse to face the evils that exist, or the shortcoming inherent in humanity; but across blundering and shirking, across selfishness and meanness of motive, across short-sightedness and cowardice, we gaze steadfastly toward the far horizon of golden triumph. If you will study our past history as a nation you will se we have made many blunders and have been guilty of many shortcomings, and yet we have always in the end come out victorious because we have refused to be daunted by blunders and defeats, have recognized them, but have persevered in spite of them. So it must be in the future. We gird up our loins as a nation, with the stern purpose to play our part manfully in winning the ultimate triumph; and therefore we turn scornfully aside form the paths of mere ease and idleness, and with unfaltering steps tread the rough road of endeavor, smiting down the wrong and battling for the right, as Greatheart smote and battled in Bunyan’s immortal story…”

Those are the words of Theodore Roosevelt copied nearly verbatim from his “National Duties” speech made at the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul on September 2, 1901. I deleted one or two sentences, updated the time references and replaced “The Philippines” with “Iraq”. It is indeed the speech in which Roosevelt uttered the famous words “speak softly and carry a big stick”.

This exercise is not meant to argue that this is what Roosevelt would have said were he alive today. Nor is it meant to suppose that this is precisely what we should be doing or saying now. Making such suppositions about historical figures is beyond foolish. The purpose of this exercise was merely an experiment meant to illustrate a point.

If there were any lingering doubt about how far we have drifted as a people from the great moral foundations of our origins and the great period of American statesmanship and leadership, let that doubt be removed. Half of what Roosevelt says in this speech is alien and might well be considered offensive in this day of the politically correct and the morally vague. Civilizing Indians, “manfully” performing our duties, honor to the missionary of all people. Without knowing who spoke the words, one gets the feeling that any pundit permitted to appear on Sunday morning talk shows would cringe at such proud statements of belief and presumption. Conviction is passé.

And yet, here is a man who was posthumously awarded a medal of honor by none other than President Bill Clinton himself. This is a man who is lionized, celebrated, vaunted in the American mind, who consistently ranks among the top 10 (and sometimes top 5) Presidents in the estimation of both average Americans and scholarly historians. How often has his name been raised in debate, referenced by politicians and media pundits, spoken with reverence? Well, here are his words. Shall we shrink from them? The experiment of changing “The Philippines” with “Iraq” only serves to bring the words to life. Our role in the Philippines is long over, the iron cold. Iraq is a different matter.

There is no way of knowing whether Roosevelt or any other long-dead historical figure would make such arguments about Iraq today. And there is no point in comparing the two conflicts borne of different reasons in different generations. But the arguments made by Roosevelt are far more erudite and convincing were they to be applied to Iraq today than any that George Bush or those in his administration (or indeed his party) could ever hope to utter. Here Roosevelt appears to convey the vision that Bush’s words have been stumbling around since the invasion began. It is a vision without something that the American psyche has been unable to shake since the throes of Vietnam: guilt.

Tempering barbarism, building democracy, restoring civilization… For whatever adjectives we might use to describe Sadaam Hussein and his hundreds of bathrooms, civilized is certainly not among them. There is no argument to deny that he committed brutal crimes against his people and – had his people not had the misfortune of living in an oil-rich country – The Nation magazine and Harvard faculty might at this very moment be clamoring for the freeing of Iraq’s people. For you see, the left and the pseudo-intelligentsia only wish to fight for freedom when there is no ostensible political or capital gain to be found for America (or when the tyrants do not happen to also be Communists). Their Puritanical guilt will not allow such dainties.

Roosevelt’s language offers a clear vision of responsibility and few apologies for the greatness of a people that wrested their country from the ashes of a Civil War and carried it into the 20th century an emerging national power. These are the foundations of thought upon which were built the actions and sacrifices of what we call today “The Greatest Generation”, led by Theodore’s cousin Franklin. We often wonder aloud where our leaders and our statesmen have gone. After reading TR’s words, is there any wonder?

History has indeed taught us that endeavors such as we have undertaken in Iraq are risky at best. Indeed, our own country was spawned as a revolt against foreign subjugation, but remember Roosevelt’s words that we “are not trying to subjugate a people”. That was true in The Philippines and it is true in Iraq; and for every Vietnam and Cuba there are also a Germany and a Japan. The media constantly want to compare Iraq to Vietnam, as if that is the only war we have ever fought and the only conflict that matters in our history. Have we forgotten the successful rebuilding of Europe and Japan after WWII? And let us not forget that the events of September 11 changed the rules forever.

Roosevelt spoke of the Monroe Doctrine and America’s destiny in enforcing justice within our Hemisphere, free of European meddling. Such words were spoken long before acts of barbarism and extremism could reach across a globe and lay low the two mightiest buildings in one of America’s greatest cities. The question of whether or not the World Trade Center bombers and their proponents came from Afghanistan, Iraq or Mars is for another discussion; but who can deny that if we leave Iraq now before our job is finished, that shortly following the last American soldier out of the country will be a fresh cell of angry fundamentalists looking to destroy American life?