At the end of America's Constitutional Convention in 1787, the story goes, a woman approached Benjamin Franklin and asked him what kind of government the Founders had just delivered. "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," Franklin is said to have replied.
Now that something called "sovereignty" has been handed to a provisional government in Iraq, the same question might be asked. But there is no Iraqi "Franklin" to give an answer. Not yet. Elections are planned for next January. Saddam Hussein may be indicted soon by the new Iraqi government. But what comes now is anyone's guess and everyone's fear. At least the British gave the new American republic a fighting chance before the War of 1812. There may not be a similar respite for the new Iraqi government.
The wild card is the terrorists. It helps that the leadership in Iraq is Muslim and that they are calling the terrorists "infidels," the same label applied by the terrorists to the new leadership and their supporters. The question is how will the masses see this? Is one man's infidel another man's freedom fighter?
The terrorists are not about to surrender, and so they must be defeated. The new Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has threatened to impose martial law and root out the terrorists. That may be a necessity, not an option, given the continued incendiary rhetoric coming from our "good friends" and "allies in the war on terror," Saudi Arabia.
At the moment when the stability of the Saudi kingdom is threatened by al-Qaida terrorists within that country, official Saudi TV carries sermons blaming that terrorism on others.
A sermon by Shaykh Salah al-Budayyir carried on Saudi TV2 in Arabic last Saturday said the conflict in the region is not about liberty and justice for all but an effort to destroy Islam:
"O Muslims, the enemies of religion, including Jews, Christians, atheists and Westernized deviates who rode their bandwagon, continue to wage campaigns against the Islamic nation through the news media and mail. ... Their aim is to undermine the faith of the nation, destroy its morals, wipe out its identity and divert it from its mission."
That's a pretty ambitious undertaking for Jews, Christians and atheists, who don't have unanimity of opinion within their own groups much less with each other.
Like terrorism, which is worldwide, rhetoric in Saudi Arabia cannot be divorced from action in Iraq.
The first step by the new Iraqi government must be a visible and credible demonstration of unity, resolve and some initial success to defeat and eliminate the terrorist threat within Iraq and to give the people the security that will inspire political stability and economic prosperity.
Jobs and a sense of hope for the future are most needed in Iraq, and these won't come in sufficient numbers to provide that most basic of all human emotions -- hope -- until security is established. There is no option but victory over the terrorists and the dictators, just as the Founders settled for nothing less than independence 228 years ago.
Iraq's new foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said in Istanbul, where he attended the NATO summit, "I believe that we will challenge these terrorists, criminals, Saddamists and anti-democratic forces" by the two-day advancement of the handover date. He had better do more than challenge them. He had better defeat them.
This isn't about religion, which has been used in Iraq for political ends. It is about defeating a virulently hateful movement that seeks to export domestic chaos to the world. If self-determination is not embraced in Iraq, there will be hell to pay in other nations, including our own.
Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.