Critics who deem war against Saddam Hussein's regime to be an unprecedented departure from our proud tradition of American internationalism disregard our history of meeting threats to our security with both military force and a commitment to revolutionary democratic change.

The union of our interests and values requires us to stay true to that commitment in Iraq. Liberating Iraqis from Hussein's tyranny is necessary but not sufficient. The true test of our power, and much of the moral basis for its use, lies not simply in ending dictatorship but in helping the Iraqi people construct a democratic future.

This is what sets us apart from empire builders: the use of our power for moral purpose. We seek to liberate, not subjugate.

"Experts" who dismiss hopes for Iraqi democracy as naive and the campaign to liberate Iraq's people as dangerously destabilizing do not explain why they believe Iraqis or Arabs are uniquely unsuited for representative government, and they betray a cultural bigotry that ill serves our interests and values. The apocalyptic vision of a Middle East inflamed by American intervention ignores the fact that the status quo bred al Qaeda and is hardly the basis for long-term stability.

Our political goal in Iraq is the establishment of democratic institutions. It will not be easy, but it is surely worth seeking. American and allied personnel should stay in Iraq as long as necessary to ensure that Iraq no longer threatens our security and to help secure its democratic future. But to hasten that accomplishment, we should turn over as much authority as possible to representative Iraqi leaders as soon as possible.

Iraqi leaders should represent Iraqi sovereignty, not American generals or international bureaucrats. Iraqis should decide their diplomatic representations, how to vote in the United Nations, the Arab League and OPEC. Empowering a legitimate Iraqi authority will demonstrate that Americans are liberators, not colonizers. Democratic development also requires "de-Baathifying" the regime, to eradicate all remaining vestiges of the tyranny that Hussein's peerless cruelty entrenched in Iraqi society.

An Iraqi democracy, however imperfect, could transform the way people across the Middle East are governed. The liberation of Iraq is already transforming inter-Arab relations. Many Arab countries are providing assistance to our military campaign to end the Arab dictatorship in Iraq, and several of them have made unprecedented calls for regime change in Baghdad. This may herald the start of a new era in which positive political forces are not strangled in their infancy by the burden of pan-Arab fantasies.

The Arab street has been quieter than the European street, because Arabs know Hussein's regime is monstrous. Some Arab leaders may dread the demonstration effect of liberated Iraqis, fearing the street might next rise up not against the United States or Israel but against them.

For decades, autocratic rulers have claimed to speak for all Arabs. Iraq's liberation will allow new voices to define a modernity within Arab society far different from the economic and political devastation accomplished by Baathist national socialism, reactionary Wahhabist zealotry and implacable hatred of Israel.

A democratic Iraq could hasten liberalization in Persian Gulf states such as Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. Syria, surrounded by liberalizing regimes in a post-Hussein order, would find itself isolated from terrorist patrons in Tehran and facing new pressures to reform its own decaying Baathist minority regime. Democratic revolutionaries in Iran -- young, sympathetic to the United States and desperate for liberation from the mullahs -- would be emboldened by seeing democracy flourishing next door.

Reform of the Palestinian Authority -- finally underway -- can only be strengthened by the demise of the suicide bombers' paymaster in Baghdad. Change in Iraq and elsewhere will increase Israel's security, indispensable to achieving an enduring peace with the Palestinians. The Iraq campaign will demonstrate to leaders in Tehran and Pyongyang that repressing their people and developing weapons of mass terror make their regimes less, not more, secure. Hostile tyrants will understand that their possession of these weapons imperils their rule and weakens their security.

To confront the hatred that has devastated Arab progress and threatened the United States, we should aspire to be respected by Arab peoples and, in the case of tyrants and terrorists who threaten us, feared. Helping Iraqis control their own destiny will demonstrate that our real allies in the Middle East are people who yearn for freedom -- not autocratic governments that sell us cheap oil.

Americans fight and die in Iraq today not for empire, not for oil, not for a religion, not to shock and awe the world with our astonishing power. They fight for love -- for love of freedom, our own and all humanity's. When the guns are silent, their political leaders must take every care to advance the aspirations that have given their sacrifice its nobility, and our country its real glory.

The writer is a Republican senator from Arizona.