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Saturday, March 22, 2003

Doing Iraq Right

I am reading more earnest advice about how the war protestors should stop their bellyaching and get to work holding the Bush administration’s feet to the fire on its promises to build a democratic paradise in Iraq.

First, this assumes that war protestors even think it’s possible for such a thing to happen under current circumstances. I, for one, don’t think the analogies to post WWII Japan and Germany have ever made any sense. Aside from all the obvious arguments about the different cultural environments, the most salient issue is that the people of Germany and Japan were completely conquered, with no hope of any future allies and living in world that was totally in ruins. Both countries had been engaged in full out, nonstop war for many years.

Despite the public relations value of the term “shock and awe,” even if the United States completely levels Iraq in the next week, it will not have the same effect. Throughout the Middle East are excited and outraged young Muslims animated by the idea of fighting the foreign “occupiers.” Does anyone seriously believe that the al-Jazeera pictures of massive bombardment and American ground invasion are not being seen in the exact same context as Israeli troops in Gaza? And the pictures in the coming days, of American troops rolling through cities– even if many of them are being greeted with smiles – are far more likely to evoke the more recent images of Lebanon rather than scenes of European liberation in WWII. (This should have been one very good reason to have engaged in the Israeli Palestinian crisis before last Friday.)

By invading Iraq, virtually alone and with the disapprobation of the vast majority of the world, we have emboldened these jihadists to step up the fight. It should not be forgotten that al-Qaeda believe they were responsible in large part for destroying the Soviet Union.

From an interview with Dr. Ayman aL Zawaahri:

Here in Afghanistan, the course of history changed, when the Soviet Union, the largest land-based military force in the world, was dashed to pieces on the boulders of the Afghan Jihad. The Afghan nomads, villagers and their young comrades from the Arab and Islamic world, who destroyed the empire of the Soviet tyrant, were, Praise be to Allah, not affected by these opinions. For if they had, then the Soviet forces would today be in the Arabian Peninsula. The defeated Soviet Union fled from Afghanistan, turning their back only to face their own political break-up and intellectual collapse.

Clearly, they have a deluded view of their own potency and this operation, even if militarily successful, is unlikely to change it because of the fact that most of the world remained opposed, particularly the populations of the Arab world. He undoubtedly believes that he is isolating us, and in some ways he is right.

Unless one indulges in wishful thinking and believes that a miraculous democratic domino effect is likely, “doing Iraq right” is simply not possible as a unilateral American endeavor because no matter how many seeds of democracy are planted in Iraq, there is a much stronger and growing backlash against unchecked American power. “Doing Iraq right” really means that we must reverse the course of this administration’s foreign policy and it has to be done very, very quickly and unambiguously.

Under these circumstances, not to mention the obvious political realities in Washington, I simply don’t see how working the system can possibly accomplish much in the short term. The Democratic leadership, particularly the presidential candidates, threw away their ability to have any real effect when, in spite of receiving an unprecedented number of letters and phone calls from constituents begging them to vote no, they opted to give George W. Bush a blank check. (They may be in the process of doing the same with their capitulation on yet more tax cuts, ridiculously pretending that enacting 350 rather than 750 billion more is really a big win for our side.) Since the Democratic Party is too impotent to institutionally challenge the GOP’s radical policy agenda, you can’t blame people for thinking that the only way they can make their voices heard is though large public protests.

This grassroots public opposition to the Bush administration may be the only way that Americans of all stripes, and elected Democrats in particular, can see with their own eyes that Bush’s policies are not universally supported. Combined with the continued protests in the rest of the world, it may be the only way to actually stop Bush’s wider global plans at least until after the election.

Whether we can keep Iraq from disintegrating into chaos or being the ongoing catalyst for more anti-American terrorism is largely a matter of good luck until we can replace the current administration and begin the hard task of rebuilding trust with our allies. Only then will we be able to confront the terrorist threat and the dangers of proliferation with any hope of long term success.

William Saleton is joking here, isn’t he?