This New Year, Americans should reflect on what we have accomplished in over three years of hard war since being attacked on Sept. 11. The Taliban and Saddam Hussein are gone but without the envisioned millions of refugees and hundreds of thousands of dead. Women lined up to vote in Afghanistan, of all places. Baathist criminals are to go on trial in Baghdad.
American troops are no longer guarding Wahhabist Saudi Arabia. For the first time since the 1950s, long-needed military redeployments are also underway from Germany to South Korea. Elections are days away in Iraq. There has not been another 9/11-like attack here at home, despite our enemies' continual threats to trump their earlier foul work. Bin Laden is said to be a cultural icon, but why then can't he show his face publicly for a single moment anywhere in the world?
Positive evolution is already evident in Pakistan and Libya. A billion people in India increasingly share our wartime concerns over the global dangers of Islamic fascism and terror. The United Nations, albeit kicking and screaming, is confronting overdue reform. Arab strongmen, from Damascus to Cairo, cannot quite mask the aroma of democracy wafting in their air. A once-ostracized Arafat is gone, and the onus is now on the Palestinians to show the world that they can legitimately govern their proposed autonomous state.
Yet the insurgency in Iraq costing more than 1,000 American combat dead has rightly cast a pall over all this remarkable progress. Controversies here at home, whether non-armored Humvees or Donald Rumsfeld's bluntness, follow the near daily report of explosions in the Sunni Triangle, leading to sinking depression about the war.
In fact, even in a violent Iraq, we do not give ourselves credit for either the magnitude of our undertaking or the courage to make it work. Americans are not merely fostering elections, but in the most unlikely places are shepherding social change not seen since Japanese women were given the vote or communism collapsed throughout the Soviet Empire.
Shiites and Kurds, the perennially despised and discriminated of the Arab world, may obtain political equality for the first time in Iraq's history and not due to any sense of justice aired on Al-Jazeera. Such a remarkable revolution is comparable to the ancient liberation of the Spartan helots or the horrendous task of ending chattel slavery on our own shores.
We rightly agonize about Iranian theocracy hijacking the new Iraqi government in the tired Middle Eastern tradition of showcasing one fixed election one time. Yet the Iranian mullahs are even more worried. The upcoming electoral participation of their historical Arab enemies, both Shiites and Sunnis, may well begin to undermine theocracy in Teheran by encouraging young Iranian reformers that freedom is already next-door. Consensual government is coming to the heart of the ancient caliphate and is rattling not just the cages in Damascus and Teheran, but our erstwhile "friends" in Riyadh and Cairo as well.
Good. For too long we have cozied up to or even subsidized failed two-timing Middle East strongmen who in censored state media deflected popular discontent over their own bankrupt policies onto the bogeyman of America.
That pathology is ending. The United States is no longer the predictable enforcer of the status quo ("just export oil and drive out communists"). Rather, we are pledging blood and treasure for popular reform in a death struggle with Islamic fascism to offer a humane alternative to corrupt sheiks, generals and kings.
So what started out in Afghanistan and Iraq as regional efforts to stop rogue nations from aiding terrorists and threatening Americans and their allies has evolved into a wider conflict upon which literally the fate of hundreds of millions rests. Somehow two skyscrapers disintegrating in New York are linked with women lining up for elections in Afghanistan and brave Iraqis registering to vote amid gunfire in Baghdad as the ripples of Sept. 11 continue to shake the Middle East.
Such is the case in war where unintended consequences follow, both good and bad. Lincoln promised the Civil War was to save the Union, and then in early 1863 announced it was really to eliminate slavery. The Anglo-American alliance fought World War II to free Eastern Europe from Hitler only to ensure that it was enslaved by our "ally," Josef Stalin and his Red Army. An isolationist America without a military was attacked in late 1941 and ended up the century's global peacekeeper just four years later.
The suicide bombs and explosions that go off daily in Iraq are not proof that Americans are losing the Sunni Triangle, but rather that thousands of secular and religious fascists are desperate not to lose their entire Middle East.