Jewish World ReviewApril 11, 2004 / 21 Nissan, 5764

Zev Chafets

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Force is the only choice | One year ago, American soldiers helped a crowd of Iraqis tear down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad's Faradis Square. So ended the Mother of all Battles.

Now, in Baghdad and throughout Iraq, U.S. forces are facing the Mother of all Insurgencies.

The fighting in the streets is not, as a distraught Marine officer told reporters, a reprise of the battle of Hue. Iraq isn't Vietnam except in the minds of Teddy Kennedy, Robert Byrd and frequent fliers on the Woodstock Time Machine.

On the other hand, it is also not Germany or Japan after World War II. Turning Iraq into a democracy has always been a fantasy. Iraqis are as likely to adopt an open political system as Americans are to make cricket their national pastime, and for the same reasons: They are foreigners' games, unnatural and unmanly.

What about all those public opinion polls showing a majority of Iraqis hungry for democracy? They are, in a word, phony. After a lifetime of repressive rule, the average Iraqi has a tendency to tell strangers with questionnaires whatever seems safest.

No, one year after its invasion of Iraq, America has not won many hearts or minds. It never had a chance. Watch the screaming lunatics drag torched corpses through the streets and you realize that these are hearts and minds impervious to civilized feeling or rational thought. Not all Iraqis, of course, belong to the lynch mob, but disconcertingly few seem outraged by its words or deeds.

There is no outrage in the wider Middle East, either. There is also no anti-American insurrection on the so-called Arab Street. Arab dictators know how to keep their people in line, which is why most of them have ruled for decades. From North Africa to the Persian Gulf, national politics are ultimately the politics of the gun. Iraq is no different.

America seems, finally, to be grasping that. Arab body counts are often wildly exaggerated, but if it is even close to true that the Marines have killed 280 in Fallujah, this is a Middle Eastern count. Keep it up for a town or two more, and Iraq will be as quiet as it was under Saddam.

At which point, the question is: What to do with that quiet? America has to step back and consider what its actual interests are, in Iraq and beyond.

The U.S. has embarked on a war against aggressive anti-American Islamic fascists. This war will inevitably take America to Syria and Iran, and ultimately Saudi Arabia. Iraq (and Afghanistan) are no more than theaters in that wider regional conflict.

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The reason for the war is simple: Jihad (of the Saudi, Saddamite, Bin Ladenist, Hezbollah or Iranian flavors) threatens American security. Victory means disarming Middle Eastern dictators of weapons that reach beyond the neighboring village; demoralizing and killing terrorists and closing their bases; cutting off funds for anti-American indoctrination; supporting friendly regimes in the area, and protecting the U.S. oil supply.

These things can best be accomplished in Iraq without turning it into a model of American values. Once the place is pacified, the U.S. should turn power over to locals (the current "governing council" will do), lay down a few basic limitations and withdraw its troops into garrisons in the countryside - with the clear understanding that they will be back if the ground rules are broken.

Despairing voices ask: How will this all end? This is a self-defeating question. You can always scare yourself into inaction by conjuring up the ghosts of Vietnam. But the Vietcong never tried to kill a U.S. President, or blow up a train in Spain or attack downtown Manhattan. If the jihad isn't put down in Iraq - and beyond - with brutal finality, the Mother of Insurgencies may be coming to a theater near you.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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