Jewish World Review June 20, 2003 / 20 Sivan, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Consumer Reports

Let Iraq build its own playgrounds | In the next shipment of supplies to Iraq, the U.S. should include 23 million violins. Something the Iraqis could use to accompany their constant kvetching.

"Since the Americans arrived, we have no electricity," they complain to anyone who will listen. "Our schools are closed. Men are out of work. The water tastes icky. It's not safe to go outside after dark."

This litany is usually accompanied by a threat. "We are eternally grateful to you Americans for liberating us from Saddam Hussein, but if you don't fix things immediately we will be forced to stage a bloody intifadeh and kill you all."

This approach seems to be making an impression on the American administration in Baghdad. You can't open a newspaper or watch a newscast without seeing G.I.s clearing vacant lots, constructing playgrounds, fixing power grids and generally acting like an army of interior decoration.

This is a role the U.S. shouldn't assume. Iraq was a dysfunctional mudhole before the Americans got there. The electricity didn't work very well then, either. Schools were primitive indoctrination centers. More than half the urban work force was employed by the government in jobs that involved the bureaucratic or physical repression of fellow citizens. If the pumps didn't work, it was because the vandals took the handles.

The American impulse to fix things up flows from a combination of Yankee can-do-it-ness, altruism, business opportunities and - most of all - a misguided understanding of self-interest.

The U.S. wants to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis. But even if good deeds could accomplish that (a dubious possibility at best), the question remains: What's the point?

Sure, the U.S. would like Iraq to become a secular, pro-Western democracy with free institutions and a market economy. But this is a pipe dream. Iraq doesn't have much, but it does have a culture - to which American values are foreign and threatening. An open society? Washington might just as well demand that the people of Baghdad start speaking Swedish and adopt tap dancing as their national pastime.

Luckily, capturing Iraqi minds and hearts is not essential to the American mission. The U.S. is not a colonial power. It doesn't covet the deserts, swamps and slums of Iraq. It has two reasons to be there: to protect the flow of oil (not only from Iraq, but from its neighbors) and to safeguard American security by ensuring that whatever government rules in Baghdad is too weak and intimidated to threaten the U.S. directly or by terrorist proxy.

Such goals will not be accomplished by providing Iraqis with great playgrounds or colder soft drinks or even fair elections. These are things the Iraqis can acquire for themselves, if they want them.

What the U.S. should do is make sure Saddam is dead, install a relatively decent regime, furnish it with a set of ground rules and then withdraw troops from the cities and towns.

American forces garrisoned in strategic, outlying areas of Iraq would be out sight, but not out of mind. The regime in Baghdad would be allowed to rule according to local custom - as long as it didn't attempt to inhibit the flow of oil or reconnect with the axis of evil. Bad behavior would bring the Marines crashing back.

Would the Iraqis like this arrangement? Of course not. They would complain that it would violate their sovereignty and independence and sacred national honor. And so it would. Unfortunately, in the age of modern jihad, there isn't much America can do about it. Except pass out the violins.

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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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05/30/03: NYTimes has a bigger problem than Blair and Bragg — Dowd
05/27/03: Political — and literal — suicide
05/12/03: That noise is Europe rising
05/09/03: Dems overplay the economy card
05/05/03: Truth or Consequences: To win Arab liberals' trust, Bush needs to find Iraq's WMDs
05/01/03: U.S. security, not economy, is key for prez
04/28/03: Real artists, not airheads
04/22/03: Sealed With a Kiss
04/14/03: Don't believe the cheers
04/03/03: Iraq's only the start --- Syria & Iran are next
04/01/03: War's happy troubadours
03/27/03: What's not going on is the key in this war
03/20/03: The big question: Can Arabs handle liberty?
03/17/03: In war, like in baseball, the idea is to make the other guy cry --- now, let's go get 'em!
03/13/03: Jewish plot? This pol has gone punchy
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03/04/03: Those human shields need some star power
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02/24/03: Prof's arrest will test Arab Americans' loyalty
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01/23/03: A peace movement that's going nowhere
01/13/03: No time for experts
01/07/03: Senator from Mayberry shouldn't alarm prez
12/31/02: Dem Dummies
12/19/02: Saudis still play Santa to Arafat
12/13/02: Lott has to be dumped to save W's authority
12/05/02: Kissinger's Saudi pals litter 9/11 money trail
11/25/02: Sharon looks like a winner
11/18/02: It's the war, stupid
11/14/02: The Dems don't have a prayer
11/07/02: Watch for Dubya to give Arik political hug
10/31/02: Sharpton the patriot
10/22/02: Rabin, gone but not missed
10/17/02: Israelis bracing for US' punch at Iraq
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09/27/02: Al Gore: The Lost Boy of American politics
09/05/02: The intifadeh's over, and the Israelis won
08/29/02: At the world summit, just anger & hypocrisy
08/21/02: No time for weak knees on Iraq
08/16/02: A pro-Arab pol may get the beating she deserves
08/13/02: Fight it out now
08/02/02: Memo to The Council on Foreign Relations: U.S. values won't sell in Arab world
07/31/02: Israel's nutty neighbors

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