Jewish World Review April 16, 2004/ 26 Nissan, 5764
A little assurance for everyone
If the Iraqis who seek relief from the
misery imposed by poverty, oppression
and a benighted version of a primitive
religion wanted a little reassurance,
George W. Bush offered it to them.
If the Americans, who while not
exactly gung-ho for a foreign war but
are nevertheless wary of an irresolute
government, yearned for reassurance
that sacrifice has not been in vain,
George W. Bush gave it to them, too.
The president, facing a gaggle of
skeptical reporters ever aspiring to
punditry, showed himself unmoved by
the stresses of "a tough week." The
Iraqis, and above all the cutthroats and
assassins in Fallujah and Najaf, were
waiting to take the measure of an
American president, to see whether this
one would back down in the face of
Islamist challenge in the way that
certain of his predecessors had.
Some of his constituents were, in fact, rattled by the horrific events of the week, as if wars do not always break things and kill people. Waiting in the wings, eager to come on stage, was the Tofu Man, ready to absorb whatever discontents and disappointments might be available for exploitation. "The truth is," as Tony Blair had said earlier in the week, "faced with this struggle, on which our own fate hangs, a significant part of Western opinion is sitting back, if not half-hoping we fail, certainly replete with schadenfreude at the difficulty we find."
Indeed, nobody enjoys taking
pleasure in the misfortune of others
with greater relish than the ragged
remnants of the counterculture, who
never found their way home from the
'60s and who sit now in the shade of
their own impotence, simmering with
George W. Bush has none of Tony
Blair's eloquence and his ease at
soaring on the wings of rhetoric; few American politicians do.
It's probably the consequence of working in a borrowed
language. But plain speech made his meaning clear enough,
and loud enough.
"America's commitment to freedom in Iraq is consistent
with our ideals and required by our interests," he said. "Iraq
will either be a peaceful, democratic country or it will again be
a source of violence, a haven for terror and a threat to
America and the world."
The payoff for such resolution in the face of skepticism and
wariness (and sneering contempt in certain quarters) was
sure and swift. Within 24 hours, Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shi'ite
holy terror wanted for murder, mayhem and presiding over
mutilation, cried uncle, asking for "negotiations." Holy or not,
Najaf suddenly didn't look like much of a sanctuary against
the determination of the Americans who demonstrated in
Fallujah that they mean business.
The Arabs, tedious though they are with their endless
recitations of ancient offenses (some real, many imagined),
nevertheless remember history. The feared Shi'ite uprising
that an assault on Najaf might have invited, sending Iraq into
chaos, suddenly looked considerably less likely.
The Shi'ites recall well enough what confrontation with the
British cost them in the 1920s, when they missed an
opportunity to project the power of their numbers to win a
dominant role in the government. It dawned on Muqtada
al-Sadr, whose "stronghold" was actually limited to a suburb
of Baghdad, that maybe he wasn't as clever as he thought he
was or as wise as Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, the ayatollah
who is the spiritual leader of all the Shi'ites. An imam can
make trouble for an ayatollah in the way that a busybody
Baptist deacon can make trouble for the preacher, but the
smart money rides on the preacher. Ayatollah al-Sistani
appears to be betting that the road to the future runs
through the ballot box.
President Bush returned more than once to his firm
insistence that the June 30 date for returning sovereignty to
the Iraqi people is solid and settled. "As a proud, independent
people," he said, "Iraqis do not support an indefinite
occupation, and neither does America. We're not an imperial
power, as Japan and Germany can attest. We're a liberating
power, as nations in Europe and Asia can attest as well. We
will not step back from that pledge. On June 30th, Iraqi
sovereignty will be placed in Iraqi hands."
This is the promise that the cutthroats and assassins fear
most. If George W. Bush can deliver on it an "if" still of
considerable size he can say "mission accomplished." This
time he can mean it.
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