Jewish World Review Dec. 19, 2003 / 24 Kislev, 5764

Jonathan Gurwitz

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Behind the Iraq rhetoric, democracy starts to build | With their symbol of resistance gone, the Baathist remnants of the former Iraqi regime have undoubtedly suffered a major blow to their morale.

With the phantom of torture and murder now in chains, the people of Iraq can more openly embrace a democratic future.

Saddam Hussein's capture will, in the long run, decrease the frequency and severity of attacks on American troops. As the internal situation in Iraq improves and Iraqis speak out and cooperate with the provisional authority, a trove of information will be yielded: about Baathist and jihadist holdouts, mass graves, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The capture of Saddam has restored to the United States the initiative in its campaign in Iraq. That initiative, in turn, gives momentum to the fundamental American objective of spreading democracy around the world.

The psychological impact of American soldiers taking Saddam prisoner cannot be overestimated. Nor can the images of the dictator who opulently laid claim to the mantle of Hammurabi and Saladin, disheveled and filthy, humiliatingly submitting to the medical examination of an American military physician.

Beyond these images was the nature of Saddam's capture. The military despot who defiantly thumbed his nose at the West, who interminably claimed victory over Iran and the United States, who eagerly sent hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to their deaths in futile offensives, who proudly paid the families of Palestinian suicide bombers — this hero of heroes hid in a hole, gave up without a fight, without taking his own life, despite having a pistol at his side.

A Saudi newspaper editor expressed the mixed emotions of many in the Arab world.

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"On the one hand, we are very happy, relieved that this man is out of the picture and he will not threaten us anymore," Khaled M. Batarfi told the New York Times. "On the other hand, to see him so humiliated — he is an Arab president, after all. Whether you love him or hate him, he is still a member of the family. He did not fight like his sons; he went like a dog or a cave man, so they feel sorry more for Arab pride than for the man."

Mustapha Hamarneh, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, said: "They wanted him to at least die fighting, not be caught lying down in some hole like a rat. The image they built of him over the past 35 years was that he was a knight who would not die lying down. The real image or the real character turned out to be radically different."

"Saddam was one of the great Arab leaders who supported the Palestinian people and many Arabs," the Jerusalem post quoted Jihan Ajlouni, a 24-year-old university student in Ramallah, as saying. "We feel very sad today, and we say to all the traitors and collaborators: Don't rush to celebrate because there are millions of Saddams in the Arab world."

No one should be surprised at such reactions to the United States shattering one of the Arab world's most enduring icons. Nor should anyone be surprised when extremists blindly and murderously strike back at the United States and its allies in Saddam's name, as they will.

But beyond the self-pity, beyond the rhetorical bluff and bluster and those whose intolerant message can only be delivered by guns and bombs, you'll hear another message.

Hanan Ashrawi, a leading Palestinian legislator told Scotland's Herald newspaper that Saddam's capture brings to an end a "painful and tragic chapter" in Middle East history. Arab leaders must realize "such regimes are part of the past, and this will encourage the people to move on and show them that democracy can move things."

As Saddam went from dictator to prisoner and now goes from prisoner to trial defendant for crimes against humanity, that message will certainly reverberate in the ears of leaders not only in Ramallah and Damascus, in Khartoum and Tripoli, but also in Tehran and Pyongyang.

America has restored freedom's momentum. For that, the world should be thankful.

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JWR contributor Jonathan Gurwitz, a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, is a co-founder and twice served as Director General of the Future Leaders of the Alliance program at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. In 1986 he was placed on the Foreign Service Register of the U.S. State Department. Comment by clicking here.


12/16/03: Anti-war myths quickly eroding
12/03/03: Want fair, balanced? Separate intelligence, politics
08/12/03: N. Korea, Iran paradox to anti-war crowd
06/29/03: Real sports heroes don't make headlines
06/26/03: Strange bedfellows are a sure sign of rocky times
06/26/03: What Einstein taught Bush
06/26/03: JFK's message of struggle for freedom still stands
06/19/03: Most Americans understand this cynical equation
04/22/03: War opponents share burden of guilt
04/10/03: Iraqis get liberation and respect
03/28/03: Constitutionally protected SOBs
03/25/03: Morality changes with the times
03/12/03: Will all of those, ahem, "sincere" peace activists remember the Iraqis tomorrow?
02/27/03: Blood already on UN inspectors' hands

© 2003, Jonathan Gurwitz