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Jewish World Review August 1, 2002 / 23 Menachem-Av, 5762

Michael Kelly

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America on the hinge of risk and opportunity | In Monday's Wall Street Journal, R. James Woolsey, the director of the CIA during the first several years of the Clinton administration, argues that the end is reasonably nigh for Iran's long nightmare of theocratic fascism. Writes Woolsey of Iran's mad mullahs: "The storm that engulfs them may not be here yet, but it is gathering."

In this, Woolsey is illuminating one thread of a larger theory of the state of the world that is increasingly dominant in the Bush administration's foreign policy — in great part because Bush himself believes in it as not only a practical but a moral matter, to a degree where he is willing to bet his presidency on it.

The conventional (post-Sept. 11) view holds that we live in a formerly bipolar world increasingly driven, and riven, by passions of faith and tribe, in which the United States may expect to be Enemy No. 1 for the foreseeable future. Batten down everything and get ready for a long, painful, bloody haul.

There is some obvious truth in this. The old order is gone; the passions of tribalism and nationalism are resurgent; the United States has many enemies, including among its putative friends.

But what if all of this does not represent something near the beginning of a long run of troubles, but the chance (at least) for the beginning of a long run of relative peace? What if the market for violence against the United States is not rising but actually bottoming out?

The most obvious and powerful reason why this should be so is that the implosion of the Soviet empire was not, overall, an impetus for destabilization, but rather for stabilization. The Soviet Union was for nearly half a century the greatest source of trouble in the world, and this trouble was chiefly aimed at the United States. The Soviet hegemon fomented, financed, armed and trained nations, groups and movements around the world to wage proxy war against America. Moscow worked to destroy regimes friendly to the United States and to support regimes hostile to it.

The Soviets maintained the only military on the planet capable of even seriously contemplating an all-out war with the United States. There is no anti-American force comparable to the Soviet Union now on Earth, and entities that depended on Moscow's money to survive are necessarily dead or dying.

And as Woolsey suggests in the case of Iran, anti-Americanism as an organized and really powerful passion belongs to a time passing, because of the passing of time itself. The great Great Satan movements, the anti-colonialist revolutionaries who directed these movements and the Western intellectuals and politicians who supported them are creatures of the 1960s and 1970s. Their time was then, not now. They are all, as it were, Yasser Arafat.

The mullahs' revolution in Iran occurred nearly a quarter of a century ago. The Baath revolutions that ushered in the tyrannies of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafez Assad in Syria are equally out of another time. The generation coming of age in these states today thinks of oppression not in terms of distant imperialists but of the secret policeman next door. The United States is not the natural enemy of these people; it is, potentially, the natural liberator.

It is right to think that we are living in the middle of a hinge moment in history. But it is wrong to think that the large forces of this moment act on the hinge to shut the door against American interests. The contrary may be true — but only if the moment is seized, with the very real dangers this entails.

Bush seems to know this. He has already taken four radical and risky actions. The first was to respond to the attack of Sept. 11 with the annihilation of the architects of Sept. 11. The second was to announce that the United States would do what it must, whatever any other nation thought — and other nations should consider on whose side in the coming fight they wished to find themselves. The third, in the "axis of evil" speech, was to declare the United States' enmity toward three regimes that support violence against it — and to tell the oppressed people of those regimes (in Iran, Iraq and North Korea) that Washington would welcome their freedom from evil. The fourth was to admit the dead-end fraud of the Oslo accords and of the Arafat kleptocracy, and so begin the movement to a real two-state solution in Israel.

The next — most radical, most risky, most essential — action in this process of doctrine-in-the-making will be to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein and liberate the people of Iraq.

This will happen, I think, and this will be when history really begins to turn on its hinge.

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Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

© 2002, Washington Post Co.