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Jewish World Review Sept. 12, 2002 / 6 Tishrei, 5762

Michael Ledeen

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America's revenge: To turn tyrannies into democracies | Those who said that America - and perhaps even the world at large - would never be the same after September 11 turn out to have been right only in part. American legislators have not found any anthrax in their recent mail, and so some of them, encouraged by recent remarks from officials of previous administrations, wonder openly whether further combat in the Middle East is even necessary.

They are insisting not only that President George W Bush provide them with a convincing bill of particulars regarding Saddam Hussein, but also that they approve any future action. This despite their full endorsement of such action on September 14 last.

In short, business as usual. Some other things have certainly changed. The pre-September 11 George W Bush was a relatively colourless figure, uncomfortable with international affairs and, despite his strong religious faith, largely bereft of what his father famously referred to as "the vision thing". The post-September 11 President is decisive, fully engaged in his mission, and quite eloquent on the war against terrorism, with an economy of language that we have not heard from a president since Truman.

Similarly, Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary, who had been tagged as the cabinet member least likely to succeed, has become a matinee idol. Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, may score higher in the polls, but nobody races to the television to watch his press conferences; they do Rumsfeld's. The transformation began immediately after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center, and Mr. Rumsfeld told his staff: "I've been around for a while, and, believe me, this is not the last one we'll see today."

The greatest change has come among the American people themselves. Americans are the first people in history to believe that peace is the normal condition of mankind, but this reassuring conviction was effectively shattered, for this generation at least, on September 11. Americans now believe, with Machiavelli, that there are many people who are more inclined to do evil than to do good, and the only way to deal with them is to dominate them. They hope and believe that Saddam will not be the last terrorist tyrant to fall at their hands.

Americans are traditionally in a great hurry, but they have shown great patience with this president. They recognize that the war will be long and they trust that they have somehow struck lucky with their leader at a moment of peril. Recent drops in the President's popularity suggest that the people's patience may be wearing a bit thin, but now it seems that action is imminent and they will soon find out if Mr. Bush is up to this challenge.

The Americans may have been patient so far, but, as General Patton once reminded his troops, Americans can't stand a loser. Yet it is hard to imagine America will lose. So long as the people are convinced they are well led, and the war goes well, they will support it. One has a tendency to forget that, in the Second World War, it took nearly two years after Pearl Harbor before decisive victories were achieved, yet the American people did not waver.

Americans are not fond of realpolitik; they are a people of crusades and spasms. They almost never fight limited wars for limited objectives (most Americans now believe the 1991 Gulf war was excessively limited); as Ronald Reagan said, the country is too great to have small ambitions. Few have noticed that President Bush has in fact outlined a war of vast dimensions. Lurking behind the awkward phrase "regime change" is a vision of a war to destroy the Middle Eastern tyrannies and replace them with freer societies, as was done in Japan and Germany after the Second World War.

Early on after the September 11 attack, it was widely said that America would have to fight a new kind of war, conducted in large part in the shadows, with covert instruments and secret warriors. In the event, it turns out to be a very traditional sort of war, because they have found that the common denominator of their enemies is tyranny.

The states that undergird the terror network are Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. They do not share ethnicity (Iranians are not Arabs) or even religious conviction (both Saddam and the Assad family in Syria came to power as secular socialists), but they are all petty tyrants. And the most lethal weapon against them is the people they oppress.

The Iranians demonstrate almost ceaselessly against the mullahcracy in Teheran; in recent days, there has been street fighting in Isfahan, political demonstrations in Teheran, and the petroleum pipeline has been shut down in Tabriz. Student leaders have called for a nationwide demonstration today, a clear sign of the Iranian people's desire for freedom.

The Iraqis were willing to risk everything in the final weeks of the Gulf war, and the unreliability of Saddam's armies is well known. If Iranians and Iraqis are freed, the Syrian dictatorship cannot possibly survive, and the Saudi royal family would have to choose between shutting down its worldwide network of radical Wahhabi mosques or facing the same destiny as the others.

A war on such a scale has hardly been mentioned by commentators and politicians, yet it is implicit in everything President Bush has said and done. He has directed the creation of an Iraqi government-in-exile that is committed to democracy, and he has promised the Iranian people that America will support them in their desire for freedom. He has recognized that democracy is essential for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and that requirement surely extends throughout the entire region.

In one of those delightful paradoxes in which history so delights, America's enemies sought to destroy it on September 11, only to find their own survival at mortal risk. And all those who said the world would never be the same, thinking that America had been fundamentally shaken and demoralized, will soon find that, instead, America's enemies will be the subject of revolutionary change at its hands.

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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, The War Against the Terror Masters. Comment by clicking here.


09/10/02: Iran & Afghanistan & Us: We'll have to deal with the mullahcracy, sooner or later
09/04/02: Iran, according to the Times: All the nonsense that's fit to print
08/21/02: Life and death of Abu Nidal tells us a great deal about our enemies
08/08/02: Can You Keep a Secret?: The media silence on Iran
08/06/02: Fantasy Reporting: The latest disinformation from the Washington Post
08/02/02: Propping Up the Terror Masters: Europe's Solana on tour
07/16/02: Bush vs. the Mullahs: Getting on the side of the Iranian freedom fighters
07/12/02: The State Department Goes Mute: It's official: State has no message
07/09/02: History being made, but the West appears clueless
06/05/02: Is George Tenet endangering peace in Israel?
06/03/02: Ridiculous, even for a journalist
05/20/02: So how come nobody's been fired yet?
05/14/02: Open doors for thugs
04/20/02: Iran on the Brink … and the U.S. does nothing
04/16/02: It’s the war, stupid … someone remind Colin Powell
04/08/02: Gulled: In the Middle East, Arafat doesn't matter
04/02/02: Faster, Please: The war falters
03/26/02: The Revolution Continues: What's brewing in Iran
03/18/02: Iran simmers still: Where's the press?
03/05/02: We can't lose any more ground in Iran
02/14/02: The Great Iranian Hoax
02/12/02: Unnoticed Bombshell: Key information in a new book
01/31/02: The truth behind the Powell play
01/29/02: My past with "Johnny Jihad's" lawyer
01/21/02: It's Munich, all over again
01/08/02: What's the Holdup?: It's time for the next battles in the war against terrorism
12/11/01: We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless
12/06/01: Remembering my family friend, Walt Disney
11/28/01: The Barbara Olson Bomb: Understanding the war
11/13/01: How We're Doing: The Angleton Files, IV
11/06/01: A great revolutionary war is coming
10/25/01: How to talk to a terrorist
10/23/01: Creative Reporting: Learning to appreciate press briefings
10/19/01: Not the Emmys: A Beltway award presentation
10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
10/04/01: What do we not know?
09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen