Jewish World Review April 22, 2003 / 20 Nisan, 5763
The challenge of success
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The Iraq of today is in a halfway house that lies between heaven and hell. Hell, of course, was life under Saddam Hussein, a decades-long nightmare of cruel dictatorship, a reign of terror that strangled its people and brought about oppression, horror, and humiliation. Heaven will be a democratized Iraq, marked by unity, territorial integrity, political stability, and civil society, with Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis blending in some decentralized governmental authority, all sharing in the enormous potential revenues from Iraq's vast oil resources.
The iconic tipping point in passage from hell toward heaven, of course, was when Iraqis with sledgehammers attacked the 20-foot statue of Saddam and, with a little hanging rope from the American military, brought it shatteringly down, begetting the shattering of Saddam statues all across Iraq.
Those crashes registered on the political seismographs of every country in the Middle East. From now on, every Arab dictator knows he must change if he doesn't wish to see his own statues come down. The Assads of Syria, the Qadhafis of Libya, the ayatollahs of Iran--they must all now understand that the rules of the game in the Middle East are utterly changed. As with Iraq, there will be no saviors for cruel and corrupt regimes. Not from the Arab "street," which stayed quiet, nor from other Arab capitals, which largely lined up behind the victors. And never mind the misguided demonstrators in Paris and Berlin who burned American flags while Iraqis hugged American soldiers and kissed American flags.
Weeding out. Having accomplished its military objectives with brilliance, courage, and altogether admirable forbearance, the United States must now perform a task almost as daunting: to rebuild a nation from the ground up. Those images of criminal looters are a metaphor for the difficulties we will face in creating from a cesspool of corruption and brutality a civil society in which the rule of law operates and rights are universally respected. We must nurture freedom of speech and assembly and help all Iraqis come to terms with the suppressed religious, ethnic, and clan loyalties that have so long marinated in the pressure cooker of grudges and resentments. The culmination of these efforts will be elections and a new form of national government.
Those who were so confident that America would mess up the war are now equally assured that America will mess up the peace, but all of them should be prepared to bite their tongues. Of course there will be setbacks. Many of Iraq's educated elites have fled, incomes have plummeted, a quarter of Iraq's children under 5 are malnourished, and there is no trust in the civil institutions. Critically, the tribal, sectarian, and ethnic antagonism fostered by Saddam's regime has left a web of old scores to be settled. We must prevent this kind of violence and forestall the reopening of old wounds and the creation of new ones.
The toughest part will be to weed out and prosecute the hundreds of hard-core Baath Party members, demobilize the Army, reform the police force, eviscerate the hated intelligence services, and rebuild a corrupt judicial system. It will be critical to apprehend and try, or otherwise liquidate, the senior members of Saddam's regime, especially in the security forces. We will have to be scrupulous in identifying, but ruthless in excising, those forces that could lead a postwar resistance against us and subvert a post-Saddam government.
A strong leader is required during this tricky transition period. Fortunately, the presence of U.S. forces will underscore our determination to nourish a moderate and civil regime and shape the political processes in Iraq and elsewhere in the region. If we move with speed and determination to establish a modicum of civil stability, restore electricity and water, and improve living conditions generally, our coalition forces might well be viewed as partners for a new Iraq instead of occupiers.
America's goal is not to subjugate Iraq but to promote a liberal political regime that will benefit all its people--Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. The Arab world refuses to believe it now, but the Bush administration full well knows this is the way to change perceptions and prejudices that have done so much to destabilize the region and create a breeding ground for terrorists. Democratization is not just a moral commitment but a strategic priority.
The triumph in Iraq has made it clear that America will insist that all rogue states end their support of terror. There will be disappointments, cruel setbacks, as there are still in Afghanistan (which requires more world help than it is getting). No matter what they may be, we must realize that we are far better off now, no matter what the challenges, than when Saddam polluted the region. We are dealing with the problems of success, not with the problems of failure.
In foreign policy, that is heaven.
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