Jewish World Review March 2, 2005/ 21 Adar I, 5765

Wesley Pruden

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The earth moves, thousands cheer | George W. Bush promised he could make the earth move, and everyone would wake up satisfied on the morning after.

The wise guys, a quart or two low on studly charisma and always ready with reasons why not, only laughed at the cowboy enthusiasm. No one is laughing this morning, and a lot of Arabs are cheering.

An Iraqi election and a big blowout in Beirut do not an Islamic revolution make. A crackdown could cool the sudden ardor for democracy in the flash of an exploding canister of tear gas (or worse). But there's enough going on in the most miserable corner of the world to give a mullah misgivings, to make an ayatollah anxious. If those aren't the sounds of the tectonic plates of the old order breaking up, the suspicious tremor is enough to send the rich and corrupt evildoers of the old order, long accustomed to ignoring the cries and whispers of everyone, to start looking through the real-estate classifieds for retirement villas in France.

The Lebanese masses have taken up the cry for democracy, just like the masses in the Ukraine a fortnight and more ago. A tent city grows in Beirut's Martyrs Square at the tomb of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister who was slain by a person or persons unknown — believed by nearly everyone to be a person or persons of sinister Syrian ancestry and citizenship.

The demonstration has taken on the air of fiesta, with thousands vowing not to budge until the Syrians pull their 14,000 troops out of Lebanon. Troops assigned to keeping a semblance of order have given up trying to keep the crowds away, and waved the demonstrators on. Demonstrators handed long-stemmed red roses to cops and soldiers.

"I love America," one of the demonstrators at Martyrs Square told reporters and anyone else who looked even vaguely American. "Tell Bush to come here. Thank him, thank Chirac."

Heady times. For once there was an administration in Washington that ignored the clearing of throats in Foggy Bottom and the counsel of the Nervous Nellies who are always frightened more by rufflers of the status quo than by disturbers of the peace. The White House, blithely ignoring such fears, put another log on the pyre.

"We are closely watching developments with great interest," the president's press spokesman said. "The resignation of the Karami government represents an opportunity for the Lebanese people to have a new government that is truly representative of their country's diversity."

Lebanon, perhaps more than any other country in the Middle East, deserves a lot better than what it's got. Once a gem of a city (if not necessarily "the Hong Kong of the Middle East," as it sometimes called itself), Beirut hummed and crackled with commerce and culture, a place where nearly everybody got along. Lebanon was traditionally governed by a Christian president and a Muslim prime minister, a happy acknowledgment of what everyone agreed was fiction, that the country was equally divided along religious lines. That was before militant religionists demanded that the Muslim majority get the whole country. The civil war lasted 15 bloody years.

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But it's not only what's happening in Beirut. Yesterday, the Israeli government summoned ambassadors in Tel Aviv to a meeting to listen to the evidence that Syrian-client Hezbollah, the Palestinian terrorist cartel, was responsible for the weekend bombing that killed five Israelis in Tel Aviv. For once, the Israelis had an audience that was not necessarily hostile to facts. In Damascus, Bashar Assad finally understands what it feels like to buckle under pressure. He looked through the inventory of available bad guys, and threw up one of the scurviest of the lot, one Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half brother, and as a director of the Iraqi insurgency the author of a list of evil deeds as long as his name. There was speculation in Beirut that he was captured to order, perhaps inside Iraq, as a sacrifice to the Americans. Assad and the Syrians are scared.

Democracy can do that to tyrants, and this is what George W. has been trying to say over the tumult of an election campaign at home and the static of the media noise machine everywhere. Official Washington has been abuzz in recent days over a commentary in Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine of some repute. "Germany loves to criticize George W. Bush's Middle East policies," writes Claus Christian Malzahn, "just like Germany loved to criticize former President Ronald Reagan. But Reagan, when he demanded that Gorbachev remove the Berlin Wall, turned out to be right. Could history repeat itself?"

Only a radical cowboy like George W. Bush could come up with an idea like that. security.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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