Friday, March 19, 2004
I had intended to post today an analysis of the Iraqi Constitution - its language, its structure, its strengths and weaknesses. But I've had too much work. So hopefully I'll get something out by the beginning of next week.
In the meantime: let's remember what's been achieved in the past year, in spite of all the errors of intelligence, of planning and of diplomacy.
A murderous dictator who had declared himself an enemy of America, tried to assassinate a former American President, attacked several neighboring countries including three American allies, and had a history of using terror weapons against civilians and of seeking nuclear weapons has been humiliated, defeated and removed from power. Thankfully for the safety of our troops, Saddam turned out to be nowhere near as close to acquiring nuclear weapons as the Administration fervently believed. That failure of intelligence should be occasion for reassessing the role of those in the Administration who pushed the most extreme threat-assessment. But it is no reason to mourn the passing of Saddam Hussein's regime. And it is no reason to regret having shown the world that "an enemy of America" is an unwise title for anyone to aspire to.
The American war on Islamist terrorism, and the involvement of American troops in that effort, is now an accepted part of the landscape in a wide span of territory, from Pakistan to Yemen. We have not won the hearts and minds by a long shot, but we have won considerably more cooperation from a number of governments than we had pre-Iraq. Leaders like Pervez Musharraf know that we have crossed a Rubicon, and that they have, perforce, crossed with us; the dangers to them of turning back now are greater than the dangers of pressing forward. We may have worsened our relations with many European governments, but we have probably improved our relations with a number of governments of Muslim states. And American troops are now stationed at the frontiers of two of the biggest international supporters of Islamist terrorism: Iran and Syria. It would be rash to predict positive change in either state. But I think it would be overly pessimistic to deny that our presence will be a factor in the thinking of either regime should popular opposition break out in earnest in either state.
And finally, an Arab country is beginning a rarely-indulged experiment in self-government. In the abstract, I'd argue that there are more promising candidates for Arab democratization and liberalization than Iraq: Tunisia foremost, followed by Egypt and Algeria, and non-Arab Iran above all. But Iraq's what we've got, and if we - and they - can make it there, we can probably make it anywhere. And I have no doubt that crucial to fighting the war going forward is winning the peace in Iraq: nothing would better boost our image internationally, and nothing would do more to alleviate the strain on our military. Conversely, nothing will do more to undermine our war effort generally than for Iraq to descend into civil war or a new tyranny. We should not set our sights unrealistically high, and make the perfect the enemy of the good. But neither should we despair at the difficulties so far. Frankly, if this is the worst they can throw at us, the whole project is going to be a good deal easier than I ever imagined it would be.
We should remember from the Algerian civil war that the terrorists will get more violent and deadly the harder they are pressed. This is certainly what we saw in Madrid, and I will be not at all surprised if similar attacks take place elsewhere in Europe or in America. We should be prepared for that. Hey, I live in Brooklyn, not far from the major Arab and Muslim neighborhood in the city, whose hub is at the Atlantic Avenue train station (subway and LIRR), which I transit on the way to work. And the end of my commute is Grand Central Station, one of the two major subway and commuter rail hubs of New York, and a major New York landmark (not to mention being at the base of one of the city's major skyscrapers). If they're going to hit our trains, the trains I take are surely top targets. That fear should be no reason to retreat. We should be debating how to win, including whether the Iraq war was a good idea in retrospect. We should not be debating whether winning is worth the fight. For all the legitimate criticisms of this Administration's management of the war, I think we've won a lot in the last year. Let's keep rolling.