Monday, September 8, 2003

A Watime Editorial

William Safire:

In Cairo today, the Arab League considers whether to invite Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurd recently appointed foreign minister by Iraq's Governing Council, to provisionally occupy Iraq's seat. He is eager to make the three-hour flight to regional legitimacy.

What's in it for Arab dictators who want no part of a democratic experiment in their region? Apparently the recent exercise of U.S. will and power has been taken to heart; to accommodate reality, the Arab nations are likely to play ball with post-Saddam Iraqis, expecting (1) to continue Iraq in the OPEC cartel, (2) to ensure Iraq's support of Palestinians against Israel and (3) to prevent export of anti-Sunni zealotry. If President Bush abdicates control of Iraq to the U.N. soon, Arabs may gain all that and more...

Some European media that had mistakenly warned of a long, high-casualty campaign, and were discomfited by the ease of our military victory, now claim vindication. They cite the present lack of proof of mass-destruction weapons, the lawlessness that followed Saddam's emptying jails of all criminals, and continued sniping and bombing. Iraqis are shown on TV blaming American troops -- not Baathist-paid terrorists-- for lack of electric power, lack of water and lack of protection...

In what is called here "the Daily Schadenfreude," the impression is being marketed that the rebuilding of Iraq is a colossal flop. That Arabs are culturally incapable of self-government. That Islamic fundamentalism will sweep away any Western notions of individual dignity. That while Saddam was admittedly a "bad guy," the hundreds of thousands of his victims who are missing are none of the West's concern, and that a cabal of neocon hawks manipulated President Bush into war.

So goes the failuremongers' pitch. Their purpose, beyond justification of their decade of appeasement, is to cast as both ignoble and doomed this most necessary long-term counter to state-sponsored and fanaticism-driven terror. To wear down our will, they emphasize the likelihood that as long as we stay to rebuild, terrorists will shoot at our service members and relief workers and will sabotage power plants and oil fields. As we return fire, inevitable pictures of bloodied innocents will be shown on home screens.

In the coming political campaigns, failuremongers in Europe and at home will exploit reactions to these costs in blood and treasure. They will beat the drums to abandon control to a feckless U.N. bureaucracy. George McGovern's slogan of 1972 will be echoed by de Villepin Democrats and some panicky Republicans: "Come home, America."

On the European prejudice ("Arabs are culturally incapable of self-government") please see our Lawrence of Arabia theory from last week.

Thursday, September 4, 2003

A Milestone

The first Vietnam/Iraq analogy that actually sounds right:

Mr. Bush would be much further along in rebuilding Iraq had he taken the advice of his Pentagon advisers and recruited more Iraqi allies well before the war. Now in a scramble to catch up, the U.S. is sending Iraqis for military training to the same place in Hungary that we sent the Free Iraqi Forces that we disbanded after the war...The strange hostility to enlisting Iraqis exists on both the left and right. On the left, it seems rooted in a belief that Arabs will never be able to govern themselves; they need the U.N. to midwife the next strongman to keep all of the religious crazies in line.

Among some on the right, meanwhile, the preference is to send more American troops to Iraq. This seems intended to prove a long-time point that the U.S. needs a larger standing Army and a bigger Defense budget. But this was also the Westmoreland strategy during Vietnam, the illusion that just another 100,000 Yanks on the ground can pacify the country. Perhaps they'll also call for 'search and destroy' missions. A million Marines won't be enough if the Iraqi people aren't on our side.

The guerrilla war the U.S. is now fighting in Iraq is winnable, notwithstanding the current media pessimism. The terrorists have to be denied foreign aid and sanctuary. Better intelligence, which can only come from Iraqis, will be needed to ferret out the Baathists and jihadis. Above all, Iraqis themselves will have to begin taking responsibility for keeping the power on and maintaining order--in short, for governing themselves.

The paradox is that this will all be easier the more determined America is to stay as long as it takes to succeed. Mr. Bush has made that pledge many times, most recently last week. But the world also watches America's political debates and it remembers Saigon, Mogadishu and Beirut. We'd like to hear the President explain that his new U.N. strategy is about strengthening America's commitment to victory in Iraq, not the first step toward walking away.