Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Political Science and International Relations disciplines
Mary Baldwin College
Staunton, VA USA 24401
This editorial by Prof. Bowen was published May 25, 2003 in the News Leader (Staunton, VA): p. A9.
"Rome was not built in a day," or so goes the saying. But if America's critics would have it, Baghdad would have been rebuilt in a month. The same noisy chorus of skeptics we heard all winter decrying the plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein are at it again. In the words of West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, "we may have set the cause of freedom back 200 years.the smiling face of the U.S. as liberator is quickly assuming the scowl of an occupier,.the image of the boot on the throat has replaced the beckoning hand of freedom."
Of course, Sen. Bryd's hand never beckoned the Iraqi people with freedom. He was among the churlish crowd, a crowd less seen at our local courthouse since Baghdad's liberation. It is useful to recall the piquant charges made there before the war -who can forget one memorable local professor who opined to reporters to the effect that he believed George Bush, not Saddam, to be the "greatest threat to world peace." These views usefully should be recalled, for this week those nations whose governments most expressed that sick sentiment -France, Russia, and Germany-joined in a 14 to zero U.N. Security Council vote that granted to the U.S. and Britain legal right to continue to occupy and rule Iraq.
The Security Council action (May 22) is important: it legitimizes the American military rule of Iraq until such time as "an internationally recognized, representative government is established." That mandate aligns the realistic purpose of the war (to rid the world of a dangerous dictator linked to international terrorism and known to have possessed programs to produce dangerous weapons) and traditional American ideals. The ideals of freedom, as embodied in the jubilant celebrations greeting American soldiers in Baghdad on April 9, have always been joined in America with the ideal of self-government, as much for Iraqis as for all humans. Now that most cynical of world bodies, the U.N., has recognized the American and British purpose in Iraq to continue until "representative government" prevails there.
Order must come first, and risks to our soldiers attend the establishing of it. Renegade bombers and shooters may well continue to try to obstruct Iraq's recovery; with them, our Armed Forces will be swift and deadly. But far from the cartoon version of occupation seen by Sen. Byrd (the "boot on the throat"), American soldiers and civil administrators are now engaged in something quite different: rooting the new Iraqi state in justice. Vast excavations continue to unearth legions of corpses, victims of thirty years of killing by the now-deposed Baath Party dictatorship. Wrenching as the opening up of these mass graves and torture chambers are to watch, they are a necessary element in a vital process. American authority over Iraq, which is temporary and now U.N. approved, points toward not mere electoralism and a fast exit, but toward representative government established by a process in which justice is obtained. The fast sales here in the U.S. of decks of cards of the most wanted Iraqi suspects make light of a larger essence: American power will leave Iraq only when a system of justice has been created and the will of the people of Iraq has prevailed.
The impact of this project already is immense in ways that go beyond the rapid change to a more accommodating policy in Paris, Berlin, and Moscow. The nest for terrorists long maintained by Syria's Baath Party Government has become quite more insecure. Despite an upswing in terror bombings plotted and armed in Gaza, Damascus-based and Lebanon-based terror groups appear to have gotten the message that to continue their brand of international terror is unsafe to the future of their patron, Syria's Mr. Assad.
Farther afield, in Morocco and in Saudi Arabia within recent weeks, it is clear that not all terror groups have been persuaded of the folly in messing with America. But the tactical choice that used to find favor in the Middle East, the choice to quietly aid the Al Qaeda in hope of deflecting that group's anger away from local targets, that calculus is most changed by the American-British victory in Iraq. While the follow-through needed to finally bust all the Al Qaeda cells in the region will take some time, it is clear that pro-American regimes in words have been transformed into pro-American regimes in deeds. The inefficiency of police apparatus in Saudi Arabia - an outfit that could not beef up security at apartment complexes even with U.S. warnings of impending terrorist attacks-is coming to be seen as a danger to the royal family there, as much as it is a danger to Americans and other westerners working in the kingdom. A crackdown on terrorism's supporters seems imminent.
Let's recap the good news: Democracy formally established as a U.S. goal for Iraq, with U.N. endorsement; problem states (Syria) reining in the bad guys; equivocal friends finding backbone against terrorism (Morocco, Saudi Arabia); and recent nettles under our saddle (France, Germany, Russia) all now making nice. Looks like a pretty good Spring to me. If the Democrats want to follow Mr. Byrd and find only sour grapes in this horn of plenty, they will have themselves to blame when November 2004 brings a harvest of truly bad news.
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