EDITOR’S NOTE: This morning, we asked a few familiar faces for their thoughts as they watched the celebrations in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, as the Saddam Hussein regime seems to be officially coming to an end. We may add to this as the day rolls on, so check back in.
“Iraqis cheer as Saddam’s regime crumbles,” said a news announcement on my computer screen. As I watched the jubilant Baghdad crowds milling about while the looters looted, I thought of the many episodes in human affairs which began joyfully and often ended tragically. As an 18th-century British statesman, Sir Robert Walpole, put it after a 1739 British war declaration against Spain: “They now ring the bells, but they will soon wring their hands.”
The postwar struggle now begins with two questions in the forefront. First, how is a democratic system to develop in a culture in which the idea of participatory government doesn’t exist, where a Friday mosque sermon is certain to be more influential than a new government’s decree and in a region of the world where the very idea of democracy is regarded as a threat to existing tyrannies, theocracies and oligarchies?
Second, what is the future if anyof the existing international system in an era of now documentable unipolarity? Can a United Nations Security Council (the U.N. General Assembly has degenerated into a “get Israel” cabal) ever regain whatever influence it may once have had as a force for peace?
One final word: Tony Blair has just proven, as Churchill before him, there will always be an England. I’m not so sure about France.
— Arnold Beichman is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.
William J. Bennett
Freedom enabled and tyranny disabled is a wonderful thing to behold — and cherish. One sees the scenes in the south, middle, and north of Iraq and is taken back to the Berlin Wall just over a decade ago; one sees these scenes and wishes them for other oppressed peoples from Iran to China. “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal,” has been reified again, for a new generation — thanks to local resolve, patience, and American and British power. We have, yet again, deployed our power to liberate Muslims, even though it has often been Muslims who have attacked us. But that is who we are; and the dividend of Muslim democracy, however long it takes to entrench, will be worth the effort. The soul yearns for freedom, the arm brings it: we can take a good measure of repose in knowing we provided the strength behind both.
— William J. Bennett is the author of Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism, among other books.
Now comes the hard part. They are cheering because Saddam’s gone, not because we are there. Like everyone else in the world, they want to be ruled by their own people, not by foreigners. Everything now depends on the emergence of a patriotic elite that can take matters in hand and get some decent civil administration going. They are starting from scratch, the problems are immense, and there isn’t a lot we can do to help them. I hope that elite exists and will soon appear. Until it does, we should be careful and restrained. When we need to act, we must act quickly and unambiguously. Every country needs some civil authority, and for the time being, Coalition soldiers are all Iraq has got. While those tough-looking young men and boys fill the streets cheering and looting, there are middle-aged and old people, women and little kids, cowering in their homes wondering what’s coming next. Some kind of order must come next.
— John Derbyshire is a contributing editor to both National Review and National Review Online. His latest book is the upcoming Prime Obsession.
The long-awaited scenes of celebration from Iraq tell us this: Iraq’s own people have lost their fear of Saddam. They know that even if he still lives, he will not return. A chapter is closed.
But in Baghdad, a joyous crowd celebrates every regime change. In 1958, a military coup destroyed the royal family. The crowd seized the body of the regent and dismembered it. The trunk was secured to the balcony of the Defense Ministry. “A young man with a knife in his hand climbed a lamp-post nearby,” wrote an Iraqi witness, “and began cutting off the flesh, working from the buttocks upwards.”
No doubt, there are many in today’s crowds who would do the same to the body of Saddam — including people who, only last week, pledged themselves willing to sacrifice their spirit and blood for him.
The Iraqis, in the end, did not rise up. They waited to see the whites of American eyes before they headed into the streets. They did not earn their freedom; they had it delivered to them, U.S. federal express. It is doubtful they are ready to assume its responsibilities.
This is the time to put illusions aside, and take a hard look at the people whose fates we now control. Just as they could not remove the dictator without American lifting, they cannot make a civil order without American prodding. There’s nothing exceptional about an excitable crowd in Baghdad. “Liberation Day” will come only when the Iraqis go to the polls, and convene a parliament.
— Martin Kramer is editor of the Middle East Quarterly.
My first reaction to seeing American soldiers leave their Bradleys and strolling around Baghdad’s parks and palaces was simple joy.
Then caution kicked in -Baghdad’s a big place: there’ll be dirty close in fighting away from these broad plazas, there’s still Tikrit and the north-a whole careful Central Command briefing inside my head.
But, if we can’t rejoice now, we never can.
At last, at last, Iraqis celebrating, not just here or there, or tentatively, but massed in the heart of the capital, giving flowers to Marines and dancing on the remains of Saddam’s statues. The Washington Post quoting a Baghdad Imam, “Only now will I start living.”
And all in only three weeks, and so few dead, and no Scuds or WMD or terrorist attacks, and the major oilfields protected.
And then I thought of General Franks, and his chorus of critics in the 101st Armchair Brigade, and that all he has to do now is smile. And then I thought of the French, and smiled as well.
— Paul Marshall is senior fellow at Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom. His latest books, Islam at the Crossroads and God and the Constitution: Christianity and American Politics have just been released.