Politics & Policy

The Iraqis and The Neocons

Arab democracy is a work in progress.

In that wonderful way the old media have for admitting error, the Washington Post last week announced in breathless tones that many “anti-American” Iraqi leaders have been busily denouncing the “insurgents” for the constant attacks on Iraqis. The “anti-American” bit is misleading. It would be more accurate to say “anti-occupation,” which would make it possible for the American public to appreciate one of the two great things about Iraqi liberation: namely, the Iraqis themselves (the other great thing is the American military).

The Iraqis have a fine understanding of their situation, as reflected in many polls and anecdotes. In big majorities, here is what they think:

‐Happy to have been liberated from the monster Saddam, thus grateful to the Coalition forces, especially the Americans;

‐Unhappy to be occupied, thus angry at the Coalition Provisional Authority, especially the haughty Ambassador Bremer, who rarely missed an opportunity to present himself as the savior of the country and bridled at the very idea that Iraqis–especially anti-Baathist Iraqis–should be entrusted with the management of the country;

‐Eager to have the occupiers leave, but also:

‐Eager to have Coalition forces remain to help protect Iraq against the onslaught of terrorists (can we stop calling them “insurgents” finally?), both from the ranks of the Baathists, and from abroad.

Good attitudes, don’t you think? Rational, sensible, and mature. And along with their clear-eyed views, the Iraqis have shown a toughness and resiliency that few expected. The more common forecast was that the Iraqis were exhausted and broken after the long, harsh dictatorship, and that it would take quite some time, a generation anyway, before they would be capable of self-government.

In short, the Iraqis are providing exactly what the doctor ordered, and it’s particularly gratifying because the Iraqis have been given an enormous, perhaps even historic burden. The Iraqi people are the test case of the conviction that people everywhere, even the much-despised Arab people, want to be free and are capable of governing themselves. If the Iraqis succeed, they will surely inspire a vast democratic revolution throughout the region. If they fail, the tyrannical terror masters in Damascus, Tehran, and Riyadh will live to kill yet again.

So far, at least, they are exceeding expectations, and they are saying things that our own leaders seem afraid to say: namely, that the wave of terrorism in Iraq is in large part the work of foreigners. Unlike, say, the Department of State, Iraqi leaders–most definitely including some top Shiites–are quite outspoken about Iran’s vigorous actions supporting the terror network inside Iraq. It’s quite likely that the new Iraqi Government will bring some much-needed clarity to discussions of the terror war.

Of course there are things that don’t inspire me. I’m worried about Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s ugly past, and I’m very worried about the return of so many Baathists to positions of considerable power–this last the result of Bremer’s ill-judged turnaround on DeBaathification. I’m not impressed with Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, but I think we’ve made enough errors about the training of the new Iraqi security forces so that some of the most egregious ones will be avoided henceforth. Said Iraqi security forces seem to be fighting much better, especially in the recent victory over Moqtada al Sadr. Let’s hope they perform as well in the upcoming battles in and around Fallujah.

But the bottom line is that it’s getting increasingly difficult to maintain the old racist doctrine that Arabs can’t govern themselves, and that our job is therefore to pick the best available tough guy to run the place. Those of us who argued from the beginning that there were plenty of Iraqis capable of governing the country, and therefore that our plan for liberation needed to be much more political, have every reason to think we were right.

And one more thing, never mentioned in the old media. Who was that Iraqi Shiite politician who spent days negotiating the agreement in Najaf that sent Moqtada out of the city and into abject defeat? It was Ahmad Chalabi, the State Department’s and CIA’s most despised Iraqi. And for those of you who still think that Chalabi might secretly be the Iranians’ key agent inside Iraq, ask yourself how the mullahs felt when Moqtada tucked his long forked tail between his legs and limped off to lick his wounds. They hated it. And Chalabi was the key figure in the negotiations. Some agent he turned out to be!

So the conventional wisdom has failed once again. The Iraqis turn out to be much better than the pundits thought, there is a real hope for an Iraqi model for the rest of the region, and the idea of Arab democracy is not a fantasy but a work in progress.

Maybe somebody might give some credit to President Bush for intuitively understanding what the bureaucratic gurus rejected out of hand: that the surest way to defeat the terror masters is to support democratic revolution in the Middle East.

Michael LedeenMichael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, foreign-policy analyst, and writer. He is a former consultant to the National Security Council, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. ...


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