One hardly knows whom to pity more, American parents who fork over more than $30,000 a year to finance their child’s college education or the ``beneficiaries" of that education. That question is triggered by news that the Faculty Senate of UCLA, one of the country’s leading universities voted 180-7 in favor of a resolution opposing Operation Iraqi Freedom.
That vote, mind you, did not take place prior to the outset of the war when arguments, some of them not totally implausible, could still have been made against American military intervention in Iraq. Nor did it take place during the first week of the war when the media was abuzz with the news that Saddam’s troops had not immediately laid down their arms and Iraqi citizens had not yet been seen tossing flowers at Allied troops.
Rather the vote took place on April 14 after the war was for all intents and purposes over and none of the anti-war lobby’s dire predictions had come to pass – no ecological disaster triggered by the Saddam blowing up Iraq’s oil wells, no tens of thousands of allied troops exposed to biological and chemical weapons, no million civilian casualties, not even close to ten thousand.
Even with Saddam Hussein removed from the scene and no longer in a position to menace the world or terrorize his own people, these academics still felt the need to express the opinion that the world was a worse place by virtue of that fact. The loudest applause of the meeting of the UCLA academic Senate was reserved for physics professor Karloy Holczer who proclaimed the moral superiority of he and his colleagues to all other American citizens: ``The few academic senates in the country are the only organizations who should take a stand on human morals. It’s more than our right, it’s our obligation."
Confronted with the collective wisdom of their would be mentors, UCLA students, and those on many other leading campuses, find themselves in a lose-lose situation. Either they imbibe the silliness of their professors, or they cynically conclude that if academic expertise produces fools, then there is no body of knowledge worth acquiring and that those who have preceded them have no wisdom to impart to them.
The timing of the UCLA faculty resolution leads one to suspect that the distinguished academics were actually disappointed that not only had allied forces won, but that they did so overwhelmingly. The same wish for an American comeuppance no doubt informed all those media stories in the first week of the war implying that American planners had been thrown into panic and confusion by Saddam’s tactics.
Yet once the battle had been joined only one of two outcomes was possible: Either Saddam would win or George W. Bush and Tony Blair would prevail. One shudders about the consequences for the safety of citizens of every Western democracy had Saddam successfully defied the military forces arrayed against him and remained in power.
As Osama Bin Laden has famously reminded us, ``When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they will naturally prefer the strong horse." That is particularly true in the Arab world where power, and the willingness to exercise it ruthlessly, commands respect. Had Saddam survived, he would have been transformed into an idol for millions of Arabs, spawning countless imitators and wannabes, just as Bin-Laden was after September 11.
Instead he has been turned into an idol with feet of clay. In the words of one Palestinian, he has gone from ``hero to zero" overnight in the Palestinian refugee camps. And that is as it should be if there is ever to be any change in the Arab world. The famous Arab street, of which we are always being warned, once again failed to erupt in the face of the overwhelming Allied victory, just as it remained quiet when the Taliban was evicted from Afghanistan.
Had the Allies failed to emerge victorious, or had that victory come at a steep price, America would likely have retreated into the neo-isolationism called for by Patrick Buchanan, as it did after Vietnam. The world’s rogue states would then have felt free to acquire the most destructive weaponry and to continue providing sanctuary and sponsorship to a wide variety of terrorist groups without the fear of any adverse consequences. The decisive show of American and British resolve, however, caused the leaders of Syria and Iran to wonder if the same fate lies in store for them. Even North Korean dictator Kim Jong II, who already possesses nuclear arms, has shown a greater flexibility in recent weeks.
AS CRUCIAL AS IT WAS that America win the war, it is no less vital that she win the peace. September 11 awakened us to the fact that the Arab world and Iran today constitutes one large festering swamp and that the mosquitos breeding there threat all of us. It is no longer tenable to treat the failed dictatorships and monarchies of the Middle East as a given. Either the nations of the Middle East and the attitudes of its peoples will be transformed or we will all have to live our lives in the same type of fear that Israel’s Jews have experienced since October 2000.
The dismal failures of Arab nations breed resentment and an almost unlimited sense of grievance against the West. That sense of grievance is nurtured by leaders in order to avoid a confrontation with the internal sickness of Arab society, and it is easily manipulated by religious fanatics preaching revenge on the West for the ``wrong" inflicted on the Arab world by virtue of its superiority by every measure of civilization.
The U.N. Arab Human Development Report produced by Arab intellectuals identifies the nature of the internal sickness of the Middle East. The entire region suffers from critical deficits of freedom, empowerment of women, and knowledge relative to the rest of the world. On the Freedom House scale of freedom (on which 7 is the least free) the median for Arab nations is 5.5. For the rest of the world it is 2.5.
A lack of freedom lies at the root of the failure of Arab societies. Saddam Hussein is but the most egregious example of a general pattern of the consequences of one-man rule or that of hereditary oligarchies. As Professor Ephraim Karsh points out, under Saddam all Iraqi domestic and foreign policies was determined by the one overriding goal of maintaining power. And like all dictators, Saddam found himself forced to continually raise the stakes in order to survive.
In democracies leaders preserve their power by improving the lives of their subjects; in dictatorships they preserve power by terrorizing their subjects and distracting them with external enemies. The latter inevitably fail to utilize the country’s natural and human resources because the focus of the regime is not on maximizing the well-being of the population. In Saddam’s 24 years in power, for instance, Iraq went from a regional superpower, with 35 billion dollars in foreign currency reserves, to a beggar nation.
The Allied victory offers the chance to create in Iraq the first Arab democracy. That it can be done is far from certain, and doing so will require the massive investment of time and resources. It took years of American presence to create the necessary basis for democracy in Germany and Japan after the war. And Japan and Germany at least had the advantage of a common ethnic identity. That is not the case with Iraq – an artificial creation of the British Foreign Office, in which Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, and a host of smaller ethnic groups were thrust together uneasily. Some form of federated government, along geographic lines, will be necessary in Iraq if the various ethnic groups are to live together in harmony.
Power in Iraq has traditionally been concentrated in the hands of the minority Sunnis, who constitute only 20% of the population. The American State Department would like to keep it that way in deference to the wishes of the Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, each of which has large and restless Shiite populations. That is one of the reasons that America stop short of finishing Saddam off in 1991. The State Department has not yet realized that the so-called moderate rulers of Saudia Arabia and Egypt are part of the problem (though the House of Saud’s sponsorship of Wahibbi fanaticism around the world is at last beginning to get the attention it deserves).
Granting the majority Shiite population of Iraq its fair share of power has been used by the State Department to conjure up fears of Iranian influence and the import of Iran’s fundamentalist revolution to Iraq. Such fears cannot be dismissed out of hand, and the Iranian ayatollahs may well try to play the role of spoilers. But they do so because they recognize that a democratic Iraq represents the greatest possible threat to their continued rule. The Shiite population of Iran has had its fill of Islamic rule and yearns for Western freedoms. Khomeini’s failed Shiite revolution in Iran is a poor candidate for export to Iraq so long as the latter’s Shiite population is not unfairly shut out of power in the post-Saddam Iraq. A successful democratic revolution in Iraq is a far better candidate for export to Iran.
Obstacles far more daunting than the military ones facing Allied forces still confront American efforts at democratizing Iraq. But avoiding the effort is not one of the options. The old Middle East is a powder keg waiting to explode. It must be defused before the resulting explosion takes the rest of the world with it.