Jewish World Review Marchb 5, 2003 / 1 Adar II, 5763

Terry Eastland

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America's imperial intentions | Removing Saddam Hussein from power would eliminate the direct and growing threat he poses to the United States. That alone is justification for war against Iraq. Our security is at stake. Yet we wouldn't be the only ones to benefit from Saddam Hussein's demise. So would the Iraqi people.

President Bush made that point last week in a speech in which he contemplated life in Iraq after Saddam Hussein. Iraqis, he said, now "live in scarcity and fear, under a dictator who has brought them nothing but war, misery and torture." Not to mention death: Hundreds of thousands have been killed since Saddam Hussein took office in 1978.

As soon as Saddam Hussein is gone, the Iraqis will have relief on a scale we Americans can't imagine. And, as Mr. Bush recognized, they also will have immediate needs. He promised food, medicine and other emergency aid. And he emphasized that weapons of mass destruction would be located and destroyed and that natural resources would be protected "from sabotage" and used "for the benefit of the owners - the Iraqi people."

Looking not that far down the road, Mr. Bush addressed the important subject of the regime to which Iraq might change. "The United States," he said, "has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people. Yet we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another. All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected."

Mr. Bush chose those words in order to meet Arab and European concerns that the United States has imperial intentions. We don't, he said. But he also declared a firm interest in what happens in Iraq once Saddam Hussein is ousted: The new government can't be a dictatorship, and the actual form of government the Iraqis do choose must include all citizens and protect their rights. In so many words, Mr. Bush was recommending to the Iraqis the choice of democracy.

That recommendation is notable not least because American foreign policy for years supported dictators in the Middle East. One thinks of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran and even Saddam Hussein (in the 1980s).

Furthermore, in making such a recommendation, Mr. Bush rejected the idea that Islamic peoples are incapable of establishing free institutions. Indeed, Mr. Bush characterized those who doubt that Iraq is "fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom" as "mistaken."

He explained: "It is presumptuous and insulting to suggest that a whole region of the world - or the one-fifth of humanity that is Muslim - is somehow untouched by the most basic aspirations of life. Human cultures can be vastly different. Yet the human heart desires the same good things everywhere on earth. In our desire to be safe from brutal and bullying oppression, human beings are the same. In our desire to care for our children and give them a better life, we are the same."

In those respects, human beings are the same. But it doesn't follow that the Muslim world, and Iraq in particular, will "move toward democracy." The history of the Muslim world provides little reason to support Mr. Bush's belief that it will. Even so, he clearly is committing his presidency to that proposition.

In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton observed that the presidency was created in such a way as to call forth "extensive and arduous enterprises" from its occupants. Not just in the war on terrorism but also in the related effort to liberate Iraq and midwife democracy in that country, President Bush has embarked on unquestionably huge and difficult, not to mention risky, enterprises. In time we will see whether, as Mr. Bush put it in his speech, "the resolve and purpose of America ... will make this an age of progress and liberty."

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JWR contributor Terry Eastland is is publisher of The Weekly Standard.Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Terry Eastland