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Jewish World Review April 11, 2003 / 9 Nisan, 5763

Seth Gitell

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US must help Iraq achieve a democratic government which poses a threat neither to its own people nor to its neighbors in the region --- - what Michael Kelly would have wanted | Wednesday, shortly after noon, I exited St. John the Evangelist Church in Swamspcott, Ma. Pallbearers had just pushed the coffin carrying columnist Michael Kelly through the doors of the church out into the gray, raw, seaside dampness that always seems to permeate our region at times of mourning. Kelly, whom his father Tom and the Bishop Francis Irwin reminded us, died while traveling with the Third Infantry Division out of a desire to remove the despot Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and give the Iraqi people a chance at a better life.

When I got back into my car to make the drive down Route 1A back into Boston, the talk was of the liberation of Baghdad. As the Roman Catholic funeral mass for Kelly was being celebrated, young Iraqis, aided by American Marines, had torn down a massive statue of Hussein in the heart of the capital city. The very thing that Kelly had done so much to advocate for in recent years was actually happening --- while the man himself was being prepared to be lain to rest. It would have been a day Kelly would have loved to have seen.

The events in Baghdad weren't much of a consolation to Kelly's wife, Madelyn, or her two sons, Tom and Jack. The boys wailed when Kelly's name was first mentioned at the service.

The scope of the goings on in Baghdad went far beyond Boston's North Shore, which, however, could not escape their touch. Even as the Arab Street in Baghdad erupted in joy, shock and disbelief permeated the cities of Amman, Ramallah and Cairo. Having watched Al Jazeera and believed the bluster of information minister Mohammad Said Sahhaf, many Arabs did not know what to make of the disintegration of Hussein's resistance. There was to be no Stalingrad-style battle. The responses to the epochal events ranged from denial to the construction of detailed conspiracy theories to explain it all away. Some compared the rapid defeat to Israel's defeat of the Arab states in the 1967 war.

It's impossible to draw long-term consequences out of rapidly changing events. Some advocates for the Iraq War posited that establishing a democracy in Iraq will cause a domino-effect wave of democracy to make its way across the Middle East. Opponents of the war, such as historian and author Howard Zinn, whom I debated at Lasall College in Newton Monday, believe that the war will inspire a wave of terrorist violence against the United States.

My view is more complicated. The elimination of Hussein from Iraq, to my mind, is an unbridled good thing. The Middle East needs fewer tyrants. I don't believe that the US will be at any more risk following his ouster than before. Having said that, I honestly don't know what to make of the denial writ large we're seeing in the Arab world. How can the US and our allies make any case in the Arab world when individuals don't see events in the same terms at all? I'm not talking about having two different interpretations of events -- such as the Arabs focusing more on civilian casualties and our concentrating more on scenes of liberation -- that's to be expected. What troubles me more is the whole formulation of an almost alternate factual universe wherein many Al Jazeera viewers actually preferred to believe that the Iraqis were routing the Americans rather than the truth. (This is the dynamic identified in Fouad Ajami's important book Dream Palace of the Arabs.)

Back during the 1967 war, the Arabs were so convinced that they would defeat Israel that they actually convinced themselves that they were winning. After Israel's air force destroyed much of Egypt's air force in a surprise attack, Cairo Radio broadcast the following: "Our airplanes and our missiles are at this moment shelling all Israel's towns and villages." The Jordanians believed the Egyptian reports and interpreted a radar mass heading from Egypt to Israel as the Egyptians and did not send up planes to stop them.

For years, few in the Arab world could come to grips with the shock of 1967. One forward-thinking individual who did was Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian leader who replaced Gamal Abdel Nasser, one of the men most responsible for the 1967 debacle. Sadat, eventually, came to see peace with Israel as the only solution to his country's problems. In 1978, Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel which has held to this day. But 1967 also caused another reaction. It caused many within Egypt to turn away from the Pan-Arab nationalism advocated by Nasser. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, the forerunner to the Al Qaeda, came in direct relation to the discreditation of Arab nationalism.

I have never held to the construction that holds that instances of "American bullying" lead directly to creation of more terrorists. Nor do I believe that simply addressing economic problems, creating a new "Marshall Plan" for the Middle East, can solve the problems of that region. Neither, finally, do I view the existence of Israel, or even the existence of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, as the "root cause" of terrorism. Given the completely different way in which many Arabs view the world, how can any of these alternatives be true?

I do, however, believe, that these are times of crisis for much of the Arab world. I would hope that the demise of Hussein would lead many in the region to the similar conclusions as those of Sadat. I'm not confident of that. The Muslim Brotherhood, after all, assassinated Sadat in 1981.

But that is too broad a discussion for today. All the US can really worry about is Iraq right now. And the chief worry -- after locating Hussein's stores of chemical and biological weapons -- should be the same thought echoed at Kelly's funeral: the US must get the aftermath of the war right. Somehow, the US must help Iraq achieve a democratic government which poses a threat neither to its own people nor to its neighbors in the region. By doing at least this is an effective manner and working well with at least the population of Iraq, then part of the broader Middle East problem can be addressed. The liberation of Baghdad won't solve all the problems of the world. But it's a hell of a place to start. Michael Kelly knew that.

JWR contributor Seth Gitell is the political writer of the
Boston Phoenix Comment by clicking here.

04/04/03: Fighting house to house
03/21/03: After the war Will Bush's promise of democracy for Iraq be kept?
03/12/03: The North Korean hawks are missing the big picture
02/21/03: Urban fight: Military takes lessons from Mogadishu, Chechnya, Jenin
02/13/03: Imagine that, Bin Laden not listening to Chris Matthews!
02/06/03: Powell's powerful presentation
02/05/03: Making the case that Saddam Hussein is linked with Al Qaeda
01/31/03: Gen. Schwarzkopf is against going to war with Iraq. Since he messed things up so bad the first time around, why is anyone listening to him now?
01/24/03: Cynthia McKinney for president
01/16/03: The Sharpton test
01/13/03: Lieberman is in a pickle --- and it's becoming increasingly more sour
12/26/02: Where does the war on terror go from here?
12/23/02: Why democracy never came to Iraq after the last Gulf War
12/20/02: Vermont governor Howard Dean hopes to bridge the gulf between New England and the Western states, and bypass the socially conservative South. Should John Kerry be worried?
12/18/02: No Gore 2004: Follow the Money
12/06/02: Gore, like Dicken's Jacob Marley, Dead as a Door-nail
10/24/02: War with Iraq may not happen, after all
10/22/02: Winning European hearts and minds
10/18/02: Lieberman makes 'em laugh --- on purpose
10/04/02: Hawking an interpretation (in which Scott Ritter tells our columnist to 'go to H-LL!')
09/13/02: Bush Challenge to U.N. Members: Are You Better than League of Nations?
09/06/02: Iraq attack: Ritter's reversal
08/30/02: Stick with comedy, Jon Stewart
08/16/02: Green around the gills: Nader Effect could cost the Dems the election in three states
08/01/02: Gore's low profile is no accident
07/31/02: President Hillary? Despite her denials, candidacy is not that unlikely
07/26/02: On the road with John Kerry
07/17/02: Meet the 'Clinton' of the 2004 New Hampshire primary
07/12/02: Ancient rivalry: Williams vs. DiMaggio
07/10/02: Warrior spirit
05/08/02: Hosting a TV show will keep Clinton off the streets
04/26/02: Truth in advertising in SaudiLand --- and ours
02/28/02: Time for hipsters to do a reality-check

© 2002, Seth Gitell