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

Jim Hoagland

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Saddam's final mistake | Saddam Hussein never expected American foot soldiers to come to Baghdad in three weeks. He expected to have time to get organized as U.S. warplanes tried to bomb him into submission. But political death flew through the desert toward the Iraqi dictator on armored cheetah paws. Three decades of tyranny popped at dawn like a punctured balloon.

President Bush prudently suggests that while the political liberation of Iraq has occurred, the war is not yet over. That is on target: Bush has accomplished regime death, but not yet regime change. In Iraq and in the region, the old is dying, the new is not yet born and morbid symptoms appear in the interim, as Italian communist philosopher Antonio Gramsci observed in another context.

Bush needed certainty and firm resolution to wage and win this just war. He will need the opposite qualities to manage its aftermath in Iraq and globally. He will need to keep an open mind, be skeptical of just about every prediction he is given about Iraqis and other Arabs, and live by his pledge in the 2000 presidential campaign to be "humble" in managing America's enormous power in world affairs.

The president and Vice President Cheney have led the way in fulfilling a profound moral obligation to the Iraqi people that the United States took on and then put aside with shocking casualness 12 years ago. You cannot wage a destructive air war on a civilian population, then subject it to periodic air attacks and economic sanctions, and still pretend you are not responsible for its fate. This war is not immoral; it is the past years of U.S. neglect, evasion and deceit on Iraq that have been immoral.

The most recent cycle of immorality has been brought to an end by the son of George H.W. Bush, who helped launch it. The elder Bush has always argued that he could not have gone to Baghdad at the end of the Gulf War in 1991 because the international coalition he headed would have collapsed, there would have been no certainty that troops could find and eliminate Saddam Hussein, and American and Iraqi casualties would have mounted.

His son did go to Baghdad. And all of those things did happen. Elder Bush understood the mechanics of the thing pretty well. But Bush the son understood the deeper reality of America's role in the world, especially post-9/11: There are risks that must be taken and prices that must be paid in creating a safer, more humane world order. That had to begin by redeeming America's obligations in Iraq.

U.S. intelligence has picked up signs that the speed and mobility of Operation Iraqi Freedom flummoxed Hussein and his commanders, who had prepared for a replay of Desert Storm. Vietnam, Somalia and Bill Clinton's willful refusal to look at Iraq as a serious problem had conditioned the Iraqi dictator to expect another U.S. flinch.

Gen. Tommy Franks actually played off of Saddam Hussein's expectations in designing his war plan, I am told. The only quagmires in Iraq flowed from the pens of journalists and others who made the same assumptions Hussein made.

But Iraq will be a success for America and for Bush only if he now moves resolutely and visibly to calm the fears about U.S. power, ambitions and sense of justice that Baghdad's fall sends reverberating through the region and the world. This campaign returns the responsibility of Iraq to the Iraqi people. That is the guiding principle as the Day After becomes the Here and Now.

American help in organizing a political process to produce a new leadership must be light, deft and firmly rooted in our own democratic practices. To accomplish this, Bush personally will have to curb the understandable but self-defeating desire by U.S. military commanders, diplomats and intelligence agents to turn the car keys over to experienced drivers -- to the lower-ranking generals and Baath Party commissars who wielded power before.

The country's three major population groups -- Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds -- must all find benefits in demilitarization, de-Baathification and decentralization under a loose federal system. The American model of competitive executive and legislative branches that frequently prevent each other from getting anything done should be helpful to prevent future dictatorship.

Globally, Iraq cannot be treated by Washington as the opening shot in an era of American preventive wars or extended U.S. military domination of the Middle East. Iraq is sui generis, a one-time, per-presidency war not fought in response to direct attack. This campaign's ultimate success will lie in helping make sure there will be no need to repeat it.

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