Jewish World Review March 27, 2003 / 23 Adar II, 5763

David D. Perlmutter

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Time for Muslim world to prove the West wrong | As a college professor, I regularly conduct a class exercise to illustrate that the "national character" of peoples isn't genetically fixed.

I pick out an inoffensive coed with a Scandinavian name and ask her if, when she passes by a prosperous-looking town, she feels compelled to burn it down, kill the inhabitants and steal their cattle. Usually, the reply is a chuckled "No!" I comment that her predatory Viking ancestors would be displeased with her lack of bloodlust.

Now, many commentators tell us that the Iraqi people (and, by implication, all Muslims and Arabs) are intrinsically unable to sustain a participatory democracy and a civil society. The postwar aims of the United States and the world – even those who oppose the second Persian Gulf War – must be to prove them wrong.

The prescription for a transformation from a nation governed by genocidal tyranny must be drastic and immediate. In a world of proliferating madmen and weapons of mass destruction, we can't wait a millennium or even a generation.

First, destroy all elements and institutions of the old regime.

At the end of World War II, many Nazi leaders were convinced they would be kept in their posts because "the Allies need us to run the country." Instead, the Western Allies tried – and mostly succeeded – in physically and spiritually reforming Germany, Japan and Italy. (Notably, in the former Soviet Union, many gulag builders and party hacks retained local power, and the negative results are obvious.)

So, in this war, Saddam Hussein must go, but so must every functionary who saluted him. The people of Iraq must see the board swept clean and thus be invited to build an entirely new system of political and military governance.

Second, encourage and support Arabs and Muslims in the West to help build a civil society in Iraq.

Most American Muslims and Arabs are against the war. But once it is concluded, the president should argue that democratizing Iraq is the single greatest hope for avoiding a true clash of civilizations. Create Peace Corps-type programs for American Muslim and Arab teachers, business people and politicians so that they may travel and live for a time in Iraq, training, talking and making the case that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are inalienable rights worth living for.

Third, maintain a large but nonintrusive military presence in Iraq.

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops will need to stay in Iraq for several years, hunting down holdouts from the old regime and destroying weapons. U.S. soldiers also must keep low profiles, perhaps being based outside the major cities. An urban military should be composed of American-trained Iraqi self-defense forces but also contingents from Arab countries with emerging traditions of moderation and democracy, like Tunisia and Morocco. Above all, Iraqis must see U.S. soldiers as builders of schools, hospitals, bridges and peace.

Finally, make clear to regional players that their cooperation in rebuilding a free Iraq is welcome but that any interference will be regarded as an act of war.

It is fair to say the pre-Gulf War II Saddam Hussein was a minor military threat to his neighbors. Ironically, a democratic, civil-minded Iraq would be a moral threat to the ruling castes of many Middle East and Near East theocracies, kingdoms and tyrannies. The temptation for those players to try to sabotage the rule of law in Iraq will be great. The United States must make the costs of such adventurism unacceptable.

In such strategies, almost everyone has a role to play, not just the Marines, Iraqi-Americans and the White House. For example, the many millions in the West who have taken to the streets opposing the war have assured us that they are doing so for humanitarian reasons – such as saving the children of Iraq from the fallout of battle. After the war is over, they can prove the sincerity of their concerns by directing time, energy and money to helping rebuild the country for those children.

An Iraq that is saved by its own people and by the good will of foreign soldiers and citizens isn't a fantasy but a necessity. If a postwar Iraq fails, and if we fail a postwar Iraq, we will condemn the region and the world to many more wars with no hope of a positive outcome.

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JWR contributor David Perlmutter is an associate professor of mass communication at Louisiana State University and a senior fellow at the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs. He is the author of, among others, Visions of War : Picturing Warfare from the Stone Age to the Cyber Age. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2002, David Perlmutter