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Monday | April 21, 2003

The Third Bubble?

Tom Friedman wrote the following:

Yes, this Iraq war was about Saddam. For George Bush and Tony Blair, though, I think it was about something larger, but unstated. They were implicitly saying: "This terrorism bubble has come to threaten open societies and all they value. So, we're going to use Iraq — because we can — to demonstrate to you that we'll come right into the heart of your world to burst this bubble. Take note."

We and the Arab-Muslim world must now draw the right conclusions. One hopes Americans will now stop overreacting to 9/11. Al Qaeda is not the Soviet Union. Saddam was not Stalin. And terrorism is not communism. America sliced right through Iraq. It did so because we are a free-market democracy that is capable of amassing huge amounts of technical power. And it did so because our soldiers so cherish what they have that they were ready to fight house to house from Basra to Baghdad. That was the real shock and awe for Iraqis — because the terrorism bubble said Nasdaq-obsessed Americans were so caught up with the frivolity of modern life, they had lost the will to fight. Wrong.

We are strong because of who we are. Iraq was weak because of what it was. So, yes, let's add a metal detector or two at the airports, but let's stop thinking we have to remake our whole society, constrict all civil liberties, ban all Arab students and throw out all our foreign policy doctrines that have served us so well — from deterrence to collective security to the usefulness of the U.N. — to meet this new terrorism threat. We do not, and we must not.

The message to Arabs who are depressed at how quickly Saddam folded is: You can't take on America without building something of substance of your own. You thought rogues like Saddam would bring you dignity. They have only distracted you from doing what it takes to really build your own societies.

We are all now in a post-bubble world. We need to calm down and get back to nurturing the sort of open society that is the real source of our strength. The Arab-Muslim states need to understand that if they build up this terrorism bubble again — and it may well happen — America will burst it again. But they also need to know that if they want to rebuild their societies, starting with Iraq, on a real foundation of decency, tolerance and rule of law, we will pay any price and bear any burden to help them — if they want us.

Is he out of his mind?

No, seriously, does he take a look at Iraq, a country teetering on the egde of instability, and says terrorism is over? Honestly, I would suggest that terrorism has just begun. Saddam was like rooting for an underdog in the NCAA's, the Arab world wanted to see how far he could go before he lost. But they knew he was going to lose.

The way the Iraqi war ended, as well as the nightly shootings around Iraq's major cities, might indicate that terrorism is not as easy to respond to as the stock market bubble. Instead, I would argue that a different bubble has burst, the image of the US as powerbroker in the Middle East. Now, as an occupying power, deals with the US can only be made warily. The US, by using force in Iraq and annoucing plans to impose a government, has lost credibility in solving problems in the region.

By placing so many men in the region, anyone with a grievance against the US is now free to act.

Tommorow and Wednesday are the first truly critical days in our occupation of Iraq. That is because the Shia are marching to Najaf by the hundreds of thousands. If Al-Hakim, who is returning from Tehran, and his fellow clerics call for active opposition to the US occupation, our stay in Iraq could be short and bloody.

Power abhors a vacuum and it seems the hard men from Terhan may seek to fill it.

Steve Gilliard

Posted April 21, 2003 01:33 AM | Comments (123)


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