Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Hitting Bedrock: the Battle for Iraq's Future

When American forces overthrew Saddam Hussein, they shredded the lid of terror that had contained the cauldron of seething cabals comprising Arab/Islamic society for years. The names and sects were different in each country, as were the preachers, but the primal aggression was the same. Middle Eastern tyrannies had developed along lines in which the Secret Police was valued more than a legislative assembly and bribery far more important than the provision of services. The function of the Arab tyrannies and dynasties which President Bush set out to destroy, besides enriching the ruling clique, was first and foremost to mask the underlying purulence and enable Arab society to lurch on like a zombie, the very image of life-in-death.

The spasms racking the Sunni and Shi'ite areas of Iraq, with their mixed messages of mutual ethnic hatred, aspirations to tribalism, theocracy, a life of crime, a demand for entitlement and a sheer love of killing are djinns escaping from a bottle to which Saddam was the cork. The West, and especially Europe, had long relied on mustachioed strongmen with kilometric names to keep these noxious spirits in place. But they seeped out nonetheless, establishing themselves in enclaves all around the world where, freed from the Secret Police, they set about the usual business of manufacturing bombs and poison, imported by a coterie of social workers who found their manners, because incomprehensible, most charming.

The greatest mistake America could make would be to take the counsel of the past and either reconstitute a dictatorship in Iraq or withdraw into the illusory safety of a Western homeland. Like the Spaniards, Americans will find the Jihadis already there before them, ready to pelt them at the homecoming parade. It should never forget that the reason America came to the Middle East in the first place was precisely to meet these toxic religious and political forces head on. And if American policy makers are shy about it, the Jihadis are not. They are lining up to fight Western infidels at an immigration office near you.

Those who scoff at the idea that Western freedom and material development can succeed where Saddam's torture chambers could not are ignoring the numbers. Human Rights Watch estimates that Saddam killed many hundreds of thousands to maintain his rule, most of them innocent people. The targeted assault of Sunni and Shi'a gangsters, whose total casualties are in the hundreds, stands in stark contrast. The differential is due not merely by the efficiency of the US Armed Forces, which would shorten the time, but not the carnage. The imbalance is due to the relative weights given to force and to development; to the fact that many Iraqis have gainful employment and other avenues of political action as never before. If there are less than a hundred thousand dead, it is because the 99,000 are working. The AC-130 or the MOAB are not America's ultimate weapon. It is the Iraqi Governing Council and the hope that it represents.

In this light, President Bush's insistence on maintaining the June 30 deadline for transferring authority is fundamentally correct. Victory is defined as the ability to impose one's will upon the enemy and America has done just that.  Yet a moment's reflection will reveal the surprising fact that by a subtle transmutation the enemy upon which America's will has been imposed is no longer a moth-eaten dictator but the malignant spirit itself.

It is said that the most ancient of Mesopotamian demons is Pazuzu.  Here, not far from historic Eden, he waxes strongest, contemptuous of the empires which tried to vanquish him only to fall in turn beneath his compulsion. And whether we believe in him or not, the story may serve as an allegory for the enemy that America's soldiers must vanquish, with steel in places, but with a weapon he cannot understand in all others.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.