President Bush is fond of
cowboy imagery, so here's an image that comes to mind about our pending war with
Iraq. In most cowboy movies the good guys round up a posse before they ride into
town and take on the black hats. We're doing just the opposite. We're riding
into Baghdad pretty much alone and hoping to round up a posse after we get there.
I hope we do, because it may be the only way we can get out with ourselves, and
the town, in one piece.
This column has argued
throughout this debate that removing Saddam Hussein and helping Iraq replace his
regime with a decent, accountable government that can serve as a model in the
Middle East is worth doing — not because Iraq threatens us with its weapons,
but because we are threatened by a collection of failing Arab-Muslim states,
which churn out way too many young people who feel humiliated, voiceless and
left behind. We have a real interest in partnering with them for change.
This column has also
argued, though, that such a preventive war is so unprecedented and mammoth a
task — taking over an entire country from a standing start and rebuilding it
— that it had to be done with maximum U.N legitimacy and with as many allies
President Bush has failed
to build that framework before going to war. Though the Bush team came to office
with this Iraq project in mind, it has pursued a narrow, ideological and
bullying foreign policy that has alienated so many people that by the time it
wanted to rustle up a posse for an Iraq war, too many nations were suspicious of
The president says he went
the extra mile to find a diplomatic solution. That is not true. On the eve of
the first gulf war, Secretary of State James Baker met face to face in Geneva
with the Iraqi foreign minister — a last-ditch peace effort that left most of
the world feeling it was Iraq that refused to avoid war. This time the whole
world saw President Bush make one trip, which didn't quite make it across the
Atlantic, to sell the war to the only two allies we had. This is not to excuse
France, let alone Saddam. France's role in blocking a credible U.N. disarmament
program was shameful.
But here we are, going to
war, basically alone, in the face of opposition, not so much from "the Arab
Street," but from "the World Street." Everyone wishes it were
different, but it's too late — which is why this column will henceforth focus
on how to turn these lemons into lemonade. Our children's future hinges on doing
this right, even if we got here wrong.
The president's view is
that in the absence of a U.N. endorsement, this war will become "self-legitimating"
when the world sees most Iraqis greet U.S. troops as liberators. I think there
is a good chance that will play out.
But wars are fought for
political ends. Defeating Saddam is necessary but not sufficient to achieve
those ends, which are a more progressive Iraq and a world with fewer terrorists
and terrorist suppliers dedicated to destroying the U.S., so Americans will feel
safer at home and abroad. We cannot achieve the latter without the former. Which
means we must bear any burden and pay any price to make Iraq into the sort of
state that fair-minded people across the world will see and say: "You did
good. You lived up to America's promise."
To maximize our chances of
doing that, we need to patch things up with the world. Because having more
allied support in rebuilding Iraq will increase the odds that we do it right,
and because if the breach that has been opened between us and our traditional
friends hardens into hostility, we will find it much tougher to manage both Iraq
and all the other threats down the road. That means the Bush team needs an
"attitude lobotomy" — it needs to get off its high horse and start
engaging people on the World Street, listening to what's bothering them, and
also telling them what's bothering us.
Some 35 years ago Israel
won a war in Six Days. It saw its victory as self-legitimating. Its neighbors
saw it otherwise, and Israel has been trapped in the Seventh Day ever since —
never quite able to transform its dramatic victory into a peace that would make
Israelis feel more secure.
More than 50 years ago
America won a war against European fascism, which it followed up with a Marshall
Plan and nation-building, both a handout and a hand up — in a way that made
Americans welcome across the world. Today is a D-Day for our generation. May our
leaders have the wisdom of their predecessors from the Greatest Generation.
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