FORUM
Disarming Iraq is only a start in Middle East
Zev Chafets November 12, 2002
The United States is going to war.

On Friday, minutes after the U.N. Security Council passed its Iraq disarmament resolution, President Bush made it clear that Saddam Hussein must get rid of his weapons of mass destruction, or else.

Else is inescapable.  There is absolutely no way Saddam will comply with the demands.  He can't.  At the first sign of weakness, his people will tear him to shreds.

Not, it must be said, out of any deep hunger for freedom.  No Arab society anywhere has ever manifested the slightest desire for freedom as we understand it.

Arab students demonstrate for more state and religious repression, not less.  Arab crowds march for war, not peace.  Arab leaders like Jordan's first King Abdullah and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat are assassinated because they are considered too liberal, not too harsh.

The Iraqis have their own reasons for wanting to do away with Saddam.  His family, tribe, sect and faction have ruled them ruthlessly and stolen them blind.  Now they would like the chance to murder Saddam's family, tribe and faction and enrich themselves.  This is the pattern of what is known as modern Arab political reform.  There is no other.

Bush has tried to frame the impending invasion as national liberation.  "The time has come for the Iraqi people to escape oppression, find freedom and live in hope," he said Friday.  The Yanks are coming to create Paris on the Euphrates.

There is nothing wrong with this sort of rhetoric, as long as Bush doesn't believe it.  The tribes, clans, sects and oligarchies of Iraq have their rivalries, but like Arabs everywhere in the Middle East, they are not anxious for freedom as we understood it.

Open debate, religious equality and secular democratic government are regarded by the best people as subversive, unnatural.

Iraqis of all persuasions, after brief, ritualistic rice-throwing and candy-tossing at the conquering GIs, will turn against American troops and denounce Washington as an imperialist occupier.  Doves see this as an argument against going to war.  In fact, it is just the opposite.  It illuminates why war is necessary and why Iraq is just the beginning.

Less than 60 years after decolonization, the Arab Middle East is (by Western standards, to be sure) the world's most backward, xenophobic and irrational region.  These characteristics, when married to state sovereignty and the weapons that sovereignty can afford, is life-threatening.

There is nothing the United States can do in the short term to improve the collective mental health of Arab societies.  It can't make people embrace values they despise or accept practices they consider satanic.

What the United States can do is take missiles and bombs away from the Middle East's most hostile and deranged regimes and their terrorist proxies.

This is, obviously, a much more ambitious goal than the disarmament of Iraq.  It involves giving the Arabs and Iran a stark choice: In the age of nuclear weapons, they can have sovereignty or jihad (in its secular or religious forms), but not both.

On Friday in the Rose Garden, Bush began putting this into words.  The United States, he declared, will no longer "live at the mercy of any group or regime that has the motive and seeks the power to murder Americans on a massive scale."

Starting, but not ending, with the government of Saddam Hussein.

Zev Chafets is a columnist for the New York Daily News, 450 W. 33rd St., New York, N.Y. 10001; e-mail: zchafets@yahoo.com .

©New Haven Register 2002