By WILLIAM SAFIRE September 8, 2003
LONDON — While global attention is fixed on the Franco-German attempt to wrest control of the resurrection of Iraq from its U.S.-led liberators, practical elements in the Arab world are moving to influence the nascent government we have put in place in Baghdad.
In Cairo today, the Arab League considers whether to invite Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurd recently appointed foreign minister by Iraq's Governing Council, to provisionally occupy Iraq's seat. He is eager to make the three-hour flight to regional legitimacy.
What's in it for Arab dictators who want no part of a democratic experiment in their region? Apparently the recent exercise of U.S. will and power has been taken to heart; to accommodate reality, the Arab nations are likely to play ball with post-Saddam Iraqis, expecting (1) to continue Iraq in the OPEC cartel, (2) to ensure Iraq's support of Palestinians against Israel and (3) to prevent export of anti-Sunni zealotry. If President Bush abdicates control of Iraq to the U.N. soon, Arabs may gain all that and more.
On my return to the lists after vacation, let me animadvert on the swelling chorus of handwringing failuremongers. In Britain, for example, the BBC was recently revealed to have "sexed up" a story that accused Prime Minister Tony Blair of having "sexed up" a prewar intelligence report about Saddam's weaponry. When the anti-Blair, antiwar BBC learned of its reporter's exaggeration, it refused to correct his inflammatory story lest it appear to be caving in to government pressure. One board member claimed truth in reporting to be "less important" than an image of fearlessness.
Some European media that had mistakenly warned of a long, high-casualty campaign, and were discomfited by the ease of our military victory, now claim vindication. They cite the present lack of proof of mass-destruction weapons, the lawlessness that followed Saddam's emptying jails of all criminals, and continued sniping and bombing. Iraqis are shown on TV blaming American troops — not Baathist-paid terrorists — for lack of electric power, lack of water and lack of protection (though 11,000 elderly Iraqis did not die from lack of care in the summer heat).
In what is called here "the Daily Schadenfreude," the impression is being marketed that the rebuilding of Iraq is a colossal flop. That Arabs are culturally incapable of self-government. That Islamic fundamentalism will sweep away any Western notions of individual dignity. That while Saddam was admittedly a "bad guy," the hundreds of thousands of his victims who are missing are none of the West's concern, and that a cabal of neocon hawks manipulated President Bush into war.
So goes the failuremongers' pitch. Their purpose, beyond justification of their decade of appeasement, is to cast as both ignoble and doomed this most necessary long-term counter to state-sponsored and fanaticism-driven terror. To wear down our will, they emphasize the likelihood that as long as we stay to rebuild, terrorists will shoot at our service members and relief workers and will sabotage power plants and oil fields. As we return fire, inevitable pictures of bloodied innocents will be shown on home screens.
In the coming political campaigns, failuremongers in Europe and at home will exploit reactions to these costs in blood and treasure. They will beat the drums to abandon control to a feckless U.N. bureaucracy. George McGovern's slogan of 1972 will be echoed by de Villepin Democrats and some panicky Republicans: "Come home, America."
How best to answer the merchants of dismay? Counseling patience is not enough. "Staying the course" needs no sexing up, as our British allies say, but does require the coalition's measurable accomplishment of steady Iraqi-ization. (I seek a more pronounceable verb along with an indigenous Iraqi army.)
Success will be sped by straight reporting of the big picture as well as the shocking picture. Pols and pundits are obliged to cover misjudgment and misfortune, but also to examine evidence of progress toward a peaceful, prosperous, pluralistic Iraq led by the liberators, not the obstructionists.
Failure may boast a thousand fashionable fathers in this summer of discontent, but for us realistic optimists — if it succeeds, it leads.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company