Monday, August 04, 2003

Tom Friedman says once again that

the good reasons for this war — to unleash a process of reform in the Arab-Muslim region that will help it embrace modernity and make it less angry and more at ease with the world — will take years to play out.

Our project of making the Iraqis more at ease with the world by invading them without provocation under false pretenses, installing a woefully unprepared authority which can't even communicate with the people it's supposed to rule, dispatching scared, trigger-happy troops who frequently offend local custom out of sheer ignorance, with frequently lethal results, and unleashing a wild spree of looting and worse which we have yet to bring under control, will certainly take quite some time to play out.

But it's not too early to ask for a progress report.

Two useful bullet points:

  • For lack of any other functioning authority, the Shiites in Najaf are going to religious courts established by hotheaded young clerics -- who condone honor killings and are already calling for an end to the US occupation (with the idea, no doubt, that they stay in control).
  • Meanwhile, when the Bahraini phone company started offering cell-phone service in Iraq, the American authority quickly shut them down. It seems the Arabs are supposed to embrace modernity on our schedule, not their own.

Friedman's rationale for invasion hasn't changed since before the war -- when he was happy to say that he didn't believe Saddam was a threat, but that we should invade anyway because we needed to civilize the Arabs by force. Not quite his words, but there's no other reading of the sentiment, as I noted last winter, when I also noted that mere exposure to Western ways didn't seem to damp Islamic fanaticism (growing up in Britain didn't help Richard Reid), and warned that any American occupation of Iraq, much less a botched one, could be Osama bin Laden's dream recruiting tool.

Is it too early to ask what plans Friedman has up his sleeve should we fail in the project?

Friedman gives other reasons for the war in the same column. It was supposed to "send a message to all the neighboring regimes that Western governments were not going to just sit back and let them incubate suicide bombers and religious totalitarians, whose fanaticism threatened all open societies." Never mind that our declared allies -- Pakistan and Saudi Arabia -- were far more active in both those spheres than Iraq could ever have been, Pakistan in particular having been instrumental in the creation of the Taliban. Both say they're cooperating now, but there are plenty of reasons to question whether either Pakistan or the Saudis are fully sincere.


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