May 4, 2004 3:00 pm


Recent developments in the Middle East are so disturbing that I could not think of a more appropriate way to start this posting. News of the atrocious treatment of Iraqi prisoners by both American and British soldiers are endangering the moral foundations of the coalition forces at the worst of times. Not that they are any good times for such horrendous behavior but there is little doubt that Bremer's occupation tactics are failing and need swift readjustment.

Barbara Lerner offers the best analysis of the serious errors with one exception. If most Iraqis think they are occupied, it is because General Garner, the man who came to liberate them and who busied himself organizing an Iraqi council and preparing for some kind of election process was replaced on May 12 by retired State Department control freak named “Jerry” Bremer. Bremer disbanded the council Garner put together, announced that the United States and Britain are indeed “occupying powers” and fired those who disagreed. Powell seconded this characterization adding that the only question was whether the occupation would be effective, establishing order and preparing the way for Iraqi civilian government, or ineffective, compounding the chaos. Having given away the liberation trump card, Bremer proceeded to alienate every American supporter in Iraq and befriend every newsmen and politician in Washington.

Unfortunately, Bremer's mismanagement of Iraqi postwar politics is leading many analysts to what Robert Kagan calls, 'Lowering Our Sights' , i.e., giving up on democracy in Iraq. As Kagan explains:"The truth is, if the goal is stability, that the alternatives are no easier to carry out and no less costly in money and lives than the present attempt to create some form of democracy in Iraq. The real alternative to the present course is not stability at all but to abandon Iraq to whatever horrible fate awaits it: chaos, civil war, brutal tyranny, terrorism or more likely a combination of all of these -- with all that entails for Iraqis, the Middle East and American interests."

Moreover, such lowering of our sights would mean a real strategic defeat in the war on terror. Time and again I read that Arab rage fuels terrorism. False. Regional specialists argued that curtailing the presence of American forces in the Holy land of Saudi Arabia was the first Islamist priority. Indeed, Bin Laden openly so stated. The United States withdrew its forces from the kingdom. Did anyone noticed any reduction in Arab rage leading to Jihadist terrorism? On the contrary, even in Saudi Arabia terrorism increased.

Why? Because success is the best recruiting tool. 9/11 was a success, as was the American exit from Saudi Arabia and some of the follow-up bombings which killed mostly non Muslims and damaged Western economies. AL Qaeda's success in carrying out complex attacks against the West filled young Muslim hot heads with pride and a wish to join the successful operation. Bin Laden's call on Europe to surrender did not seem absurd to them. The Spanish elections confirmed what Bin Laden had been arguing for some time, that the West, most especially Europe, is too soft to fight.

Terrorists capture and the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan undermines them. Moderate Muslims can easily accuse them of not only not bringing additional territories under Muslim rule but losing two Muslim states along with some regions in Indonesia and Malaysia. Attacking America directly became too dangerous. Who knows where Bush would go next? Much safer Islamist conclude to concentrate on recapturing the lost territories, pressuring wavering American allies and forcing Muslim states to take sides by using their territory to attack Western targets. That is the reason for the recent spat of trouble in Saudi-Arabia, Jordan and Syria.

When George Bush said, you are either with us or with the terrorists, much of the world resented his wish to involve them and hoped to stay neutral. Indeed, they blame Bush's forceful response for the change in Bin Laden's strategy. They much preferred to see American embassies, naval vessels and cities continue to absorb the Islamist blows along with that eternal scapegoat, Israel. That is the reason they keep harping on the Palestinian issue, ignoring the fact that suicide bombings subsided in Israel not because the terrorists decided they were immoral but because they proved ineffective, indeed, costly!

In Iraq, Sunni violence is so effective, that the Shia felt they, too, have to resort to it. I can only think of one good reason to let a Saddam look alike general strut in Falluja, it is to remind the Shia who may return if Americans decide to leave. The idea that the test of success in Falluja is the coalition's ability to spread goodies, i.e., reconstruct the city, is an invitation for more violence. Reconstruction funds should be used to reward cooperative regions, not to appease violent ones. American tactics in Iraq resembles the pre-9/11 antiterrorist ones. If coalition soldiers continue to die in Iraq, it is because no one pays a price for killing them or supporting those who do. On the other hand, no one benefits from preventing more killing or from being cooperative.

Our sons and daughters deserve better.

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