Fouad Ajami: Now Is the Time to Stay the Course in Iraq





Fouad Ajami, in the WSJ (May 12, 2004):

Consider a tale of three cities: In Fallujah, there are the beginnings of wisdom, a recognition, after the bravado, that the insurgents cannot win in the face of a great military power. In Najaf, the clerical establishment and the shopkeepers have called on the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr to quit their city, and to "pursue another way." It is in Washington where the lines are breaking, and where the faith in the gains that coalition soldiers have secured in Iraq at such a terrible price appears to have cracked. We have been doing Iraq by improvisation, we are now "dumping stock," just as our fortunes in that hard land may be taking a turn for the better. We pledged to give Iraqis a chance at a new political life. We now appear to be consigning them yet again to the same Arab malignancies that drove us to Iraq in the first place.

We have stumbled in Abu Ghraib. But the logic of Abu Ghraib isn't the logic of the Iraq war. We should be able to know the Arab world as it is. We should see through the motives of those in Cairo and Amman and Ramallah and Jeddah, now outraged by Abu Ghraib, who looked away from the terrors of Iraq under the Baathists. Our account is with the Iraqi people: It is their country we liberated, and it is their trust that a few depraved men and women, on the margins of a noble military expedition, have violated. We ought to give the Iraqis the best thing we can do now, reeling as we are under the impact of Abu Ghraib -- give them the example of our courts and the transparency of our public life. What we should not be doing is to seek absolution in other Arab lands.

Take this scene from last week, which smacks of the confusion -- and panic -- of our policies in the aftermath of a cruel April: President Bush apologizing to King Abdullah II of Jordan for the scandal at Abu Ghraib. Peculiar, that apology -- owed to Iraq's people, yet forwarded to Jordan. We are still held captive by Pan-Arab politics. We struck into Iraq to free that country from the curse of the Arabism that played havoc with its politics from its very inception as a nation-state. We had thought, or implied, or let Iraqis think, that a new political order would emerge, that the Pan-Arab vocation that had been Iraq's poison would be no more.

The Arabs had let down Iraq, averted their gaze from the mass graves and the terrors inflicted on Kurdistan and the south, and on the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala and their seminarians and scholars. Jordan in particular had shown no great sensitivity toward Iraq's suffering. This was a dark spot in the record of a Hashemite dynasty otherwise known for its prudence and mercy. It was a concession that the Hashemite court gave to Jordan's "street," to the Palestinians in refugee camps and to the swanky districts of Amman alike. Jordan in the 1980s was the one country where Saddam Hussein was a mythic hero: the crowd identified itself with his Pan-Arab dreams, and thrilled to his cruelty and historical revisionism. This is why the late king, Hussein, broke with his American ties -- as well as with his fellow Arab monarchs -- after the invasion of Kuwait. His son did better in this war; he noted the price that Jordan paid in the intervening decade. He took America's side, and let the crowd know that a price would be paid for riding with Saddam. But no apology was owed to him for Abu Ghraib. He was no more due an apology for what took place than were the rulers in Kathmandu....


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