Sunday, April 6
White man's burden
Ari Shavit, Haaretz/com, April 7, 2003
The war in Iraq was conceived by 25 neoconservative intellectuals, most of them Jewish, who are pushing President Bush to change the course of history. Two of them, journalists William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer, say it's possible. But another journalist, Thomas Friedman (not part of the group), is skeptical. [...]
Has America bitten off more than it can chew? Bill Kristol says no. True, the press is very negative, but when you examine the facts in the field you see that there is no terrorism, no mass destruction, no attacks on Israel. The oil fields in the south have been saved, air control has been achieved, ...
... Kristol is pleasant-looking, of average height, in his late forties. In the past 18 months he has used his position as editor of the right-wing Weekly Standard and his status as one of the leaders of the neoconservative circle in Washington to induce the White House to do battle against Saddam Hussein. Because Kristol is believed to exercise considerable influence on the president, Vice President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he is also perceived as having been instrumental in getting Washington to launch this all-out campaign against Baghdad. ...
Does that mean that the war in Iraq is effectively a neoconservative war? That's what people are saying, Kristol replies, laughing. But the truth is that it's an American war. The neoconservatives succeeded because they touched the bedrock of America. The thing is that America has a profound sense of mission. America has a need to offer something that transcends a life of comfort, that goes beyond material success. ... Does this moral vision mean that after Iraq will come the turns of Saudi Arabia and Egypt?
Kristol says that he is at odds with the administration on the question of Saudi Arabia. But his opinion is that it is impossible to let Saudi Arabia just continue what it is doing. It is impossible to accept the anti-Americanism it is disseminating. The fanatic Wahhabism that Saudi Arabia engenders is undermining the stability of the entire region. It's the same with Egypt, he says: we mustn't accept the status quo there. For Egypt, too, the horizon has to be liberal democracy. [...]
Is this going to turn into a second Vietnam? Charles Krauthammer says no.
There is no similarity to Vietnam. ... Unlike in the 1960s, there is no anti-establishment subculture in the United States now. Unlike in the 1960s, ... there is now an abiding love of the army in the United States. Unlike in the 1960s, ... there is a determined president, one with character, in the White House. And unlike in the 1960s, ... Americans are not deterred from making sacrifices. [...]
Charles Krauthammer is handsome, swarthy and articulate. In his spacious office on 19th Street in Northwest Washington, he [this Jewish-American columnist] sits upright in a black wheelchair. Although his writing tends to be gloomy, his mood now is elevated. The well-known columnist (Washington Post, Time, Weekly Standard) has no real doubts about the outcome of the war that he promoted for 18 months.
No, he does not accept the view that he helped lead America into the new killing fields between the Tigris and the Euphrates. ...
Therefore, the Iraq war is really the beginning of a gigantic historical experiment whose purpose is to do in the Arab world what was done in Germany and Japan after World War II.
It's an ambitious experiment, Krauthammer admits, maybe even utopian, but not unrealistic.
After all, it is inconceivable to accept the racist assumption that the Arabs are different from all other human beings, that the Arabs are incapable of conducting a democratic way of life.
Tom Friedman, The New York Times columnist, did not oppose the war. On the contrary. He too was severely shaken by September 11, he too wants to understand where these desperate fanatics are coming from who hate America more than they love their own lives. And he too reached the conclusion that the status quo in the Middle East is no longer acceptable.
He is sitting in a large rectangular room in the offices of The New York Times in northwest Washington, on the corner of 17th Street. One wall of the room is a huge map of the world. Hunched over his computer, he reads me witty lines from the article that will be going to press in two hours. He polishes, sharpens, plays word games. ... Actually, the Iraq war is a kind of Jenin on a huge scale. Because in Jenin, too, what happened was that the Israelis told the Palestinians, We left you here alone and you played with matches until suddenly you blew up a Passover seder in Netanya. And therefore we are not going to leave you along any longer. We will go from house to house in the Casbah. And from America's point of view, Saddam's Iraq is Jenin. This war is a defensive shield. It follows that the danger is the same: that like Israel, America will make the mistake of using only force.
This is not an illegitimate war, Friedman says. But it is a very presumptuous war. [...]
Is the Iraq war the great neoconservative war?
It's the war the neoconservatives wanted, Friedman says. It's the war the neoconservatives marketed. Those people had an idea to sell when September 11 came, and they sold it. Oh boy, did they sell it. So this is not a war that the masses demanded. This is a war of an elite. Friedman laughs: I could give you the names of 25 people (all of whom are at this moment within a five-block radius of this office) who, if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and a half ago, the Iraq war would not have happened.
... In the final analysis, what fomented the war is America's over-reaction to September 11. The genuine sense of anxiety that spread in America after September 11. It is not only the neoconservatives who led us to the outskirts of Baghdad. What led us to the outskirts of Baghdad is a very American combination of anxiety and hubris.