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Ari Shavit: WHITE MAN'S BURDEN

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  • ummyakoub
    WHITE MAN S BURDEN Ari Shavit, Haaretz, 9/1/03 http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=280279 The war in Iraq was conceived by 25
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 5, 2003
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      WHITE MAN'S BURDEN
      Ari Shavit, Haaretz, 9/1/03
      http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=280279

      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

      1. The doctrine

      WASHINGTON - At the conclusion of its second week, the war to
      liberate Iraq wasn't looking good. Not even in Washington. The
      assumption of a swift collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime had
      itself collapsed. The presupposition that the Iraqi dictatorship
      would crumble as soon as mighty America entered the country proved
      unfounded. The Shi'ites didn't rise up, the Sunnis fought fiercely.
      Iraqi guerrilla warfare found the American generals unprepared and
      endangered their overextended supply lines. Nevertheless, 70 percent
      of the American people continued to support the war; 60 percent
      thought victory was certain; 74 percent expressed confidence in
      President George W. Bush.

      Washington is a small city. It's a place of human dimensions. A kind
      of small town that happens to run an empire. A small town of
      government officials and members of Congress and personnel of
      research institutes and journalists who pretty well all know one
      another. Everyone is busy intriguing against everyone else; and
      everyone gossips about everyone else.

      In the course of the past year, a new belief has emerged in the town:
      the belief in war against Iraq. That ardent faith was disseminated by
      a small group of 25 or 30 neoconservatives, almost all of them
      Jewish, almost all of them intellectuals (a partial list: Richard
      Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, William Kristol, Eliot Abrams,
      Charles Krauthammer), people who are mutual friends and cultivate one
      another and are convinced that political ideas are a major driving
      force of history. They believe that the right political idea entails
      a fusion of morality and force, human rights and grit. The
      philosophical underpinnings of the Washington neoconservatives are
      the writings of Machiavelli, Hobbes and Edmund Burke. They also
      admire Winston Churchill and the policy pursued by Ronald Reagan.
      They tend to read reality in terms of the failure of the 1930s
      (Munich) versus the success of the 1980s (the fall of the Berlin
      Wall).

      Are they wrong? Have they committed an act of folly in leading
      Washington to Baghdad? They don't think so. They continue to cling to
      their belief. They are still pretending that everything is more or
      less fine. That things will work out. Occasionally, though, they seem
      to break out in a cold sweat. This is no longer an academic exercise,
      one of them says, we are responsible for what is happening. The ideas
      we put forward are now affecting the lives of millions of people. So
      there are moments when you're scared. You say, Hell, we came to help,
      but maybe we made a mistake.

      2. William Kristol

      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, American forces are deployed 50 miles from
      Baghdad. So, even if mistakes were made here and there, they are not
      serious. America is big enough to handle that. Kristol hasn't the
      slightest doubt that in the end, General Tommy Franks will achieve
      his goals. The 4th Cavalry Division will soon enter the fray, and
      another division is on its way from Texas. So it's possible that
      instead of an elegant war with 60 killed in two weeks it will be a
      less elegant affair with a thousand killed in two months, but
      nevertheless Bill Kristol has no doubt at all that the Iraq
      Liberation War is a just war, an obligatory war.

      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. Sitting behind the stacks of
      books that cover his desk at the offices of the Weekly Standard in
      Northwest Washington, he tries to convince me that he is not worried.
      It is simply inconceivable to him that America will not win. In that
      event, the consequences would be catastrophic. No one wants to think
      seriously about that possibility.

      What is the war about? I ask. Kristol replies that at one level it is
      the war that George Bush is talking about: a war against a brutal
      regime that has in its possession weapons of mass destruction. But at
      a deeper level it is a greater war, for the shaping of a new Middle
      East. It is a war that is intended to change the political culture of
      the entire region. Because what happened on September 11, 2001,
      Kristol says, is that the Americans looked around and saw that the
      world is not what they thought it was. The world is a dangerous
      place. Therefore the Americans looked for a doctrine that would
      enable them to cope with this dangerous world. And the only doctrine
      they found was the neoconservative one.

      That doctrine maintains that the problem with the Middle East is the
      absence of democracy and of freedom. It follows that the only way to
      block people like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden is to
      disseminate democracy and freedom. To change radically the cultural
      and political dynamics that creates such people. And the way to fight
      the chaos is to create a new world order that will be based on
      freedom and human rights - and to be ready to use force in order to
      consolidate this new world. So that, really, is what the war is
      about. It is being fought to consolidate a new world order, to create
      a new Middle East.

      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. Therefore, because of their ideals, the Americans
      accepted what the neoconservatives proposed. They didn't want to
      fight a war over interests, but over values. They wanted a war driven
      by a moral vision. They wanted to hitch their wagon to something
      bigger than themselves.

      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.

      It has to be understood that in the final analysis, the stability
      that the corrupt Arab despots are offering is illusory. Just as the
      stability that Yitzhak Rabin received from Yasser Arafat was
      illusory. In the end, none of these decadent dictatorships will
      endure. The choice is between extremist Islam, secular fascism or
      democracy. And because of September 11, American understands that.
      America is in a position where it has no choice. It is obliged to be
      far more aggressive in promoting democracy. Hence this war. It's
      based on the new American understanding that if the United States
      does not shape the world in its image, the world will shape the
      United States in its own image.

      3. Charles Krauthammer

      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. That is the sea-
      change that took place here on September 11, 2001. Since that
      morning, Americans have understood that if they don't act now and if
      weapons of mass destruction reach extremist terrorist organizations,
      millions of Americans will die. Therefore, because they understand
      that those others want to kill them by the millions, the Americans
      prefer to take to the field of battle and fight, rather than sit idly
      by and die at home.

      Charles Krauthammer is handsome, swarthy and articulate. In his
      spacious office on 19th Street in Northwest Washington, he 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. But it is true that he
      is part of a conceptual stream that had something to offer in the
      aftermath of September 11. Within a few weeks after the attacks on
      the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, he had singled out Baghdad in his
      columns as an essential target. And now, too, he is convinced that
      America has the strength to pull it off. The thought that America
      will not win has never even crossed his mind.

      What is the war about? It's about three different issues. First of
      all, this is a war for disarming Iraq of its weapons of mass
      destruction. That's the basis, the self-evident cause, and it is also
      sufficient cause in itself. But beyond that, the war in Iraq is being
      fought to replace the demonic deal America cut with the Arab world
      decades ago. That deal said: you will send us oil and we will not
      intervene in your internal affairs. Send us oil and we will not
      demand from you what we are demanding of Chile, the Philippines,
      Korea and South Africa.

      That deal effectively expired on September 11, 2001, Krauthammer
      says. Since that day, the Americans have understood that if they
      allow the Arab world to proceed in its evil ways - suppression,
      economic ruin, sowing despair - it will continue to produce more and
      more bin Ladens. America thus reached the conclusion that it has no
      choice: it has to take on itself the project of rebuilding the Arab
      world. 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.

      However, according to the Jewish-American columnist, the present war
      has a further importance. If Iraq does become pro-Western and if it
      becomes the focus of American influence, that will be of immense
      geopolitical importance. An American presence in Iraq will project
      power across the region. It will suffuse the rebels in Iran with
      courage and strength, and it will deter and restrain Syria. It will
      accelerate the processes of change that the Middle East must undergo.

      Isn't the idea of preemptive war a dangerous one that rattles the
      world order?

      There is no choice, Krauthammer replies. In the 21st century we face
      a new and singular challenge: the democratization of mass
      destruction. There are three possible strategies in the face of that
      challenge: appeasement, deterrence and preemption. Because
      appeasement and deterrence will not work, preemption is the only
      strategy left. The United States must implement an aggressive policy
      of preemption. Which is exactly what it is now doing in Iraq. That is
      what Tommy Franks' soldiers are doing as we speak.

      And what if the experiment fails? What if America is defeated?

      This war will enhance the place of America in the world for the
      coming generation, Krauthammer says. Its outcome will shape the world
      for the next 25 years. There are three possibilities. If the United
      States wins quickly and without a bloodbath, it will be a colossus
      that will dictate the world order. If the victory is slow and
      contaminated, it will be impossible to go on to other Arab states
      after Iraq. It will stop there. But if America is beaten, the
      consequences will be catastrophic. Its deterrent capability will be
      weakened, its friends will abandon it and it will become insular.
      Extreme instability will be engendered in the Middle East.

      You don't really want to think about what will happen, Krauthammer
      says looking me straight in the eye. But just because that's so, I am
      positive we will not lose. Because the administration understands the
      implications. The president understands that everything is riding on
      this. So he will throw everything we've got into this. He will do
      everything that has to be done. George W. Bush will not let America
      lose.

      4. Thomas Friedman

      Is this an American Lebanon War? Tom Friedman says he is afraid it
      is. He was there, in the Commodore Hotel in Beirut, in the summer of
      1982, and he remembers it well. So he sees the lines of resemblance
      clearly. General Ahmed Chalabi (the Shi'ite leader that the
      neoconservatives want to install as the leader of a free Iraq) in the
      role of Bashir Jemayel. The Iraqi opposition in the role of the
      Phalange. Richard Perle and the conservative circle around him as
      Ariel Sharon. And a war that is at bottom a war of choice. A war that
      wants to utilize massive force in order to establish a new order.

      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. The status quo is terminal. And therefore it is
      urgent to foment a reform in the Arab world.

      Some things are true even if George Bush believes them, Friedman says
      with a smile. And after September 11, it's impossible to tell Bush to
      drop it, ignore it. There was a certain basic justice in the overall
      American feeling that told the Arab world: we left you alone for a
      long time, you played with matches and in the end we were burned. So
      we're not going to leave you alone any longer.

      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. He
      ponders what's right to say now, what should be left for a later
      date. Turning to me, he says that democracies look soft until they're
      threatened. When threatened, they become very hard. 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. You need a great deal of presumption to believe
      that you can rebuild a country half a world from home. But if such a
      presumptuous war is to have a chance, it needs international support.
      That international legitimacy is essential so you will have enough
      time and space to execute your presumptuous project. But George Bush
      didn't have the patience to glean international support. He gambled
      that the war would justify itself, that we would go in fast and
      conquer fast and that the Iraqis would greet us with rice and the war
      would thus be self-justifying. That did not happen. Maybe it will
      happen next week, but in the meantime it did not happen.

      When I think about what is going to happen, I break into a sweat,
      Friedman says. I see us being forced to impose a siege on Baghdad.
      And I know what kind of insanity a siege on Baghdad can unleash. The
      thought of house-to-house combat in Baghdad without international
      legitimacy makes me lose my appetite. I see American embassies
      burning. I see windows of American businesses shattered. I see how
      the Iraqi resistance to America connects to the general Arab
      resistance to America and the worldwide resistance to America. The
      thought of what could happen is eating me up.

      What George Bush did, Friedman says, is to show us a splendid
      mahogany table: the new democratic Iraq. But when you turn the table
      over, you see that it has only one leg. This war is resting on one
      leg. But on the other hand, anyone who thinks he can defeat George
      Bush had better think again. Bush will never give in. That's not what
      he's made of. Believe me, you don't want to be next to this guy when
      he thinks he's being backed into a corner. I don't suggest that
      anyone who holds his life dear mess with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld
      and President Bush.

      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.

      Still, it's not all that simple, Friedman retracts. It's not some
      fantasy the neoconservatives invented. It's not that 25 people
      hijacked America. You don't take such a great nation into such a
      great adventure with Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard and another
      five or six influential columnists. 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.

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