Thomas Friedman is overrated in my estimation, but he isn’t a fool: another liberal for regime change:
- Although President Bush has cast the war in Iraq as being about disarmament – and that is legitimate – disarmament is not the most important prize there. Regime change is the prize. Regime transformation in Iraq could make a valuable contribution to the war on terrorism, whether Saddam is ousted or enticed into exile.
Why? Because what really threatens open, Western, liberal societies today is not Saddam and his weapons per se. He is a twisted dictator who is deterrable through conventional means. Because Saddam loves life more than he hates us. What threatens Western societies today are not the deterrables, like Saddam, but the undeterrables – the boys who did 9/11, who hate us more than they love life. It’s these human missiles of mass destruction that could really destroy our open society.
So then the question is: What is the cement mixer that is churning out these undeterrables – these angry, humiliated and often unemployed Muslim youth? That cement mixer is a collection of faltering Arab states, which, as the U.N.’s Arab Human Development Report noted, have fallen so far behind the world their combined G.D.P. does not equal that of Spain. And the reason they have fallen behind can be traced to their lack of three things: freedom, modern education and women’s empowerment.
If we don’t help transform these Arab states – which are also experiencing population explosions – to create better governance, to build more open and productive economies, to empower their women and to develop responsible media that won’t blame all their ills on others, we will never begin to see the political, educational and religious reformations they need to shrink their output of undeterrables.
….Let me sum up my argument with two of my favorite sayings. The first is by Harvard’s president, Lawrence Summers, who says: “In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car.” It is true of countries as well. Until the Arab peoples are given a real ownership stake in their countries – a real voice in how they are run – they will never wash them, never improve them as they should.
The second is an American Indian saying – “If we don’t turn around now, we just may get where we’re going.” The Arab world has been digging itself into a hole for a long time. If our generation simply helps it stop digging, possibly our grandchildren and its own will reap the benefits. But if we don’t help the Arabs turn around now, they just may get where they’re going – a dead end where they will produce more and more undeterrables.
This is something liberals should care about – because liberating the captive peoples of the Mideast is a virtue in itself and because in today’s globalized world, if you don’t visit a bad neighborhood, it will visit you.
I think this is what Bill Gates’ new fund is all about as well – the dude doesn’t want HIV-infected Africans beating down his door in Washington, metaphoricaly speaking anyway; and he’s right to be concerned about it.
Friedman then flips the argument and tells us what “conservatives” are missing in the discussion as well. I think Friedman is actually mischaracterizing the debate as being between “liberals” and “conservatives” as there are plenty of “liberals” who are for forcible regime change (Friedman and Hitchens to name a quick two) and there are isolationist-leaning conservatives who are in favor of us minding our own damned business.
- one needs to have a great deal of humility when it comes to predicting what sorts of bats and demons may fly out if the U.S. and its allies remove the lid. Think of it this way: If and when we take the lid off Iraq, we will find an envelope inside. It will tell us what we have won and it will say one of two things.
It could say, “Congratulations! You’ve just won the Arab Germany – a country with enormous human talent, enormous natural resources, but with an evil dictator, whom you’ve just removed. Now, just add a little water, a spoonful of democracy and stir, and this will be a normal nation very soon.”
Or the envelope could say, “You’ve just won the Arab Yugoslavia – an artificial country congenitally divided among Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis, Nasserites, leftists and a host of tribes and clans that can only be held together with a Saddam-like iron fist. Congratulations, you’re the new Saddam.”
This is a totally legimate concern, but it doesn’t really change anything, right Tom?
- Does that mean we should rule out war? No. But it does mean that we must do it right. To begin with, the president must level with the American people that we may indeed be buying the Arab Yugoslavia, which will take a great deal of time and effort to heal into a self-sustaining, progressive, accountable Arab government. And, therefore, any nation-building in Iraq will be a multiyear marathon, not a multiweek sprint.
….In short, we can oust Saddam Hussein all by ourselves. But we cannot successfully rebuild Iraq all by ourselves. And the real prize here is a new Iraq that would be a progressive model for the whole region. That, for me, is the only morally and strategically justifiable reason to support this war. The Bush team dare not invade Iraq simply to install a more friendly dictator to pump us oil. And it dare not simply disarm Iraq and then walk away from the nation-building task.
This is about exactly what Mark Steyn, coming from the diametrically opposite end of the political spectrum said just the other day:
- No, no, no. Swapping Saddam for a less psychopathic Saddamite who forswears extraterritorial ambitions and agrees only to a little light terrorism of his own people would be a total waste of time. It’s not about Saddam any more than it was about Osama bin Laden (1957-2001). The issue for the West is how to dismantle not Saddam’s warheads but the system that produces the Saddams and Osamas. Cherrypicking a more pliable strongman won’t do it. What kind of Iraqi President does Rumsfeld have in mind? A man in the mould of such renowned Washington allies as Hosni Mubarak? Mubarak’s Egypt produced the leader of the September 11th murderers, the principal Islamist agitator in Britain, the highest-ranking al-Qaeda terrorist in Canada, etc. There’s no point even bothering with Iraq if you’re going to settle for a Mubarak.
I could take the cynical view and say that if these two guys agree on it, then the idea must be wrong, but I think it is 100% correct: we overthrow Saddam to begin the dominoes, and we must follow through to the end.