June 29, 2004


Iraq's New History (Fouad Ajami, June 29, 2004 , Wall Street Journal)

[F]reedom can't be a fetish. There are the needs of Iraq, and they are staggering. There is the nemesis of Iraq's freedom, an insurgency drawing its fury and pitilessness from the forces of the old despotism, and from jihadists from neighboring lands who have turned Iraq into a devil's playground. We should be under no illusions about this insurgency. Its war against the new Iraq will not yield. For their part, the jihadists have a dreadful animus for the "apostates" within the world of Islam who ride with the infidels.

Indeed, that prince of darkness, the jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian sowing death in the streets of Iraq, anticipated this shift, and warned that the war would continue. "We do not wage our jihad in order to replace the Western tyrant with an Arab tyrant. We fight to make God's word supreme, and anyone who stands in the way of our struggle is our enemy, a target of our swords." The interim prime minister, Mr. Allawi, is a principal target of the Zarqawi bigots. "We have prepared for you a vicious poison and a sharp sword, we have prepared for you a full cup of death,"

Zarqawi warned the new Iraqi leader, in an audiotape released last week. The lines are drawn: A man of the Iraqi state against a drifter who has come to that country in search of a new battleground.

Grant Zarqawi his due: months earlier, in a message intercepted in Iraq--one that Zarqawi had intended for Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri--the Jordanian foresaw the shape of things to come. "America is being bloodied in Iraq," he said, "but has no intention of leaving, no matter the bloodletting among its own soldiers. It is looking to a near future, when it remains safe in its bases, while handing over control to a bastard government with an army and a police force. . . . There is no doubt that our field of movement is shrinking, and our future looks more forbidding by the day." It was war, Zarqawi wrote, with a stark realism, or "packing our bags and looking for a new field of battle, as has been the case in other campaigns of jihad, because our enemy grows stronger with every passing day."

Zarqawi and his breed of militants know that a native Iraqi government can shelter behind the call of home and hearth and of Iraq's right to a new political life. Americans can't hunt down the restless young men thrown up by the chaos of Arab lands, perhaps encouraged to make their way to Iraq, to kill and be killed. This is a task for Iraqis. It is for them to reclaim their country from the purveyors of terror. It is one thing for Fallujah to pose as the citadel of Islam against the infidels; it is an entirely different matter for that town to take up arms against a native government--even one protected by a vast foreign force. Iyad Allawi can call the insurgents "enemies of Islam," as he did after the transfer of authority. It is awkward, at best, for George W. Bush to insert himself into that fight over, and for, Islam. In the same vein, we warned Iraq's neighbors to keep their fires--and their misfits--away from Iraq, but it was infinitely more convincing when Mr. Allawi told his neighbors that Iraqis would not forget those who stood with them, and those who stood against them.

In their fashion, Iraqis have come to see their recent history as a passage from the rule of the tyrant to the rule of the foreigner. This has given them an absolution from political responsibility and toil. Dependence was easy, and easy, too, was holding America responsible for everything under the sun. A measure of this abdication on the part of Iraq's people will have to yield in recognition of this (circumscribed) sovereignty that has come their way.

This is the calculus that we failed to understand--that the majority of Iraqis, having despised their government rather than supported it, would view themselves as the victors rather than the defeated, and expect power to be tranferred to them far faster than it was to the Japanese and Germans after WWII. Now they have it and everything changes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 29, 2004 3:31 PM

If the comments on the Baghdad streets reported in today's Washington Post are any indication, the decisive majority of Iraqis are ready to step up to the plate. The general mood seems to be one of satisfaction that their country is theirs again, willingness to support the new government if it will itself buckle down to the tasks it has to do, and even willingness to accept a state of emergency or martial law if that's what it takes to smash Zarqawi and his fanatics. The Jihadists made a _bad_ mistake last week; they may have alienated the genuine nationalists past the point of no return, and now the nationalists really have something to fight for.

Posted by: Joe at June 29, 2004 6:03 PM

Maybe it's like the problem with beating your enemy, but just not hard enough that he well and truly knows that he lost big-time. If we would have beated Saddam and then left immediately, the Iraqi people wouldn't have well and truly known what it's like to not have your own government.

This way, they have experienced life without Saddam, but also with *still* having somebody else running your country. Hopefully, they've tasted the bitter dregs (albeit light and friendly) and will be motivated to ensure that they keep the reins in their own hands rather than allow (or give an excuse for) another outside party come in and take it away from them.

They already know that we can come back and overthrow their government at will----and they know what it takes to get us to do so, and what it takes to avoid having us do so.

Posted by: ray at June 29, 2004 6:28 PM

If they really understood liberty, they could have and would have banded together and started doing what needed doing a long time ago.

It's the garbage problem. Anybody can clean up his own neighborhood. Nobody's gonna stop you.

Did they?


Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 29, 2004 9:15 PM

No one cleans it up here. Why would they be more advanced?

Posted by: oj at June 29, 2004 9:20 PM