After Saddam: Put the Iraqis in Charge

(Wall Street Journal) Bernard Lewis - In Afghanistan today, with minimal help from the U.S., a central government is gradually extending its political and financial control to the rest of the country and dealing more and more effectively with the problem of the maintenance of order; in Iraq, after an easy and almost unresisted conquest, the situation seems to grow worse from day to day. Why this contrast? The main difference is that in Afghanistan there is an Afghan government, while in Iraq there is an American administration, and the cry of "American imperialism" is being repeated on many sides. But America has neither the desire nor the skill nor the need to play an imperial role in Iraq. The anti-American forces fall basically into two groups. The first, and in the long run the more important, come from the camp of al Qaeda and related religious movements. In the writings and speeches of Osama bin Laden and of his allies and disciples, hatred of America is less significant than contempt - the perception that America is a "paper tiger," that its people have become soft and pampered - "hit them and they will run." This perception was bolstered by frequent references to Vietnam, Beirut, and Somalia, as well as to the feeble response to subsequent terrorist attacks in the 1990s, notably on the USS Cole and on the embassies in East Africa. It was this perception which undoubtedly underlay the events of Sept. 11, clearly intended to be the opening barrage of a new war against the Americans on their home ground. The other factor of anti-Americanism originates in the fear that democracy will succeed in Iraq, and this could become a mortal threat to the tyrants who rule most of the Middle East. The best course surely is the one that is working in Afghanistan - to hand over, as soon as possible, to a genuine Iraqi government. The Iraqis certainly have the capacity to develop democratic institutions, but they must do so in their own way, at their own pace. This can only be done by an Iraqi government. Fortunately, the nucleus of such a government is already available, in the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Ahmad Chalabi. It took years, not months, to create democracies in the former Axis countries, and this was achieved in the final analysis not by Americans but by people in those countries, with American encouragement, help, and support.

2003-08-29 00:00:00

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