Skip to comments.The Restoration of American Awe
Posted on 05/07/2003 11:18:52 AM PDT by DeuceTraveler
Throughout the Muslim Middle East, the Battle of Baghdad was an enormously depressing non-event. The Arab media had expected the end of Saddam Hussein's regime to be "Basra-plus"--a valiant resistance blending Mogadishu with a hint of Stalingrad. Whether in Egypt's official journal of record, Al-Ahram, on the Arabic satellite-television station Al Jazeera, or on BBC radio and television, anti-American tacticians sounded similar themes. If the regime's paramilitary fedayeen could so surprise and frustrate the Americans and the British in the anti-Saddam Shia south, imagine what they and the Republican Guards Corps were going to do in the capital and towns of Iraq's Sunni heartland.
Arab and Muslim honor were at stake. In the officially certified pantheon of the Middle East's sacred things, pride of blood and faith rests above individual liberty and democracy. The Arab world's Sunni population, which never, truth be told, wept over Saddam's merciless onslaught against the rebellious Shia in 1991, wanted to believe that they and the Shia were one against the United States. Saddam Hussein was not a beloved man in the Arab Middle East--the Saudi holy warrior Osama bin Laden has enjoyed vastly more affection--but he had for more than a decade kept the United States and the West off-balance and divided. Saddam's storm troopers' last stand was meant to salve wounded pride and be condign punishment for American hubris. (Odds are good that most Arab, European, Russian, and Chinese penseurs, not to mention senior French and German officials, were thinking here quite similarly.) The historically inclined among the anti-American Arab political elite also knew that a killing field in Baghdad just might forestall the gut-wrenching reflection that has followed every major Muslim military disaster since Napoleon made mincemeat of Turkish Mamluks in Egypt in 1798.
These hopes collapsed as soon as American soldiers easily captured Baghdad's international airport and began sending armored columns into the center of the capital. CNN's reporting on the "Arab street" relayed quite matter-of-factly the coffeehouse glumness throughout the region. Al Jazeera delivered the same depressing "say-it-ain't-so" message, giving hope to its viewers only through prognostications about the growing anti-Americanism of liberated Iraq. Everywhere anti-American demonstrations evaporated. (It should be said that Al Jazeera, CNN, and the BBC, which have all given prominence to Iraqi sentiments critical of the United States, may in the end be right about the developing power of anti-Americanism in Iraq, but the alacrity of this reporting in such a large country even before Saddam's fall was, to say the least, forward-leaning.)
The virtually nonexistent Battle of Baghdad decisively accomplished what the first several days of the war--the "shock-and-awe" portion--had not, or at least had not in the eyes of many beholders (postwar commentary from surviving Iraqi soldiers will provide the last word on whether the Pentagon misnamed its battle tactics). America's armed forces had taken from Saddam Hussein his hayba--the awe that belongs to indomitable authority. Saddam Hussein's Iraq was only a republic of fear, as Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi dissident writer, has been saying for years, and not a nationalist enterprise. Once the dread vanished, nationalism did not fill the void, as some academic experts on the country had predicted. Rank-and-file Iraqi soldiers, let alone civilians, did not interpret their love of land and faith against the United States. They did not in numbers join Saddam's irregulars.
Awe of American power is, of course, a perishable commodity, both inside Iraq and, perhaps more important, elsewhere in the Middle East. Washington can certainly diminish the respect and acquiescence its military victory has gained by using its power unwisely or, more likely, failing to use its power when it should. Middle Eastern regimes, especially clerical Iran's, will no doubt challenge America's place in Iraq, especially if American efforts to establish liberal democracy are seen to be serious. Under the Bush administration, the restoration of American awe in the Middle East is now inextricably linked to the expansion of liberal values. This point may be lost on European intellectuals, who more often than not see the root causes for the war in some "imperialist" grab for oil or in an Israel-first, Jewish-American conspiracy. It may be lost in certain American quarters, who likewise are distinctly uncomfortable juxtaposing the words "liberal" and "Bush."
Odds are, however, that the rulers of the Middle East will be able to see through the maze of third-world conspiracies and prejudices that define so much of their thought to the motive forces behind President Bush's War on Terrorism and his Axis of Evil doctrine. For them, would that American preferences were so mundane as oil, Israel, or the sphere-of-influence issues about which so many Europeans still care. Consummate realpoliticians, the Arab world's rulers could handle those. American power truly married to the right of Muslims to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, however, is unsettling, if not terrifying. A United States willing to commend and protect, within "allied" Muslim countries, America-averse political parties that agree to play by liberal democratic rules would be even worse. President Bush has not yet crossed that red line, but he is close. He has already taken America and American idealism into the Muslim world like no president before. He has given American power a moral edge that it has not had since Reagan; and he has demonstrated more political courage and tenacity in the Middle East than any of his predecessors.
(Excerpt) Read more at aei.org ...
It seems to me that this might be an attempt to redefine the term "liberal values" from the morass that it has come to symbolize to something more noble.
I would be more comfortable if he had substituded the word "conservative" for "liberal" everywhere in that article. Is it "liberal" or "conservative" for Bush to destroy a government which has wrongly taken away human rights. If you view Bush or the new government as granting those rights again, I suppose it's "liberal". But if you view those rights as having always belonging to the Iraqi people, and we are merely removing the oppressors then it is "conservative.
The threat this activity represents to the settled orders in the Arab countries is not its only significance. It is profoundly threatening to the settled order in Europe as well, which is precisely what France and Belgium at least are worried about. They calculate that they have the newly freed Eastern European countries in their pockets - those countries' governments have disagreed publicly and have taken advantage of their own newfound democratic independence and Chirac and the boys in Brussels do not like it.
We live in interesting times, maybe even hopeful ones for a lot of people who haven't had a great deal of hope for the last few decades.