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February 10, 2005

Thomas Friedman Gets His Groove Back: Part II

Normally when the half-vast editorial staff venture onto the pages of the NY Times, we go loaded for bear. In such hostile and savage terrain anything can happen. At any moment, the conservative blogger may note that all the usual background chatter of the jungle has ominously ceased: a sign that the hunter has become the hunted.

She can see their beady little eyes winking out through the dense foliage and she feels the ice-cold prick of fear in her gut: dastardly and perilous beasts lurk just out of sight, ready to throw their nets of hyperbole, strained allusions, and bad logic over her like Silly String. And so she sends up The Blogger's Prayer: "Dear God, if it my time to die, I accept my fate. Just don't let it be Bob Herbert."

So imagine our surprise when spd rdr sent this offering from one of the less-annoying denizens of The Jungle. Seeing the byline, we sighed dramatically and took a double dose of Alleve, having learned through long experience that premedication is essential in these cases. But Lo! upon reading the introductory lines we found ourselves nodding in agreement, then smiling, then jumping right out of our bunny slippers and throwing both hands in the air as the spirit took hold of us... "Hallelujah! Tell it, Brother Thomas! Tes-ti-fy! Lawsy, but that man can witness":

I think there is much to criticize about how the war in Iraq has been conducted, and the outcome is still uncertain. But those who suggest that the Iraqi election is just beanbag, and that all we are doing is making the war on terrorism worse as a result of Iraq, are speaking nonsense.

Here's the truth: There is no single action we could undertake anywhere in the world to reduce the threat of terrorism that would have a bigger impact today than a decent outcome in Iraq.

Mine eyes have seen the glory. Take me now, Lord...

Mr. Friedman was taking his Brethren-in-Christ to the woodshed over their failure to support the emerging democracy in Iraq. It was a thing of beauty to watch him explain life to them. Tough love:

What Iraq is now embarking on is the first attempt - ever - by the citizens of a multiethnic, multireligious Arab state to draw up their own social contract, their own constitution, for how they should share power and resources, protect minority rights and balance mosque and state. I have no idea whether they will succeed. Much will depend on whether the Shiites want to be a wise and inclusive majority and whether the Sunnis want to be a smart and collaborative minority.

Yes! This is earthshaking! Someone finally gets it. Unfortunately, although the Spirit was willing, the Flesh faltered:

There will be a lot of trial and error in the months ahead. But this is a hugely important horizontal dialogue because if Iraqis can't forge a social contract, it would suggest that no other Arab country can - since virtually all of them are similar mixtures of tribes, ethnicities and religions. That would mean that they can be ruled only by iron-fisted kings or dictators, with all the negatives that flow from that.

This is so patently silly - more like the Doubting Thomas we have come to know and love. "If we fail here, it will never work anywhere, ever again..." A few days ago I obliquely mentioned Japan's abortive attempts at democracy. As Mr. Friedman notes later in his piece, ideas are powerful things - they are like a juggernaut that, once launched, cannot be stopped.

The idea of freedom - democracy - is one such powerful idea. Once ignited, it burns like a flame in the hearts of men and cannot be extinguished. If it does not succeed, or does not succeed in such a way that meets the unrealistic standards set by cynical Western journalists and pundits, who seem to expect a mature democracy similar to ours (that took 200 years of trial and error) to spring, full-formed, from the chaos left by Saddam Hussein, be patient.

It will spring up in some other unlikely place, when we least expect it. The seed has been planted. But I forgave Mr. Friedman's momentary doubt when I read the following:

Democrats do not favor using military force against Iran's nuclear program or to compel regime change there. That is probably wise. But they don't really have a diplomatic option. I've got one: Iraq. Iraq is our Iran policy.

If we can help produce a representative government in Iraq - based on free and fair elections and with a Shiite leadership that accepts minority rights and limits on clerical involvement in politics - it will exert great pressure on the ayatollah-dictators running Iran. In Iran's sham "Islamic democracy," only the mullahs decide who can run. Over time, Iranian Shiites will demand to know why they can't have the same freedoms as their Iraqi cousins right next door. That will drive change in Iran. Just be patient.

The war on terrorism is a war of ideas. The greatest restraint on human behavior is not a police officer or a fence - it's a community and a culture. Palestinian suicide bombing has stopped not because of the Israeli fence or because Palestinians are no longer "desperate." It has stopped because the Palestinians had an election, and a majority voted to get behind a diplomatic approach. They told the violent minority that suicide bombing - for now - is shameful.

What Arabs and Muslims say about their terrorists is the only thing that will protect us in the long run. It takes a village, and the Iraqi election was the Iraqi village telling the violent minority that what it is doing is shameful. The fascist minority in Iraq is virulent, and some jihadists will stop at nothing. But the way you begin to drain the swamps of terrorism is when you create a democratic context for those with good ideas to denounce those with bad ones.

But - but - if Iraqis succeed in forging a social contract in the hardest place of all, it means that democracy is actually possible anywhere in the Arab world.

Yes, yes, yes, and again, YES.

This is what military men and women are willing to give their lives for, Mr. Friedman.

This is what they believe in.

This is why they're not counting bodies, but counting voters at Iraq's polls.

This is why we won't give up.


Posted by Cassandra at February 10, 2005 08:46 AM

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Every journey begins with a single step.
Come along Tom. It's a climb you won't want to miss.

Posted by: spd rdr at February 10, 2005 09:50 AM

Caution is advised, just when you think Tom gets it, he veers off into the ether.

Posted by: Pile OnĀ® at February 10, 2005 11:44 AM

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