"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Our worst fears in Iraq

Debate has been raging in Congress for the last few days over what we're to do about this port deal in which an Arab company will buy out a British one for management rights to six American ports. It's an interesting existential question at this point in the war on terror - do we demonstrate our trust in Arab/Muslim allies by allowing them to run our ports or batten down the hatches and bar any country that had any association whatsoever with 9/11 from getting a toehold on our shores - but I think it's far less important, in the long run, than an issue which has literally exploded in Iraq. The question, in Iraq, is this: will we truly be able to trump ancient sectarian hatred with the unity of secular democracy?

Wednesday's bombing of the Al-Askariya mosque (aka the Golden Mosque) in Samarra provoked a wave of violence throughout the country, with Shiites attacking Sunnis in revenge for the destruction of one of their holiest religious sites, and Sunnis counterattacking amidst calls for calm from Iraqi and American leaders. This violence is, some fear, the harbinger of one of the worst-case scenarios that many talked about from Day One of the invasion: that Shiite, Sunni, and Kurd would ultimately fail to come together to form a government and instead descend into civil war. Thus far, the Kurds haven't been sucked into it, preferring instead to quietly build their own mini-state up north. Should the nightmare scenario come true, however, the Kurds may be the only success story to write about as Shiite and Sunni water the deserts of Iraq with each other's blood.

I have refused to buy into the pessimism of some, who believed that we made every mistake in the book from the second we crossed the Kuwaiti border. Not that mistakes haven't been made; but there has also been much progress in one of the most ambitious geopolitical undertakings since the end of the Cold War. In spite of the naysaying and sniping back home, American troops and Iraqis have worked together for four years to build a new Iraq that we all hope will be a beacon of promise to the other countries in the region. Constant terrorist attacks against Americans and Shiites failed to stop the country's first democratic elections in decades. Many Iraqis have thrown in their lot with our work there, their optimism in the future outweighing the fear of what might happen if we abandoned them.

Insurgents have committed many an atrocity in the last few years, and in my mind one of the greatest success stories was the fact that the mostly Shiite targets refused to give in to understandable outrage and abandon the democratic process for vengeance. The fact that it's taken this long for the specter of civil war to even raise its head is a credit to all involved parties who want a peaceful and free Iraq. But everyone has their breaking point, and it looks like the Shiites, with the destruction of one of their holiest shrines, may have reached theirs.

There is still reason for hope, as
Victor Davis Hanson and others point out, but there's no denying that the bombing of the Golden Mosque and its aftermath could prove to be as pivotal to the outcome of our efforts there as all those purple fingers we saw a few months ago. I am not giving up on what I believe to be the 'silent majority' of Iraqis who would much rather work toward a peaceful and prosperous future for their children than one soaked with blood, death, and destruction. This tipping point may well tip away from further chaos and bring Iraqis of good will closer together, while fatally marginalizing the terrorists who have worked so hard to break the country apart. But if enough Iraqis decide that their loyalties are to their denomination first and the country second, then all of our efforts may be undone. Unfortunately, all those of us back home can do is watch, wait, and pray that man's good side will overpower the bad.

Not much new news in the rest of the Islamic world.
This is an interesting interview with the kind of moderate Muslim of which the world needs many more. And here's Mark Steyn again on the spinelessness of the West in the face of radical Islam and the real dangers we face from pretending that nothing is wrong. As one of the cartoon jihadists said, "We won't stop the protests until the world obeys Islamic law." That is a nonbargaining position that we need to face head-on before we have no will left to overcome it.

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