Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Listening to the Wise Old Men of Washington

David Ignatius, 10/06/02:

Many analysts warn of the disasters that await in this postwar Iraq, but frankly I'm not convinced. Yes, Iraq is a country with many ethnic groups that don't always get along. And, yes, there will be a risk of revenge killings and general mayhem as the millions of Iraqis who suffered from Hussein's torturers seek to settle scores.

But these strike me as manageable problems, especially if people think carefully about them beforehand. Maintaining order will be essential in the first weeks and months after Hussein and his secret police are gone, and Washington should be training military police who will keep the peace, even as it drills the soldiers who will do the fighting. Yet we hear little of these plans -- even though they would encourage Iraqis and other Arabs, and even Europeans, to feel that the war is worth fighting.

In truth, Iraq is probably more ready for democracy than any nation in the Arab world. That's partly because its people have suffered so much from the cruelty of the current regime. But it's also because the Iraqis are the most likely Arabs to build a truly modern nation. For centuries, Baghdad has been a center of learning, and the Iraqis gained a reputation as the Prussians of the Arab world. It was no accident that Iraq was the only Arab country with the scientific brainpower to mount a serious nuclear weapons program.

And the talk of Iraq's internecine strife is overblown, too. The long-repressed Shiite community forms a majority of its population, which leads some analysts to fear Shiites will create a radical Muslim regime. But the Shiites of Iraq are Arabs who stayed loyal to Hussein through nearly a decade of war against the Persians of Iran. Iraq's Shiite elite has been the country's leading modernizers, supplying more than their share of scientists and engineers.

One Iraqi who is planning for the future is Kanan Makiya, who is heading a project to draft a new constitution, under the sponsorship of the opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress. I first talked with Makiya more than a decade ago, after he bravely published a book called "Republic of Fear," which documented the vicious torture and repression that sustained Hussein and his cronies in power.

Makiya and other Iraqi dissidents describe scenes of unimaginable cruelty -- children thrown from helicopters to force their parents to confess to crimes against the regime, for example. "Hope itself has been killed," he once wrote.

It's strange that liberals haven't paid more attention to the egregious human rights abuses of the Iraqi regime. To quote one horrific passage from the recent (widely ignored) British government report on Iraq: "Prisoners at the Qurtiyya Prison in Baghdad and elsewhere are kept in metal boxes the size of tea chests. If they do not confess they are left to die."

That's where Ignatius's "beloved center," which is punditspeak for "what my pals and I think about stuff," got us. Thanks.