It must have been last week's sound and fury that obscured the "signifying nothing" part of Richard Clarke's 9/11 commission testimony. Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., asked the most pointed question: Could the 9/11 attacks have been prevented if President Bush had implemented each of Clarke's recommendations immediately on taking office?
"No," replied Clarke.
No? So, what really roils Clarke about the Bush administration? George Will puts it this way: "His belief that the Iraq War was a tragic blunder, arising from the president's monomania about Saddam and draining resources from the war on terror." Which maybe tells us to forget red states and blues states: The great divide now pits Americans who regard the Iraq War as a key front in "the war on terror," and Americans who don't.
But it is the genius of the Bush doctrine that sees the truly big picture. The president believes American security relies not only on foiling attacks of Al Qaeda jihadis -- which his administration has done with remarkable success for some 30 months, knock wood -- but also on draining the terrorist swamp, as Donald Rumsfeld likes to say. That means a long-term offensive against both terrorists and the nations that support terrorism. That means a long-term goal of democratizing the Muslim Middle East. Iraq is Step One.
And a murderously difficult step it is, as the horrific killings and mutilation in Fallujah this week remind us. But imagine a "war on terror" that left Saddam Hussein unscathed (not to mention Uday and Qusay); and allowed a Ba'athist regime to flout the international community, shelter Al Qaeda offshoots and renegades, run its torture chambers and rape rooms, fund jihad against Israel, and generally menace the region. Without bothering to speculate what measures Ba'athist Iraq might have taken by now, consider the boons to world peace that would not have occurred without its defeat.
1) Rogue-state Libya would not have voluntarily surrendered its WMD program and applied for membership in the community of nations. In an interview last year with the British Spectator, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi told him, "I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq and was afraid."
2) Pakistan's secret role in passing nuclear secrets to rogue-states such as Libya, Iran and North Korea would not have been exposed. As UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave has reported, "Suddenly, Col. Gadhafi, suitably impressed by U.S. military capabilities in Iraq, had no compunction about leaking secrets that led to a Pakistanian and Iranian connection."
3) Syria would not be showing signs of wanting to come in from the cold. "Syria has appealed to Australia to use its close ties with Washington to help the Arab nation shake off its reputation as a terrorist haven," reports The Australian. That, of course, will require a whole lot of shaking, but any such movement is noteworthy. "The overtures by Syria," the paper writes, "are seen as a response to the West's determination to confront rogue nations that may either pose a threat themselves or pass on weapons to terrorists."
4) And, of course, there would not be a shiny, new, hard-won interim constitution in Iraq that promises to allow democracy to take root.
Will freedom spread to Iraq's authoritarian neighbors? The recent collapse of an Arab summit on the subject has made me strangely hopeful. Organized as a response to the Bush administration's call for Middle Eastern reform -- another Bush masterstroke for decoupling the need for pan-Arab political progress from the bogs of the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" -- the summit was canceled by host-country Tunisia because unnamed countries failed to support calls for "tolerance," "understanding" or "democracy" in a summit statement. That there was no such consensus is unfortunate; that there was even such a debate is promising.
Meanwhile, Iran's bold students struggle on for freedom. Scholars in Alexandria have called for an elected legislature, an independent judiciary and a free press. Pro-reform demonstrators have marched through Damascus (before being arrested). A recent editorial entitled "Arab Reform Now" in the Jerusalem Post summed up the situation this way: "Among the conclusions the Bush administration drew from September 11 was that the risks of inaction outweighed the risks of action: that advocating stability above freedom in the Middle East was counterproductive, hypocritical, and unworthy of the United States; and that reforming the Arab world was a sine qua non for defeating terrorism. ... The more forcefully the Bush administration (follows these conclusions), the more it will put repressive Arab regimes on the defensive, and the more courage it will give to the best elements in Arab society."
It's well worth the effort.