North Korea dropped its bluster and endorsed the multilateral talks that the United States insisted on. China decided it was a good idea to join those talks. ("The Iraq war has brought a change," said a professor of international studies at People's University in Beijing.) Iran's former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, suggested a national referendem on restoring ties to the United States. Palestinian terrorist Abul Abbas was captured, nearly 18 years after directing the attack on the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. Ariel Sharon said Israel would have to give up some settlements to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
Most of these reactions come not from the result of U.S. intervention, which was never in doubt, but from the swift and stunning nature of the victory. (Sharon's statement is arguably separate.) Iraqi forces were not impressive, but few predicted the speed and precision of American and British troops, or the low casualties -- about five deaths per day of combat.
The swift taking of Baghdad surprised everybody. As Victor Davis Hanson writes, "The Soviets had learned that trying to take an Islamic city is not an easy thing and can lead to thousands of dead." Stories out of Russia report the consternation of military planners there at the brilliant tactics and performance of coalition forces. High competence and power get the world's full attention, particularly when combined with intelligence and restraint.
Conventional wisdom suffered yet another series of defeats. No wave of terrorism greeted the American campaign. Neither foreign troops nor suicide bombers paralyzed American and British forces. The Arab "street" did not rise. Many people, of course, insisted that Arabs were being colonized again by Western powers in search of oil. No surprise there. But that message contains dissonance now. It's hard to explain that the dread crusaders have taken over again when everyone can see the Iraqi people exulting.
For once in the Middle East, the United States has intervened on behalf of the people, not to prop up yet another regional autocrat. This profoundly liberal step could alter the usual anti-Western discourse in the region. It may gradually erode what professor Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins calls the "road rage" of a thwarted Arab world steeped in "a political tradition of belligerent self-pity."
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