The Bush administration is moving forward on Iraq with the
stated assumption that Saddam Hussein must and will be stopped. But an
unstated assumption is equally vital.
The unstated assumption is that since people are endowed by the
Creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, those
who live under dictatorship inevitably yearn for freedom. That familiar
concept from the Declaration of Independence is crucial to the
administration's calculation of how Iraq's people and ordinary soldiers will
respond if a war begins and Saddam's forces suffer initial defeat.
Bush planners believe that Iraqis will not rally to Saddam's
defense and make every city a maze of death-dealing booby traps. They think
Iraqis will celebrate as did Afghans when U.S. forces gave them independence
from Taliban oppressors. They see the "we" in the famous line, "We hold
these truths to be self-evident," as referring equally to residents of
Boston, Beijing and Baghdad. Since Bostonians in 1773 tossed tea into Boston
Harbor, we can expect those in Beijing and Baghdad to oppose authoritarian
rule as well, whenever they have the opportunity. That's who we are. It's
Not to some journalists. When Saddam Hussein set up his
referendum last fall, NBC's Keith Miller reported that Saddam was
"re-elected to another seven-year term as president in a referendum where he
got 100 percent of the vote! The celebrations were genuine." CNN's Nic
Robertson quoted with a straight face laudatory statements from Iraqis such
as artist Abdul: "To paint for the president for this special day is
important. It shows our love to him."
Those press accounts seemed nonsensical, but here's a wild card:
Has Saddam's seven-year "Faith Campaign" to wrap himself in a
green-and-white Muslim flag been successful? He spent $7.5 million building
Baghdad's Umm al-Ma-arik ("Mother of All Battles") mosque, which is
surrounded by minarets shaped like Scud missiles. He has plans to build many
more mosques, including the largest in the world outside of Mecca. Although
Saddam rose to power as a secular semi-socialist, he is now committed to
Islam, his publicists say.
Saddam purportedly donated 12 quarts of his own blood over three
years for the dark red calligraphy that went on 605 gold-framed pages of a
copy of the Quran exhibited in the rotunda of the Umm al-Ma'arik mosque.
State-run Iraqi television now broadcasts lengthy readings of the Quran.
Talent contests feature chanting of the sacred text. Posters show Saddam
How this change from the top has affected Iraq generally is hard
to say. Mosque attendance is apparently up, as is the number of women
wearing traditional Islamic garb. Students are flowing into the Saddam
University for Islamic Studies. The Iraqi press is stating that any who die
fighting Israel or the United States have "a great status in the eyes of
Allah. ... With the first drop of blood (the martyr) is given absolution and
he can see his seat in paradise. He is spared the torture of the grave. He
is secure from the Great Horror (of Judgment Day). He is crowned with the
crown of glory. He marries black-eyed (virgins)."
How deeply is this believed among Iraqis? If they are only
fighting to preserve Saddam, many will stop at the first opportunity. If
death in battle will yield a guaranteed trip to Islam's heaven, they will
fight hard. Which is it for many or most Iraqis?
"We hold these truths to be self-evident," the Declaration of
Independence states. Will they be sufficiently self-evident in Iraq, despite
all of Saddam's propaganda, to make the likely war a short one? That's the
key question. The Bush administration implicitly says yes. Let's hope and
pray that's the case.