As American and coalition soldiers are fired upon in Iraq, we may be seeing the radiating ripples of the Spanish election. If terror can succeed in Madrid, why not in Fallujah and Basra and Ramadi?
Iraq is obviously not among the more civilized nations on earth. Saddam's barbarism was extreme, but it and he arose from a culture of terror and fear. One can imagine Saddam watching TV in his jail cell and chortling over the mutilated bodies of our aid workers in Fallujah. "Now maybe you Americans see why I ruled with an iron fist?"
Of course, in truth, Saddam's rule only further brutalized a people already accustomed to tyranny.
President Bush has been forceful in his commitment to democratizing the Middle East. What remains up for debate is how long it will take before Iraq is ready for free elections. A simple respect for the rule of law must precede self-government. Among the fractious, suspicious, violent and emotional Iraqi people, such respect has not been much in evidence yet.
Rumors, for example, are Iraq's principle communications media. Among the legends that have circulated widely in the past year, reports Tom Squitieri of USA Today, include: 1) that toys distributed by U.S. soldiers to Iraqi children cause deadly diseases; 2) that Saddam is in a Colorado ski resort; 3) that the United States is holding back electricity to punish the Iraqi people; 4) that Israel is behind the U.S. invasion; and 5) that night vision goggles permit U.S. soldiers to see through the clothing of Iraqi women.
The U.S.-led coalition has already accomplished an enormous amount, including introducing a new currency, reopening schools (with revised textbooks), re-establishing power grids, arranging for adequate water supplies, presiding over the opening of more than 100 newspapers and numerous radio and television stations, helping to establish democratically elected local councils, training new police and a professional and non-terrorist army, and more. The task we have set ourselves is Herculean. And most Americans do not speak the language.
But the question of the moment is not whether we've done enough good, but whether we've been tough enough. We Americans hate being occupiers. We are liberators. But Iraq cannot be truly liberated until it has been transformed. And it cannot be transformed if the bad elements are not afraid of American soldiers. Those gleeful faces in Fallujah make the point: They think we are patsies.