Are we? Moqtada al-Sadr, the 30-ish cleric who only now has been issued an arrest warrant for a murder committed (supposedly on his order) a year ago, has been handled with kid gloves until now. His newspaper has printed the vilest incitement, accusing the United States for example, of using an Apache helicopter to bomb 50 police recruits on Feb. 10 in front of an Iraqi police station. In truth, the attack was actually the work of terrorists.
Why would the U.S. bomb Iraqis attempting to cooperate with the coalition in building a new police force? It doesn't matter that it defies common sense. The rumor mill churns on. Al-Sadr has used his newspaper, Al Hawza, to urge "terrorism" against American forces. And what has been the result? Several stern warnings. Only when Sadr's "Mahdi Army," a mob of criminals, former Baathists (ironic since Saddam executed Sadr's father) and Islamists, began firing at Americans did the civil administrator shut Al Hawza down.
Perhaps they stayed their hand because they knew closing a newspaper would provoke criticism stateside. And it did. Editorials across the nation, from The New York Times to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to the Detroit News to The San Francisco Chronicle scolded the administration for hypocrisy.
"Shutting down a newspaper," explained the Hartford Courant's editorial, "even an anti-American publication, doesn't teach democracy."
Well, hold on a minute. Baghdad is not Boston. You can't teach democracy until you first have order. And you cannot have order if people like Al-Sadr think they can bully you.
Why did we let ourselves in for all of this? As James Burnham used to say, "Where there's no alternative, there's no problem." The work of transforming the Middle East is going to be messy and difficult. But there is no alternative. To permit the region to simmer in ignorance, tyranny and fantasies of revenge is to incubate terrorism.