Three Iraq war miracles?

Posted: Jun 03, 2004 12:00 AM

 "Do you believe in miracles?" With the film "Miracle" out on video, many are hearing announcer Al Michaels' famous question as the U.S. hockey team upset the heavily favored Soviets in 1980. I do believe in miracles, both in individual lives and in international events -- just look at the world's unlikely record of 59 years now without a nuclear war.

 My definition of an international politics miracle is an event that would have seemed near-impossible only a short time before it happened, like the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I see God's hand in miracles. Others see differently, but we can all examine the steep odds against peace in Iraq. As Mindy Belz, World magazine's international editor, puts it: "We've spent nearly a year empowering everyone over there, good and bad, and so we have a stew. To survive long term, Iraqis needs a federal system, but to survive until December they will need strong central government."

 So, miracle No. 1: What if the mess in Fallujah serves to unite Shiites and Kurds, who out of concern about renewed Sunni influence can unite democratically and agree to give each other lots of autonomy? What if the U.S. seizes bin Laden, patrols Iraq's borders and succeeds in clamping down on Sunni terror? What a Thanksgiving we could have this November!

 Let's move to the prospects for miracle No. 2: Instant global communication helping rather than hurting the peace process. Iraq is now like the mountain climber who, dying on top of Everest, was talking to his wife on a cellphone -- Iraqi democracy doesn't have enough oxygen to breathe, but communication advances allow us to hear each gasp clearly. Our tendency is to crowd in when we should be standing back so that we don't get in the way of the rescue team, the soldiers who can rout Iraq's bullies.

 Does that mean we should censor photos and videos of the war that make our side look bad, as the Abu Ghraib materials do? Not at all -- but we shouldn't be passive when U.S. networks do their own censorship for ideological and political reasons. Photos and videos aplenty of Saddam's tortures exist, but many of our journalists are more interested in a few episodes of perversity than the stories of the 30,000 prisoners Saddam's regime executed at Abu Ghraib.

 Last week in Washington, I attended the first public showing of "Remembering Saddam," a 50-minute film that focuses on how Abu Ghraib torturers cut off the right hands of men who exchanged Iraqi money for dollars during the 1990s. Those men were fortunate to escape with their lives, and seven of them were present at the premiere, waving new, high-tech hands that American ingenuity and compassion have given them.

 ABC, CBS and NBC should be in a bidding war for their film; CNN, to its credit, showed about 10 minutes of it last week. Some people say that communications technology makes warfare asymmetrical, since we display our sins while tyrants torture and kill their opponents in secret. But even brutes may take pride in their work, and film it for posterity -- a society like ours is only at a disadvantage if media gatekeepers try to keep out anything that could help to re-elect George W. Bush.

 So miracle No. 2 would be letting all the light shine. Television networks should show us what we're fighting against, even if that makes more people understand what we're fighting for. Given demonstrated press bias, such a turnaround would be extraordinary

 And here's one more miracle to look for: something good to come out of the Abu Ghraib revelations. So far they have affected America in two ways. They made some give up on the Iraq war, and that hurts us militarily. They made others argue that war is war and degradation happens, so get used to it -- that could be a cultural loss. It's hard to be as tough as we need to be, in this war against terrorism, without brutalizing ourselves. Miracle No. 3 would be finding a way.