Real progress -- for a change

Posted: Mar 18, 2005 12:00 AM

Well, that didn?t take very long. Comparatively.

On March 12, Syria?s president promised to withdraw a third of his country?s 15,000 troops and 5,000 intelligence agents from Lebanon by the end of the month. Bashar Assad also says that any military and intelligence assets he decides to leave in Lebanon will be moved to the eastern Bekaa Valley by that time.

Now, Syria?s had troops in Lebanon (most of us would say it has occupied Lebanon) for 29 years. So on that level, this redeployment has been a long time coming. But by United Nations? standards, Syria?s moving at lightning speed.

After all, it was only in September that the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1559, which called ?upon all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon.? Since Syria has the only foreign forces there, that message was aimed squarely at Damascus.

In other words, it?s been just six months since the U.N. -- acting at the request of the U.S. and France -- passed a resolution, and already Syria?s taking action. Plus, this is only one resolution. The world has demanded -- clearly and definitively, one time -- that Syria should leave, and they?re leaving.

Contrast that with, oh, say, Iraq. Over more than a decade, from 1990 through 2003, the U.N. passed 16 resolutions ordering Iraq to give up its weapons of mass destruction and prove it had done so. In response, Saddam Hussein stalled, lied, hid, denied. He never complied.

Finally, in its 4,644th meeting (not all of them were about Iraq, although it sure seems as if they were), the Security Council passed Resolution 1441, giving Saddam one final chance to comply. It ordered, ?The government of Iraq shall provide to UNMOVIC, the IAEA, and the Council, not later than 30 days from the date of this resolution, a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programs to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.?

Iraq didn?t comply.

Why should it have? It had been ignoring the U.N. for years and never faced any consequences. Think of it this way: You ask your child to take out the trash. Then you ask again. And again and again and again and again. He never does it. Eventually you take out the trash yourself. It?s not really his fault. If you make the same request 17 times and there are never any consequences if he disobeys, that simply shows that you really don?t care whether he complies or not.

Similarly, getting the Security Council to pass a series of resolutions that all say the same thing isn?t a success -- it?s a signal of failure. It means the Security Council is giving orders it knows will be ignored and never punishing anyone for ignoring them.

Well, the United States finally enforced those resolutions. That?s what the war in Iraq was all about. No one ?lied? about weapons of mass destruction (except Saddam). We simply, finally, did what the U.N. had been vowing to do for years: enforce its resolutions. And by getting rid of Saddam, we cleared the way for national elections and gave Iraqis a chance to taste freedom. That?s an excellent bonus to what was already a good policy.

Some will call this too simplistic. After all, in recent weeks we?ve seen thousands of Lebanese marching in the streets demanding Syria leave. And those brave people certainly played a part in Assad?s decision.

But most would agree that the Lebanese wouldn?t have had the confidence to march if they hadn?t recently watched the Iraqi people vote, and if they hadn?t heard President Bush?s inaugural vow to support freedom around the world, and if they hadn?t seen American support for last fall?s ?Orange Revolution? in Ukraine.

Before he became president-for-life, Basher Assad was an ophthalmologist. Clearly, after watching the United States finally enforce U.N. resolutions in Iraq, the scales fell from Assad?s eyes. He realizes that dictators will no longer get 17 chances to flout the will of the world, so he?d better act on that first request.

President Bush says he wants to spread freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East. His critics were mocking him back in January -- now we?re already seeing fruits from his labor. And in a region where change is often measured in decades and often depends on the death of a ruler -- like Basher?s father Hafiz, or Palestinian leader and terrorist mastermind Yasser Arafat -- that?s real progress.

Viva la revolution.