Saturday, November 22, 2003

America's noble mission

By Norman J.W. Goda
Guest columnist

"Anyone now who tries to help his people through the Americans is at risk." - Mohammed Ahmed Zebari, Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 11, 2003

"To do something like this ... this is truly beyond the pale of human conduct ... even animals don't commit evil like this."- Rabbi Isak Haleva, Istanbul, Nov. 15, 2003.

Anyone attacked by dogs instantly understands the canine mentality better than canines understand themselves. Mohammed Ahmed Zebari and his son Ali were in a taxi in front of their home on the morning of Nov. 11 when attacked by Baathists with machine guns. The father was wounded in the leg. The son, who was on his way to classes, was killed by a bullet in the head. Lying in a hospital, Zebari clearly understood that his son was dead because he, the father, had helped to distribute fuel oil to the northern part of Iraq before winter set in, thus also helping in the American aim of stabilizing the country by providing basic necessities.

Rabbi Haleva, shaken after al-Qaida car bombs ripped through two Istanbul synagogues, one during a bar mitzvah, quickly understood his attackers as well. They had by their actions, he said, separated themselves from the rest of humanity. There are certain things one does not do, suggested the rabbi, simply because one is a human being born with the capability of compassion and remorse.

And in a month when Islamic terrorists have stepped up attacks on U.S. and now even Italian soldiers in Iraq, thus moving steadily toward their aim of exhausting American troops while weakening U.S. public resolve, such perspectives may remind us in the coming months why the United States and a score of other countries have put their men and women at such terrible risk.

Iraq has turned ghastly in the last months for the lack of a battlefront. During the Cold War, one always knew where that front lay. In 1948 it was in Berlin when the Soviets blocked the flow of food, coal and medicine to civilians; in 1950 it was at the 38th parallel, where North Koreans, inspired by their psychopathic Maoist allies, attacked South Korea; In 1962 it was Cuba, where an equally apoplectic dictator urged his Soviet friends to launch a nuclear strike on Florida. The fronts solidified over time and were known and understood by everyone.

The military front against terror is defined only by the holes from which the animals may crawl, be they of al-Qaida, Saddam's old Baath Party, Hamas or other such groups. The front was a building with Italian troops in Nasariya one day, synagogues in Turkey another day, and restaurants or buses in Israel virtually any time. And thus the moral front - defined by what humanity can and cannot tolerate - must be as clear to all as the Berlin sector borders were in their day.

Faced with the choice between fighting heavily armed U.S. columns in April or attacking an engineer and his son in a taxi in November, Saddam's supporters chose the taxi. Given the choice between attacking armed Turkish soldiers or two Turkish synagogues on the Jewish sabbath, al-Qaida chose the synagogues. And as the sickening bombing during a bar mitzvah so prosaically shows, terrorists cannot even wait for their child targets to become men.

It is true that the White House and Pentagon have made a long string of notable mistakes in their Afghan and Iraq policies. The Pakistani border was poorly guarded, likely allowing Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Omar to escape. Intelligence analyses concerning Iraqi biological and chemical programs were misleading. Both wars were declared "over" too early, thus creating false expectations. The awarding of no-bid reconstruction contracts in Iraq to Halliburton and Bechtel is unseemly at the very least. And when aligned with the upsetting news of American dead and wounded, such problems provoke justifiable exasperation toward a government that fights brilliantly but cannot get out of its own way politically.

The moral front remains regardless - and it is in the Middle East where the brackish mixture of dictatorship, official corruption, deliberate misinterpretation of religious scripture, and loathing toward Jews and Americans have created the bitter soil in which such terrorism can germinate among populations which are of themselves honorable. Thus in the Middle East must the soil be plowed anew so that an official respect for individual life and for humanity as a whole might grow. In contrast to the Romans, who, it was said, plowed salt into the fields of Carthage so that nothing would grow, the United States, with its worthier allies, is trying to create something not only beneficial but vitally necessary.

Many in the West retain hope that Iraq can provide a point of democratic progress. Judging from nervous reactions in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Iraq is already becoming such an example. The magnitude of the mission overshadows the meanness of its blunders. And as Mohammed Ahmed Zebari and Rabbi Isak Haleva have reminded us, it is a mission worthy of American wealth, power and attention.

Norman J.W. Goda is an associate professor of history at Ohio University, specializing in international relations.

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