WASHINGTON -- Recently, I've had the chance to travel around the United States
and do some call-in radio shows, during which the question of Iraq has come up
often. And here's what I can report from a totally unscientific sample: Don't
believe the polls that say a majority of Americans favor a military strike against
Iraq. It's just not true.
It's also not true that the public is solidly against taking on Saddam Hussein.
What is true is that most Americans are perplexed. The most oft-asked question
I heard was some variation of: "How come all of a sudden we have to launch
a war against Saddam? What worries me are Osama and the terrorists still out there."
That's where I think most Americans are at. Deep down they believe that Saddam
is "deterrable." That is, he does not threaten the United States and
he never has, because he has been deterred the way that Russia, China and North
Korea have been. He knows that if he even hints at threatening us, we will destroy
him. Saddam has always been homicidal, not suicidal. Indeed, he has spent a lifetime
perfecting the art of survival - because he loves life more than he hates us.
No, what worries Americans are not the deterrables like Saddam. What worries
them are the "undeterrables" - the kind of young Arab-Muslim men who
hit America on Sept. 11, and are still lurking. Americans would pay virtually
any price to eliminate the threat from the undeterrables - the terrorists who
hate us more than they love their own lives, and therefore cannot be deterred.
I share this view, which is why I think the Iraq debate is upside down. Most
strategists insist that the reason the United States must go into Iraq - and the
only reason - is to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction, not regime change
and democracy building. I disagree.
I think the chances of Saddam being willing, or able, to use a weapon of mass
destruction against us are being exaggerated. What terrifies me is the prospect
of another Sept. 11 - in my mall, in my airport or in my downtown - triggered
by angry young Muslims, motivated by some pseudo-religious radicalism cooked up
in a mosque in Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Pakistan. And I believe that the only way
to begin defusing that threat is by changing the context in which these young
men grow up - namely all the Arab-Muslim states that are failing at modernity
and have become an engine for producing undeterrables.
So I am for invading Iraq only if we think that doing so can bring about regime
change and democratization. Because what the Arab world desperately needs is a
model that works - a progressive Arab regime that by its sheer existence would
create pressure and inspiration for gradual democratization and modernization
around the region.
I have no illusions about how difficult it would be to democratize a fractious
Iraq. It would be a huge, long, costly task - if it is doable at all, and I am
not embarrassed to say that I don't know if it is. All I know is that it's the
most important task worth doing and worth debating. Because only by helping the
Arabs gradually change their context - a context now dominated by anti-democratic
regimes and anti-modernist religious leaders and educators - are we going to break
the engine that is producing one generation after another of undeterrables.
These undeterrables are young men who are full of rage. They are raised with
a view of Islam as the most perfect form of monotheism, but they look around their
home countries and see widespread poverty, ignorance and repression. And they
are humiliated by it, and it is this humiliation - this poverty of dignity - that
drives them to suicidal revenge. The quest for dignity is a powerful force in
human relations.If we don't find some way to help these countries reverse these
deficits now - while access to smaller and smaller nuclear weapons is still limited
- their young, angry undeterrables will blow us up long before Saddam ever does.
Copyright © 2002 the International Herald Tribune