It is always a great day when the oppressed see their oppressor gone. Removing Saddam Hussein was the most persuasive of American arguments to invade Iraq. The idea got outweighed in much of the world by several good reasons not to go to war, especially in violation of the will of the United Nations.
In the last 22 days, Americans have tried twice to kill Saddam. They should spare him, so he can be tried as a war criminal, just as Slobodan Milosevic, ignoring the irony that America does not recognize the International Criminal Court.
It is time for the world to start rethinking how to target future Saddams or Osama bin Ladens without targeting innocent civilians.
With this unlawful war almost over, those of us who opposed it must acknowledge that the invaders took great care to avoid human casualties. And, for the most part, they succeeded.
Any civilian deaths are unacceptable. But the toll of 1,250, if true, is relatively low for an invasion of this magnitude backed by awesome air power.
The predicted humanitarian disaster was avoided, although the destruction inflicted on Iraqi cities was massive.
But, unlike the 1991 Gulf War, allied forces for the most part managed to avoid electricity grids, water systems and other civilian infrastructure.
This war was fought intelligently. It will pay off politically, at least in the short term, winning over nervous and brutalized Iraqis who neither rose up in revolt as predicted, nor received the foreigners with open arms until yesterday.
America also won its gamble that anti-war sentiment would recede once the conflict began and unfolded as planned.
Support for the war did go up in the U.S., of course, but also in Canada and Europe.
However, polls also show the world remains wary of President George Bush and also of American domination of post-Saddam Iraq sans the United Nations.
America stands at a crossroads. Having alienated the world by going to war, it has a chance now to recoup some of its credibility, which will be badly needed in the months ahead.
The hawks in the Bush administration say that post-war Iraq belongs to those who, according to Condoleezza Rice, shed "life and blood to liberate it." This is the trophy talk of the winner's circle. It is shortsighted, especially for America's relations with the Arab and Muslim world. There the war did little to staunch anger but, rather, fanned it.
One hopes for wiser heads to prevail in Washington in the days ahead as they plot strategy for what needs to be done inside Iraq as well as outside. The bigger the role for the U.N., the better.
All the neo-cons want from the U.N. is for it to legitimize an American governor in Iraq and distribute humanitarian aid, if that. They want an "interim authority" controlling oil and reconstruction contracts, as well as foreign policy.
This is a recipe for breeding resentment. The shorter the lifespan of the American-run administration, the better.
There are two arguments here.
Those who suggest there be no American rule at all are being ideological, not practical. Cheering and dancing in the streets will soon give way to looting and lawlessness. It already has in some places. You do need to fill the power vacuum.
Another school of thought is that America is not good at "nation building" — witness Afghanistan — but that it should stick around beyond scooping up the choicest contracts and oil concessions.
Jay Garner, the former general who will run Iraq, has said he hopes to work himself out of the job in 90 days. This is a reasonable timetable. America had better deliver on democracy.
Bush's ever-shifting rationale for war finally settled on liberating the Iraqi people and giving them a representative government.
"Liberators" usually have a preordained puppet to install in office. In Afghanistan, the choice was Ahmed Karzai, an exile with connections to the American oil industry and the Pentagon hawks.
They have their favorite for Iraq — Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress. He has already been flown into southern Iraq. He has a shady financial record. He has been in exile more than four decades. Plunking him in office will be akin to the British placing Prince Faisal on the Baghdad throne in 1921.
It is an insult to Iraqis to say they are not ready for democracy. They will no doubt need help in developing durable institutions of democracy and the rule of law (something Canada is good at transferring to emerging democracies). But anything short of moving toward true representative democracy will start a new cycle of problems.
In due time, the Shiite majority of Iraq should win its due share of power. The prospect spooks some people in the West. But we cannot pretend to be for democracy while wanting to control its outcome. This is the model that has given us the mess that is the Arab Middle East.
What happens inside Iraq will affect America's relations outside of it, besides whatever plans it has for the region.
Hawks want to conquer new lands. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said last Sunday, "There's got to be a change in Syria as well." Others want a regime change in Iran.
It's time for America to pause.
Haroon Siddiqui is the Star's editorial page editor emeritus. His column appears Thursday and Sunday.
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