Text size

There's no denying it: The United States has impressive military and technological capabilities. It defeated Iraq within a short time and at a low price. There have been relatively few Iraqi civilian casualties and the scale of destruction has not been massive.

From this point of view, the doomsayers were wrong. But does that mean those who opposed the war were mistaken? Does the rapid victory make the war more just? Will the Iraqis henceforth be more free than they were, and will the world be a better place?

On the weekend, the London Sun ran a drawing of a target with the faces of the "traitors" on it - Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder, Kofi Annan and the other war opponents. Members of the public were invited to fire their slings and arrows at them. But that's not what they deserve.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, a wave of euphoria is sweeping its fomenters and supporters. Commentators have rushed to acclaim George W. Bush as one of America's greatest presidents. But history is filled with examples of wars that ended with easy, quick victories that blinded the victors and left protracted disasters in their wake. After the 1967 Six-Day War, for example, a wave of victory celebrations swept Israel; but 36 years later, the blood of both the winners and the losers continues to be shed.

The United States went to war because of the danger Saddam Hussein's regime posed to the security of the world. So far, nothing to back up that claim has been found in the form of nonconventional weapons. They may yet be discovered and maybe the UN weapons inspectors would have found them without a war. But, in any event, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Iraq did not use such weapons in the war, not even when the leadership's back was against the wall, as many had predicted.

The second declared goal of the war, the "liberation of Iraq," has also not yet been achieved. A despotic regime was toppled, but no one knows whether its successor will also be a tyranny, perhaps even a worse one. Saddam was not Hitler or even Stalin, contrary to the opinion of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Saddam was a brutal dictator, though there are many like him elsewhere. Having been released from Saddam's oppression, Iraq is liable to find itself under a fundamentalist Shiite regime that is even darker and will constitute a greater threat to the world's peace. A country that was not a center of international terrorist activity is liable to become one.

From the point of view of the Iraqi people, too, the cries of joy are premature. It is easy to understand the celebrators, but a liberation that begins with looting and anarchy does not bode well.

Those who likened the smashing of the statues of Saddam to the toppling of the Berlin Wall should consider the differences between the two events. The East Germans knocked down the wall that imprisoned them with their own hands and then went westward to freedom. The statues of Saddam were destroyed by foreign tanks and the liberated people went to loot his palaces. The Iraqi people could soon find themselves caught up in a vicious civil war. The fact that both dramatic events, in Berlin and Baghdad, were broadcast live on television does not necessarily make them similar. In contrast to the toppling of the wall, if the smashing of the statues does not herald a deeper change, it will become no more than a footnote in the history books.

The promulgators of freedom the United States is so far bringing to Iraq - dubious figures such as Ahmed Chalabi, who was sentenced in absentia in Jordan to 22 years in prison for embezzlement, and his 60 mercenaries, are no cause for joy as far as the Iraqis are concerned.

It is also wishful thinking to believe a new dawn is about to break in the Middle East. It is still not clear whether democracy will be established in Iraq and it is certainly impossible to predict at this time that democracies will be set up in other Arab countries. Moreover, with or without democratic Arab countries, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains one of the bloodiest and most prolonged conflicts in the world, and continues to pose a serious threat to global order because it is a breeding ground for international terrorism. That conflict will be resolved only if the Israeli occupation comes to an end.

If the American victory in Iraq generates a deep change in U.S. policy toward Israel and the administration dares to take the chance, for the first time in its history, of putting heavy and unrelenting pressure on Israel to make it leave the occupied territories, and if peace is achieved, it will then be possible to talk about a "new Middle East."

From this point of view, as from every other, the victory celebrations are coming too soon. It's possible that something good will come of a bad situation and that an unjust war will develop into a truly positive change.

At the moment, though, those who are basking in the easy victory that produced the conquest of Iraq and the smashing of the statues are far from being able to promise that change.