Back to 1956

The opponents of the war in Iraq are right: It is indeed a colonialist war. The Anglo-American decision to intervene in the domestic affairs of a Third World country, to disarm it and change its government, is a decision from another era. In the universal terms of equality between nations and cultures, and the supremacy of international law, it is impossible to justify such a war. It is an expression of a relationship of mastery by one part of the West toward part of the Arab world. Thus, it returns us to the conceptual world of 1956. It takes us back to the spirit of the Suez Campaign.

The current Anglo-American war against Saddam Hussein is remarkably similar to that earlier Anglo-French war against Gamal Abdel Nasser. It's true, as Orientalist Dan Shifton claims, between 1956 and 2003 there has been a precise reversal of the roles of the U.S. and France in the equation of the war. Moreover, the basic structure of the two campaigns are similar: When a nationalist Arab dictator threatens the interests of the West and upsets the world order dictated by the West, the West takes upon itself the right to invade that dictator's country and attempts to depose him. The West allows itself to intrude violently into the Arab region. That's colonialist behavior.

The supporters of the war in Iraq are also right. There's no alternative. One can argue over the timing, the style, the skill of the operation, but basically, there's no choice. There's no choice because the combination of a dictator and terror and weapons of mass destruction is an explosive mixture. There is no alternative because the Iraqi Pandora's box is already vibrating. The pains and evil and disease that are inside it are about to break out at any moment. And since that's the case, despite the risks involved, there is no alternative but to smash the box. The world we know cannot survive for long with an Iranian Pandora's box, an Iraqi Pandora's box, a Libyan Pandora's box and a North Korean Pandora's box, ticking away at its center.

The supporters of the war are right because what emerged at the beginning of the 21st century is that the West is no longer able to defend itself from within its own borders. It can no longer hide inside its own bubble of civilization. And since that's the case, to preserve the world order that is centered around the West and to sustain itself, it has no choice but to go back to those cultural worlds outside of itself and get involved in their domestic affairs. The West has no choice but to try to dry up the poisoned swamps that yield the lethal fevers of terror and despair and the attraction to mass destruction.

Thus, the foundations of the Iraq war include a sharp dilemma. On the one hand there is great doubt that there is moral justification and political logic to the pretentious American attempt to place English-speaking military governments in distant Muslim countries that have nothing in common with the U.S. It's highly doubtful that there is moral justification and political logic to sending Marines to the banks of the Euphrates to transform the Arab Babylon with some imposed McDonald's democracy. On the other hand, it is entirely clear that if Pandora states like Iraq do not undergo a root canal, they'll endanger the entire world.

Confronting the international community with this dilemma is the result of the utter failure of the decolonialization process in the Arab world. The process of the great powers giving up their rule of the Arab lands, which reached its climax after the Suez war, did not bring the peoples of the region either liberation or prosperity. On the contrary, it led to a deep crisis of the absence of democracy and failure to achieve modernization.

The half-century in which the Arab regimes had an opportunity to fulfill their natural right to run their own affairs led many of them to the brink. Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida are the end result of that monumental failure. The 47 years since Suez have turned the failed Middle East into a danger zone. Dangerous to itself, to its neighbors, even to Manhattan.

Therefore, the new Iraq war is not a crazed war of vengeance by the Bush family against Saddam Hussein's family. Nor is it a war about oil or narrow American interests. This is a much graver and more tragic war: a war to renew colonialization. A war by two democratic powers that reached the conclusion the only way to protect democratic civilization in the 21st century is by imposing it by force on its opponents. It is the war of two Western powers that reached the conclusion the only way to protect the success of the West from the failures of the Near East is to once again unfurl the umbrella of imperial patronage and send it into a long process of re-education. Like 1956, and the 150 years that preceded 1956.

It is highly doubtful this amazing attempt will succeed. The Suez war, it should be remembered, ended in a fiasco. It is very possible that the new Anglo-American assault can expect the same fate. It is difficult to see how the soldiers of the airborne divisions will manage to impose a foreign democratic vision on a harsh desert land suffering from an identity crisis. But the need that gave birth to this terrible war is a real need, and the challenge is a worldwide challenge: how to extricate the Middle East from its deep crisis, how to save the Middle East from itself.