The fruits of catastrophe

It’s been a few days short of two years since the United Statesinvaded Iraq, and it’s safe to say that nobody, whether for or against the war then, could have foreseen what has happened since.

History ultimately will judge the significance and morality of this war. Right now we are too close to it, and events are occurring too rapidly and unexpectedly, to know what that judgment will be.

Those who, like us, opposed the war early on because it was unprovoked, because Saddam Hussein posed no threat to the United States, and because it was wrong to take such unilateral action without the support of the international community, have watched with dismay as disaster has been piled onto disaster, beginning with the post-invasion looting all across Iraq. Then came the profiteering by Halliburton, the growing Sunni insurgency and the violence it created, the shameful Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the accounts of “rendition” of suspects to be tortured elsewhere, the staggering costs and, throughout, the mounting list of American and Iraqi casualties, the latter in the tens of thousands and largely ignored by American media.

Meanwhile, the original rationales for invasion—that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was allied with al-Qaeda—turned out to be bogus.

All the while, though, it was impossible, even for opponents of the war, not to feel glad that Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror had ended. And earlier this year the Iraqi elections gave hope that the country was moving, slowly and painfully, toward some form of democracy.

It would be churlish for opponents of the war not to give President Bush some credit here. Televised images of Iraqis voting have ignited a flame of reform throughout the area, especially in Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Clearly, the pent-up desire for freedom was greater than previously known or imagined. As one Arab commentator noted, people there are citing the Koranic verse that speaks of a catastrophe that bears good fruit.

How this will play out remains to be seen, of course. Some of the most authoritarian regimes in the Middle East—Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt chief among them—are close allies of the United States. None of them wants to relinquish power, and the U.S. isn’t about to invade them to force the issue. But if, for example, Iraq succeeds in creating a functioning democracy, the Israelis and Palestinians continue to cooperate to resolve their issues, and Hezbollah agrees to join the government of Lebanon, this brief springtime of hope may become a true flowering.