Saturday, March 05, 2005

Avoiding Triumphalism

The recent pro-democracy trend in the Middle East is an extremely encouraging development. Still, as Ralph Peters reminds us in yesterday's New York Post, now is hardly the time to start celebrating:

FOR three years, this column has shot down the pessimists who warned we were bound to fail in the Middle East. Now those of us who see our confidence vindicated must beware a premature euphoria.

There's plenty of work ahead.


This isn't a time to gloat. Instead, we need to work harder than ever, to keep pushing, to exploit the current momentum.

We should be encouraged -- our enemies are certainly discouraged -- but more American soldiers and civilians are going to be killed in the days ahead. The Middle East's degenerate regimes will not all go down without a fight. Nor will the many terrorists they spawned.

On Wednesday, David Ignatius made a similar point in the Washington Post:

We are now watching a glorious catastrophe take place in the Middle East. The old system that had looked so stable is ripping apart, with each beam pulling another down as it falls. The sudden stress that produced the catastrophe was the American invasion of Iraq two years ago. But this Arab power structure has been rotting at the joints for a generation. The real force that's bringing it down is public anger.

It's hard not to feel giddy, watching the dominoes fall. In Lebanon, "people power" forced the resignation Monday of Syria's puppet government; in Egypt, the Pharaonic Hosni Mubarak agreed Saturday to allow other candidates to challenge his presidency for life; in Iraq, the momentum of January's elections is still propelling the nation forward, despite bickering politicians and brutal suicide bombers.

But catastrophic change is dangerous, even when it's bringing down a system people detest. This is not a time for U.S. triumphalism, or for gloating and lecturing to the Arabs. That kind of arrogance got us into trouble in Iraq during the first year of occupation. It was only when Iraqis began to take control of their own destinies that this project began to go right. The same rule holds for Lebanon, Egypt and the rest. America can help by keeping on the pressure, but it's their revolution.

Make no mistake: the process of democratic change in the Middle East is still very much in its infancy. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Fostering freedom in the Arab world is not some feel good exercise: it is essential to our safety. Only by offering the peoples of the region the opportunity to build societies based on hope instead of fear can we truly defeat the forces of hatred and fanaticism that spawned 9/11. It will be long and costly, and will require patience, commitment, and sacrifice. It won't be easy, but the costs of inaction, of pursuing short term stability at the expense of long term safety, would ultimately be far greater.


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