lowly we are coming to the last few moves of a yearlong and tedious game. Saddam Hussein supposes that through delay, denial, and obstruction he can for a second decade stymie weapons inspectors and international bureaucrats, and thereby outfox the United States — in the process snatching victory from his rendezvous with ruin. He has slowly boxed himself into a corner in which he must deny the presence of weapons that he — and the world — knows exist.
When that revelation of their existence occurs, checkmate looms, and the wages of war follow — some time, I imagine, between mid-January and early March. Few who now express empathy, if not support, will join in Saddam's jihad. The Arab world, after all, can tolerate well enough genocide and torture, but not at all the humiliation of riding a sickly horse.
The results will have ramifications that make those in Afghanistan pale in comparison — and perhaps change both the complexion of the present war and the Middle East itself in ways we can now scarcely imagine. Current polls reflect widespread dislike of the United States in the Middle East. But what will such surveys reveal in six months, when an odious Saddam Hussein is removed and something follows far better than both him and the other autocrats in the region? Look at the change in Kabul for the answer.
In the post-Saddam chaos, a daily staple of news reports will be tours of Saddam's Ceausescu-like palaces and exposés of material excesses that would make Imelda Marcos blush — along with horrific tales from survivors of his gulag and glimpses into his labyrinth of torture. It won't be a pretty picture. Just as Venetian sailors used to stare aghast at what floated up when they deliberately sank their galleys right outside the harbor to cleanse the ballast of vermin, so too a post-Saddam Baghdad will disgorge especially foul residents that may well make the late Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas, and the Hussein progeny seem innocuous.
Most immediately, American relationships with the so-called moderate despots in the region, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, will be turned topsy-turvy — if they are not already. These regimes, lest we forget, are ruled by failed autocrats that receive either American largess or troops to protect their unpopular and unelected governments — and in thanks unleash their fanged state-controlled presses against us. Their faux ministers and bought intellectuals talk of anti-Americanism ad nauseam, failing to realize that the American people have had it with all of them.
So if a newly constituted Iraq emerges as a sane state, America will have no desire or need to protect Mr. Mubarak, King Hussein, or the Saudi royals from the wave of popular uprisings that we ourselves helped to let loose in Iraq. Their only long-term salvation, then, is right now to begin democratic reforms, open up their media, and hope for our forbearance.
For over a year now we have witnessed a depressing spectacle in Europe of opportunistic anti-Americanism as incoherent as it is shrill. But ultimately the Europeans — soon in multistage-rocket range of Baghdad — also wish Saddam Hussein gone. The presence of their own security forces in Afghanistan shows they know the country is a better place after the Taliban — and that it was freed only thanks to Anglo-American resolve.
Europeans also worry about their own unassimilated Muslim populations. The hatred that they once tolerated emanating from mosques is no longer seen as eccentric. Indeed, the fundamentalists' venomous anti-Semitic and anti-American slurs are starting to widen to include, of all people, them! — the fundamentalists' most generous hosts. Europeans can forgive hating the Jews or odium toward the United States, but cannot so easily swallow subsidized ingratitude. Blowing up the World Trade Center is one thing; talk of attacks on the Vatican by foreign welfare recipients are quite another.
Most privately confess that the American military, far from being an agency of empire, more or less defends them from those against whom they wish to be protected — and that neither collectively nor individually could European states respond forcefully to a 9/11-type assault. Should the pope be targeted or the Acropolis toppled, they know the Americans will be hunting the perpetrators whom they themselves have for so long placated.
Thus it would be wise for Europeans to get out ahead of the curve, and be resolute in supporting the removal of Saddam Hussein, before they, like the Arab "moderates," become increasingly irrelevant. The real story is not one of anti-Americanism — itself old and boring — but of a new anti-Europeanism prevalent here. Personally I would not worry too much about the anger of a spent France or schizophrenic Germany, but would about an aroused United States — not merely because of its power, but because exasperated Americans have a longer memory. How strange that increasingly Russians, Indians, and eastern Europeans — not our more natural allies, Frenchmen or Germans — are now more popular with us.
Indeed, for all the grand idealism of Kyoto, Durban, and the ICC, Americans accept that in the past western Europeans would have cold-heartedly sold out Taiwan, Israel, or South Korea in any major confrontation in which democracy and sacrifice on the one side were pitted against autocracy, profit, and appeasement on the other. So Iraq is not merely a referendum on European-American relations, but rather a litmus test of the moral status of Europe itself, and of what side of history it wishes to be on. Let us hope it awakens from its ethical coma to take its rightful place at the vanguard of the war against barbarity.
The American left has missed yet another train as it was leaving. Currently it is reeling from an array of staggering developments that in the post-Cold War era threaten to leave it as discredited as segregationist Republicans were during the civil-rights movement. Anti-Semitism is suddenly more commonly a phenomenon of the academic Left than of the old, white, Neanderthal Right. Multiculturalism and cultural equivalence have been refuted by the ghoulish nature of the Taliban; the more the world learns about the "alternative" universe of Saddam Hussein and kindred Middle Eastern regimes, the more it shudders in horror.
Censorship, catcalls at lectures, and the stealing of newspapers are not Mr. Ashcroft's doing but now also a hallmark of the campus Left — mostly ignored by timid college presidents. Amnesty International and the United Nations mollify rather than oppose odious regimes. Pacifism does not work in a world where the World Trade Center is incinerated. The hysterics of a Chomsky, Vidal, Mailer, or Said — never really refuted by the more responsible Left — were proved harebrained by the rapidity and economy of the American victory and the benevolent nature of the Karzai government in Afghanistan.
Exaggerating the collateral damage from the most precise weapons in military history, inflating by magnitudes of ten and more civilian casualties, spreading ad hoc conspiracy theories about pipelines, oil, and Texas corporations, raising doomsday scenarios of global anti-Americanism and nuclear hysteria in the Middle East — all that is about the extent and quality of the current anti-war exegesis, itself mostly discredited by its previous and completely wrong predictions concerning Afghanistan.
So in the few days that are left, in the calm before the storm, the Left should scramble to reclaim its moral currency by condemning our enemies and disassociating itself from appeasement. If it does not, the 2004 elections may well resemble 1972 or 1980 in their lopsidedness. The shrillness of Kerry more and more resembles a 1972 McGovern or 1980 Carter.
Something strange is happening, as if all the old conventional wisdom proves daily insolvent. Each hour Saudi Arabia appears a more untenable ally, panicky as the light of truth shines into its deepest recesses. The Arab street sinks more and more into irrelevance, as lunatic as it is impotent; its anti-American hatred is to be welcomed rather than feared, given what it presently represents: gender apartheid, religious intolerance, tribalism, and anti-Semitism. Middle Eastern leaders may shake fingers and talk tough, but they have no moral credibility and still less power — and, like former Eastern European Communist hacks, are likely to become the flotsam and jetsam in a tidal wave of change.
All this September 11 has exposed. But perhaps the queerest phenomenon of all was where real wisdom was to be found in our hour of greatest need. The Kennedy School of Government offered little insight. The Arabists in our universities were worse, more duplicitous even than naive. Some of our acclaimed novelists, poets, filmmakers, and essayists offered up things reprehensible. An array of ex-ambassadors to Saudi Arabia proved comical if not venal. Former President Carter's half-baked ideas of disarmament and pre-Nobel-prize posturing made Chamberlain's Munich accords look statesmanlike; former President Clinton's lip-biting and apologies rendered caricature redundant. Some of our own diplomats' early trial balloons — a coalition government in Afghanistan or an all-Islamic peace force — could be improved upon by brainstorming high-school seniors.
Instead, a president who supposedly slurred his words and forgot dictator's names sensed the extent and threat of a rare evil, as well as the remedy for its demise that had escaped his supposed betters. And so far that has made all the difference in this strange war.