if we've won the battle, we've lost the war

We are going to be paying for our stupidity for generations.

[The Americans] pulled up in a tank and are Westerners, the same people who promised all last century that the Arab world would be able to throw off the yoke of colonialism yet never let them.

Proof? Look at Israel, they say here, a Western colonial outpost planted on Arab soil in 1948. The United States has for decades been promising the Palestinians a state with freedom and self-determination. What have they delivered? Nothing.

There, in that sense of historical impotence and betrayal, is the root of the frustration, sadness and rage that shot through the Arab world on Wednesday when an American armored vehicle toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein in the heart of Baghdad.

"Saddam Hussein fomented a miracle: he took history backwards many generations," Talal Salman, the publisher of the respected Al-Safir newspaper in Beirut, wrote in a bitter front page editorial, grieving the loss of the richest Arab civilization to what he described as a colonial power.

"What a tragedy again plaguing the great people of Iraq," he wrote. "They have to chose between the night of tyranny and the night of humiliation stemming from foreign occupation."

Toward the end, even when they knew the game was lost, many Arabs were rooting for the idea that even Iraqis who despised Mr. Hussein would take up arms along side his troops. A little more of him seemed preferable to a lot of Americans.

"They know that the Saddam Hussein regime will eventually end one day, he will die," said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a professor of social sciences at the Lebanese American University. "With America you have a whole system, an entirely different system. The threat from America is far greater than the threat from a government that will disappear one day."

There is a small constituency of writers, editors and intellectuals that believes the United States will in fact create a better Iraq, a civil society run by Iraqis. They argue that the rapid collapse of Mr. Hussein's government should serve as a slap in the face, a warning that Arabs need to jettison their dictators and their socialist police states and learn to compete in the modern world.

But many, perhaps most, suspect the war is just to grab oil and to castrate the one country that remained a potential threat to Israel. Democracy delivered at gunpoint appears a dubious proposition.

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Published on April 13, 2003 11:41 PM.

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