Markers for a New Mideast
The United States and its allies in the Iraq war hope to officially proclaim victory in a few days. A military victory, that is.
Many other kinds of victories are yet to come in Iraq, as well as in the global war on terrorism.
Toppling Saddam Hussein's regime (and his statues) was just a line item in that larger war, as was ridding Afghanistan of Al Qaeda training camps and the Taliban in 2001.
In fact, "war" is the wrong term for much of what the Bush administration is doing or has in mind to prevent another Sept.11-style attack on the US by terrorists.
In Iraq, for instance, the most victorious moment will be the discovery of chemical or biological weapons that the US claims are there, and then the inauguration of a democracy that won't attack its neighbors or support terrorism.
Smaller victories will be needed along the way in Iraq, such as reconstructing the economy while preventing the US dollar from being adopted as the favored Iraqi currency; making sure US soldiers don't behave badly with local people, especially women; and helping recover treasures stolen from the Iraqi National Museum.
The US should also be wary of trying to negotiate a permanent military presence in Iraq with a government it is now mothering into existence. That idea, being considered by the Bush administration, would eviscerate another victory the US has quietly planned after the Iraq war: pulling US troops out of Saudi Arabia.
Both Iraq and Saudi Arabia are home to Muslim holy sites that, if "defiled" by a US presence, would once again incite terrorists like Osama bin Laden to launch attacks.
More than war is needed to moderate the behavior of would-be Arab terrorists or other Middle Eastern states sponsoring terrorism, such as Syria and Iran. American resolve to use war has been proven. Now US resolve must be used for peaceful victories in the region, starting with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The US has already weakened Palestinian President Yasser Arafat by seeking a Palestinian prime minister and cabinet that can be an alternative power to Mr. Arafat. Now it must lower the boom on Israel by issuing a diplomatic "road map" that can curtail Israeli land grabs on Palestinian territory. Forcing concessions from Israel won't be easy for President Bush. But he can both help prevent more attacks on Israeli civilians and prevent another terrorist attack on the US by shepherding moves toward creation of a Palestinian state soon.
Bush also has plans to uplift the economies of the 22 Arab nations and create civil institutions that can lead to more democracy. Such steps are difficult to measure as victories. But they should be counted as much as war.