Nobel for Bush and Blair?

I have a provocative suggestion for the Nobel Prize selection committee: Tony Blair and George Bush for the Nobel Peace Prize.

They deserve it for ridding us of Saddam Hussein, undoubtedly one of the world's worst tyrants and mass murderers since Adolf Hitler, and for triggering a wave of democratic stirring throughout Islamic world.

It would be a particularly fitting tribute for the prime minister, who may or may not survive this week's British general election. But whether in or out of office, he should be honored for standing for principle in Iraq in the face of considerable dissent from his own compatriots. His stand is reminiscent of that of Winston Churchill in the late 1930s who correctly pinpointed the evil of Hitler while some of his countrymen looked the other way.

Now before the steam starts coming out of the ears of all those anti-Bush and anti-Blair folks, let's look at a few facts.

One of the foremost arguments likely to be marshaled against a Nobel for Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair is that they brought freedom to Iraq only after waging war. But a string of other winners got the peace prize after being involved in both war and peace. They include such luminaries as Henry Kissinger, Menachem Begin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Yasser Arafat, Kofi Annan, and Jimmy Carter.

Another criticism is that the war in Iraq was waged on the pretext of neutralizing Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. True, those weapons turned out not to be there. But every major Western intelligence service believed before the outset of war that they were there. The United Nations believed they were there. The Israelis believed they were there. The Saudis believed they were there. Some of Hussein's generals believed they were there because Hussein told them so, even while he was telling the UN they weren't there. US intelligence agencies believed they were there. And, in the face of all this, Bush and Blair mistakenly believed they were there.

If the premise was wrong, the overthrow of Hussein was still a plus for everyone who cherishes freedom for all.

Bush and Blair, the American conservative and British Labourite, were at one on ousting the Taliban from Afghanistan and setting that tragic Islamic land on the road to democracy.

But it was the elimination of Hussein and the stirring turnout of millions of newly emancipated voters in Iraq - in defiance of death threats - that inspired the beginnings of a movement throughout the Arab world to claim freedom from repression and backwardness.

Thus we have witnessed Palestinians begin an orderly series of democratic elections, starting with the installation of their president, Mahmoud Abbas. With the passing of Arafat we have seen small but heartening steps in the direction of peace between Palestinians and Israelis - a cause Prime Minister Blair has forcefully championed.

Two important Arab allies of the US - Saudi Arabia and Egypt - have, in the face of nudging by Bush, taken some hesitant steps in the right direction.

Saudi Arabia, has held limited, but nonetheless welcome, elections for municipal councils.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, sensing the winds of change, will for the first time allow direct multiparty presidential elections in October. Those carefully orchestrated elections are likely to return Mr. Mubarak to power, but opposition parties are hopeful that further reforms will ensue.

Extraordinary events have taken place suddenly in Lebanon. Last week the longtime presence of Syrian occupation troops came to an end after significant international pressure upon the Damascus regime. Lebanon will conduct parliamentary elections in May, thus opening a new chapter in that country's history.

These events are a setback for Syria's dictatorial leader Bashar al-Assad, whose people see not only the makings of democracy in Iraq, but also in neighboring Lebanon, where huge crowds have taken to the streets in praise of liberty.

Even in Iran, presidential elections are due next month. There can be little optimism about the outcome there because the ruling regime has exerted a repressive hand upon opposition newspapers and politicians, carefully eliminating candidates who favor change. Nonetheless, even though they have little immediate chance of upending the regime by orthodox means, there is a wave of discontent among under-30 Iranians, who are acutely conscious of the positive changes taking place in nations around them.

When democracy takes hold in this region, the contribution of such Western leaders as Bush and Blair should not be overlooked.

John Hughes, who served as assistant secretary of State in the Reagan administration, is a former editor of the Monitor.

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