Its tempting on this day to get carried away with developments in Lebanon and predict that the dominos of Syria and Iran will fall soon. The excitement is palpable since it is the rare person who would have predicted even six short months ago that the murderous regime in Syria would stand down in the face of a popular uprising in Lebanon and permit its puppet regime to resign.
The truth is, that while many of us have long believed in the Iraq mission for the revolutionary change that we knew it could bring to the region, there were some dark days since the fall of Saddam when it seemed that this day would be a long time coming. Now that promise is once again at hand, we eagerly anticipate further progress. Yet now, more than ever, the actions that the U.S. and its allies take are critical to continued momentum.
Today was one step in the right direction. One step filled with the promise of a policy delivered, and a people freed. Tom Friedman in the NYT discussed the concept of tipping points in his Sunday column, and this, no doubt is a very big one. Yet tipping points are just that - moments where change hangs in the balance - and the actions of the United States and the people of Lebanon in the next hours and days are critical to the next phase. Priorty One for the U.S. is to stand with the people of Lebanon and demand, not only free democratic elections, but the immediate and total withdrawl of all Syrian troops as well. The people of Lebanon won a partial victory today, but for that victory to be complete, and for the dominos to continue to fall, Lebanon must become an independent sovereign state.
The strategic importance of Lebanon in this revolution cannot be understated. If Syria is booted from the country, and democratic elections held, Syria will then be surrounded by Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, all of which are undergoing democratic revolutions by varying but none-the-less, significant degrees. With this weekend's announcement by Egypt's Mubarak to accept multi-party elections, Syria's isolation begins to take on a depth that is historically unprecedented and with continued momentum, geographically irreversable.
Iraq, of course was the lynch-pin to U.S. strategy for two reasons. First, and most importantly, U.S. credibility in the region had been virtually destroyed since the end of the first Gulf War when we encouraged a popular uprising in Iraq and then allowed Saddam to use his helicopters to mow down Iraqi rebels. Its hard to conceive of a greater mistake being made at the time, because it sent a message to our enemies in the region that we were not serious in our intentions beyond securing the continued flow of oil. Following this error we then continued to compound it over the next decade as we looked the other way when Saddam shot at our planes that were legally enforcing the no fly zone, and when terrorist groups attacked the U.S. on our soil both at home and abroad. We were under seige, yet we refused to fight.
The second reason Iraq was critical to Bush's strategy of regime change in the region was its tactical postion against our enemies and friends in the region. Although Iraq had suffered under the regime of sanctions, it continued to maintain the region's largest military force. From our enemies point of view, destroying this force was critical to demonstrating U.S. will and ability, while removing the greatest threat to the forces of freedom. Invading and removing Saddam from Iraq served the added purpose of splitting the two greatest terror sponsors in the world, Iran and Syria. How pathetic did Syria sound last week when they announced they're strengthed alliance with Iran. Instead of an alliance it had the smell of a suicide pact. Iraq was the reason.
Iraq was also critical to the United State's tactical position vs. the Saudi kingdom as well. It escaped nobody's notice that 19 of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi, and we all are aware of how our Saudi "friends" have bought off the terror masters in the past with the lives of Americans. Yet without a credible alternative ally in the region, there was little we could do. The Kingdom of Saud wasn't a great friend but it was all past administrations had left us with. The newly ascendant Iraq, democratic in its governance, provides a regional lever from which the citizens of Saudi Arabia can observe freedom and begin to agitate for their own.
September 11th was the catalyst that ignited change. Its incredibly ironic that bin Laden planned the attack on the U.S. for just this reason, but expected an entirely different outcome. He believed that 9/11 would be the catalyst for a pan Arabic moslem resurgance, primarily because the U.S. had been so unwilling to react in the past. Instead the attack forced us to recognize the fact that we no longer had anything to lose in the region.
The U.S. and England along with our other allies now not only had the strength to demonstrate that we meant business, but we also finally had the integrity to give the Iraqi's their country back once Saddam was gone. This message was important in a region where strength is respected and honored. This time, instead of oil, we were there for the people because we have discovered that their liberty is inextricably linked to our security and economic vitality in this ever shrinking world
The left takes great effort to point out that security isn't perfect, people aren't completly safe in the new Iraq and that terrorists continue to kill the innocent. How is it that these people so completely miss the point? Of course Iraq isn't perfect, it's been a basket case country picked clean by a dictator and his priviledged few for forty years. We couldn't possibly fix the country overnight, but we could give it back to the people and give them the opportunity to fix their own country. This is all the Iraqi's want.
How do I know? Because I saw the people of Lebanon demand change today, motivated by the simple imperfect chance at freedom that the people of Iraq now have
This is also why the next few weeks in Lebanon are critical to continue the momentum. Syria knows that Lebanon represents the battle for the survival of its evil regime. Lose Lebanon and the "Wizard of Oz" effect will kick in - pay no attention to the scrawny boy optomatrist behind the curtain, and contine to fear us. Syria depended on Lebanon for trade, and access to the sea. It also systematically picked Lebanon clean having ruined its own economy long ago. Lose Lebanon and Syria loses everything. An opposition will form - assuming one is not already in place - and the people will stop being scared. They will remember George Bush's words in the State of the union:
"America will stand with the allies of freedom to support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."
and Syria will become the next domino.
This change will not happen overnight, and it is not assured. Dark days are still on the horizon, but in the distance we will always see the city on the hill. Our friends in the Middle East are just getting their first glimpse.
What is that phrase? Ah, yes. "More please".
UPDATE: VodkaPundit has an interesting historical perspective that you should read. See "Perspective".