Who is next on America's list?

The National Post

George Jonas
National Post

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Signs of nervousness popped up in the "Arab street" last week. With coalition forces converging on Baghdad, the Bush administration's warning to Syria to stop supporting Saddam Hussein's regime with military equipment seemed ominous. The admonition, issued not only by U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld but also by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, made some Mideast commentators reach for the panic button.

"It will not be in U.S. interests to hurl threats at certain countries and create the impression that they are next on the list of U.S. targets," wrote Samir Ragab, editor of the Egyptian daily, Algomhuria. Ghassan al-Khatib, Palestinian Minister of Labour, delivered himself of the opinion that "democracy cannot be introduced by tanks and warplanes." And Algeria's Foreign Minister, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, expressed his country's solidarity with Syria in the face of what he called "threats and menaces.

"The question now is who will be the next to be threatened?" Mr. Belkhadem asked (in what seemed like a curious echo of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's question.) Predictably, non-Arab members of President Bush's "axis of evil" also voiced their uneasiness. The theocrats of Tehran were outraged by Mr. Rumsfeld's remark that America would hold Iran responsible if the ayatollahs tried to fish in troubled waters by dispatching forces to Iraq. North Korea called any UN Security Council discussion of its nuclear program "a prelude to war," reiterating that it would only negotiate directly with the United States since the "UN had lost its mandate."

Much as one wishes that the rulers of Pyongyang were right for a change, the UN appears to be still breathing. Last week, both Mr. Powell and British Prime Minister Tony Blair engaged in heroic measures to keep the moribund organization hooked up to a life-support system. Mr. Powell was also at pains to reassure Arab-language readers of the London-based Al-Hayat that Syria and Iran won't be next on America's invasion list.

"Nobody in the American administration [has] talked about invading Iran or Syria," the U.S. Secretary of State was quoted as saying. "It seems that there is a constant desire by everybody to accuse us of invasion operations. That didn't, and won't, take place."

If Mr. Powell meant what he said, it's not necessarily good news. "Pax Americana" is a phrase often used sarcastically, but the concept has much to recommend it. Peace imposed by America could do wonders for the liberty and prosperity of the world.

Contrary to what Mr. al-Khatib suggests, democracy can be, and often has been, introduced by tanks and warplanes. In the last century it has been so introduced in Germany and Japan. An invasion may not be sufficient for the introduction of democracy, but it may be necessary. In our times it would be hard to conceive of democracy being introduced to Mullah Omar's Afghanistan or Saddam's Iraq any other way.

Though Mr. Powell precludes their use, some invasions can be salutary from a liberal democrat's point of view. The question is which ones. Feminists might justify going to war with any culture that doesn't allow women to drive, like Saudi Arabia. Humanists would call for military intervention to prevent one group ethnically cleansing another group, as in Kosovo.

Though I see the point of feminists and humanists, for me nothing justifies war except a threat to the security and interests of my own country and its allies. Much as I favour women driving whenever the spirit moves them, I wouldn't invade another culture for it. I might be tempted to send in the troops to stop internecine massacres, even in places of no strategic importance like the Balkans or Africa, but ultimately I'd recommend against it in most cases.

I don't think it's incumbent on the democracies of the West to force people to live in peace with their neighbours. If they can't come to terms on how to share a strip of land, too bad; let them duke it out. We can (and should) counsel peace, but it isn't our duty to shield such combatants from each other with the bodies of our own young men and women.

It's only when other cultures seek to involve us in their quarrels, whether by terrorism or by the development of weapons of mass destruction, that we're justified in sending tanks and warplanes to offer them tutorials in the benefits of democracy.

The regimes that meet the criteria of intervention include any that aren't armed with WMDs at present if they attempt to develop them. They also include regimes that already possess WMDs if they exhibit hostile intentions, e.g., North Korea. Naturally they include all regimes or ideologies that sponsor, train, shelter, or reward terrorists, as Iraq's Baathists or the Taliban have done.

Mr. Powell's assurances notwithstanding, we might soon decide to treat such entities as belligerent states. We might expose them to the usual consequences of belligerency, including blockades and invasions. Insofar as Syria's Bashir Assad or Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei flirt with developing WMDs or encouraging terrorists, they may find democracy being delivered to them by tanks and warplanes.

This, incidentally, is true for Saudi Arabia's royals as well. They'd be safer on their oily thrones if, instead of funding and condoning Islamofascist terror, they stuck to such relatively benign expressions of their culture as stoning adulterers, amputating the hands of thieves and preventing women from driving.

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