So here's something I've been thinking about lately: What if President Bush ends up being remembered by history as a great President?
What if the Neocons were right about the Middle East, that it was at a tipping point just waiting for someone to give it a shove toward the modern world? What if Iraq really was the key? What if, in the next couple of years, Iraq achieves some kind of stable political self-determination, Lebanon regains its independence from Syria, and everyday Palestinians decide they want peace more than they want to cling to self-destructive points of pride? What if, as part of the bargain, the encouraged youth of Iran rise up and overthrow the mullahs, Egypt holds some real elections, and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad departs under cover of darkness for a long, wealthy, embittered exile?
What if, at the end of his term, President Bush has by force of his own will transformed the Arab World into something modern, a region ready to make a run at joining the 21st Century?
History isn't good with details. If the Mideast takes a great leap forward, history won't remember how many American soldiers died or whether the President and his crowd fudged the facts in leading the country to war. (Franklin Roosevelt, of course, fudged a bit, too, in edging the U.S. toward World War II, and no one remembers that because World War II was a war that brought such good results.) All history will remember is that a quarter of the world changed wildly for the better, and that it happened because of the President's will.
I don't like President Bush on a personal level. I don't think he's honest, first of all, and the smugness of Bush Republicans just makes me want to vomit. But I supported the war because, in the end, I figured a world without Saddam was better than a world with. Also, I'm a believer that sometimes, when things are really bad, the best thing you can do is shake them up. After 9/11, it didn't seem to me as if we could do anything to make the Arab world worse than it already was, so what the hell: Get rid of a scumbag and see what happens.
Since then, I've gone back and forth between feelings of immense optimism and feelings of darkest pessimism. But the last few days I've seen something that makes me think this might be real. Right now, in the news from the Mideast, I sense something that's not unlike the feeling just before communism collapsed. Things are happening that never happened before; people are doing things that used to get them killed, but no one seems to have the belly for pulling the triggers. It seems we may be encountering a turning point in history. It's a feeling that is fleeting, a feeling not of the inevitable, but of the tantalyzingly close.
I've said for years that if the Palestinians adopted the tactics of Ghandi they'd have their own state in a year. The moral force of non-violent protest is not something a nation like Israel can resist. The only thing that keeps the Palestinians from achieving their goals is their acceptance of people who blow up city buses and pizza joints.
While we're not seeing peaceful protest in the Palestinian Territories, we are seeing the Lebanese rising to the occaision. The whole country has risen up to protest the occupation of their country by the armies of Syria, and instead of rolling tanks over the protesters Syria has announced that it will, indeed, pull out of Lebanon. The dictatorial moron who runs Syria, who inherited his country the way hillbillies inherit mules, sees no other option.
The reason all of this is happening, without doubt, is the twin wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Afghanistan showed everyone paying attention that Islamic dictatorship, while perhaps attractive in theory, enjoys little support at ground level. The Taliban in Afghanistan were like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua: Popular with overseas theorists, but unpopular with their own people. When the Taliban crumpled and headed for the hills, the Arab world no doubt took note. Militant Islam no longer seemed the region's destiny.
Iraq showed something else completely: That the United States doesn't believe dictatorship to be the natural state of the Arab world. Freedom for Iraqis was the liberal argument for the war in Iraq, an argument that most liberals failed to embrace. Instead, the Democratic mainstream opted for morally indefensible isolationism, willingly condemning Iraqis to suffer -- theoretically forever -- under both Hussein and torturous economic sanctions. We Dems made that non-decision decision simply because the thought of sacrificing American lives is more than we can bear, even if our soldiers are all volunteers and their deaths are in the service of liberty.
So, as a Democrat, I'm wondering: What do we do if President Bush was right? What do we do if the Mideastern dominoes start falling and President Bush goes down in history as Winston Churchill, while we go down as Neville Chamberlain, howling weakly that diplomacy works and military force is no longer necessary? What if our most conservative President goes down in history as a great contributor to the liberal ideals of freedom and tolerance, while we Democrats -- we liberals -- go down as cold-hearted and fearful, unconcerned about the suffering of our fellows while we sit contentedly in our affluence?
If that happens, are we even liberals any more?