At the Bottom of Pandora’s Box

A glimmer of hope along the Kabul/Palestine/Baghdad Axis.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

In the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box, after the naïve young girl (named “All the Gifts”) opens the forbidden lid, and a host of evils flies out to plague the world — hope alone is left behind to counterbalance the baneful effluvia.

We too have seen such similar plagues of terrorist executions, mutilations, state lying, and threats of horrific destruction — and now the murdering bombers again, French butchered in Pakistan, and more threats of a wider war. Still, despite recent gloomy pronouncements that the war on terrorism is stalled; the Middle East is in chaos; the Arab street is on fire; and there is diminishing support for an attack on Iraq; there is now more hope for the eventual success for the defense of the United States and a general peace than at any time in recent months.

American forces are slowly squeezing the remnants of al Qaeda in Afghanistan — and finally making much-needed intrusions into the safe havens of Pakistan. The British and Canadians seem more determined to play a decisive role, with rumors that the Germans and Japanese resent not their hot pursuit, but their own relatively low profile in a good cause. More importantly, as is the case in all wars, Allied forces on the ground have learned a great deal from their early mistakes, and so are now using a sophisticated combination of special forces, tactical aircraft, and more numerous conventional battalions to lessen the chance of the defeated terrorists’ flight. The proper question is not what have we done wrong in letting far too many terrorists flee, but how good are the chances that al Qaeda can regroup and kill more Americans?

The Karzai government is weak, but becoming more stable as foreign-aid dollars slowly filter in. Even the most rabid multiculturalists are growing silent — as they see freed Afghans reading books, opening schools, and watching movies. Threats of perpetual guerilla war are proving exaggerated, as Turkish peacekeepers join international policemen. Roads are cleared; buildings are restored; and children educated — all under the watchful eye of powerful military forces and American control of the skies.

The hate-factories of the madrassas offer nothing to the natural human aspiration for security and freedom, and their mesmerizing spell on the ignorant and poor is lifting with the lure of aid and threat of American bombs. We are troubled by the Pakistani government’s recent cosmetic referendum, but it is a start — and at least better than its prior abject succor for killers and assassins in Afghanistan. For some reason, France has ceased its lectures on the reactionary nature of American society.

If we pause and reflect upon the seven months that have transpired since October 7, the results are nothing short of amazing. Militarily, the United States routed the al Qaeda killers and their Taliban hosts with comparatively little loss of life. One of the most Satanic regimes in the Middle East has given way to the only chance for real free government in the region.

More startling still, the United States navigated successfully through a half year of fabrications from the Arab world (remember the lies broadcast daily on al-Jazeera), loony invective from the world community (recall everything from denials of bin Laden’s involvement to reports of millions of starving Afghani children), and constant threats and scares from terrorists (from anthrax to dirty bombs). It is hard now to imagine that just months ago one-eyed Mullah Omar was predicting doom to thousands of Americans — and our own elites were scaring us with the Afghan winter, the sanctity of Ramadan, the impenetrability of caves and high peaks, and the impossibility of bombing accurately an enemy who hid in mosques and hospitals.

Mr. Ashcroft has been libeled as an insurrectionist, and yet so far our Constitution is intact — and we have not seen another September 11. Mr. Bush was pilloried for ineptness — and yet Israel has been allowed to take the necessary measures to curb the suicide bombing. Our military has been denounced alternatively as too cruel and too lenient — and al Qaeda is now truncated. Guantanamo was called a concentration camp, but the inmates look stouter and healthier than when they arrived. Mr. Sharon was dubbed a killer, but now Palestinians who have sponsored real killing are talking of peace. Mr. Rumsfeld was declared at war with Mr. Powell, but in fact, both are complementary, not adversarial, as enemies and allies now realize it is their own choice whether to meet a conciliatory Powell halfway — or deal all the way with a bellicose Rumsfeld.

“Mr. Sharon’s War” has, in effect, reiterated two clear principles similar to our own established in Afghanistan. Terror bombing can result in ruin for both the perpetrators and their host governments; Western democracies are not quite yet morally exhausted from their affluence and license, but still capable of putting far more deadly soldiers on the battlefield than their autocratic and blustering adversaries. There will be no more silly cover stories for a while entitled “Can Israel Survive?” or “Can the United States Go the Distance?”

Israel has reminded the world that it will protect its citizens at all costs, and that it will not be restrained by empty threats of the Arab world, the sanctimonious hypocrisy of the United Nations, the contrived triangulation of the European Union — or even the sometimes conflicting advice of a fatherly America. Consequently, every Palestinian leader now accepts that more suicides will lead to more Jenins — and all that is especially lunatic when 97 percent of the West Bank was — and perhaps still is — within their grasp. On the positive side, deep down most accept that there is a far greater chance that an honest Mr. Sharon, if he must, can deal with some of the settlements than the corrupt Palestinian Authority can with the murderers.

So if one carefully ponders the latest rhetoric from the Palestinian Authority, slowly fading are the cries of “massacre” and “genocide,” as calls for “a settlement” and “lasting peace” take their place. No one is now swearing that “thousands were butchered” in Jenin, as the rhetoric slowly cools to “war crimes” and will soon dissipate to “tragedy.” Former firebrands at least profess that we should be “moving on” and “ending the cycle of violence” — the more so as the Israelis remain unapologetic for going into Jenin and wiping out the lair of murderers, and are ready to repeat such operations as often as needed. Indeed, we are even hearing on the West Bank calls for “elections” and an end to “corruption.”

Dictatorial governments that start and lose wars — whether in Japan, Germany, Argentina, or Serbia — usually implode when the shooting stops. So too will Mr. Arafat’s kleptocracy, as the Israelis release not only evidence of his puppet strings of terror, but perhaps real proof of theft and embezzlement by high officials whose subsidized splendor was predicated on thousands of their comrades remaining in squalid camps. Many Palestinians don’t mind their government paying for suicide murdering of Jews — but stealing money from their own people? That is something altogether different.

The days of Saddam Hussein are also clearly numbered, as they must be for a cornered and wounded gangster who desperately considers the most ghastly options to survive. Bounties for murder bombers, half-hearted embargoes, and peace feelers to former enemies — all these are the last-gasp symptoms of a terminal regime. In the upcoming months the No-Fly sectors will be transmogrified into demilitarized zones — as aircraft can begin to support ground incursions by indigenous troops in preparation for an American invasion by conventional forces. The Palestinians, the Egyptians, the Saudis, and other illegitimate governments at the moment are puffed up that they have leverage with the Americans in relation to Iraq. In truth, time is running out for them all. Once the shooting starts, and the Americans go it alone, the Iraqis willlose, and with their defeat a frightening chain of events will be unleashed whose ultimate course no one can yet foresee. But the sheiks, kings, and autocrats should remember that winning a war for freedom and democracy has universal appeal, and most would rather be on the right side of history before they too are swept away in the deluge.

There is a synergy and a principle to all this. Those in Palestine are witnessing that the United States did not want territory or treasure in Afghanistan, but, in fact, was willing to risk American lives and spend money to create the conditions of humanitarian government. In turn, with the slow emergence of a postbellum — and post-Arafat — Palestinian government on the West Bank, the Arab world can see the future foundations of a post-Saddam Iraq. If the worst and most murderous of enemies can be overthrown, their populations liberated, and elections planned, a momentum is created among peoples — witness the recent comparable sudden collapse of communist Eastern Europe — to take events into their own hands.

In contrast, had we done nothing in Afghanistan or tried to stop Israel (in addition to promising not to invade Iraq) developments would now be operating in exact reverse order. Bin Laden would still be the heartthrob of the Arab street. Countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, rather than worrying about the American-led democratic juggernaut, would be providing even more bribe money to the fundamentalists and terrorists. Parts of Pakistan and all of Afghanistan would remain medieval — and be drawing hosts of lunatics from every Arab country to press on with their sequels to September 11. Anti-Semitism would gradually be accepted in the West as an unfortunate but inevitable prejudice of these new dark times. The horror of murder bombing would be taking on a sense of romance, not only in the Arab world, but perhaps in the salons of the West as well, as Israel was paralyzed in inaction.

If Arafat is not to be removed quite yet through elections, he must be relegated to a role as an aging and irrelevant figurehead — left to ramble, stutter, and finger point in his dotage, while younger and more responsible Palestinians take up the work of peace. Let the French give him a fat pension to join his young wife in Paris, so that the two can end their days as doting parents in marital bliss — from time to time adding their much needed Middle Eastern expertise to the current political quagmire in France. The message from the United States to the West Bank, as it was to Mr. Karzai in Afghanistan, should be reform, elections, civic audits, and freedom of expression for all Palestinians: Money and aid for a new honest government, but not a penny for the old butchery and malfeasance of Mr. Arafat’s tribal clique.

With Saddam’s demise will also depart for a time the world of 500-foot posters, encomiastic doggerel, and Hearst-like palaces. And the end of the entire evil trio will take with it the symbolic capital of terrorism, as fascist mullahs see their audiences drift off, and corrupt grandees in the Gulf, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan — who needed the specter of neighboring such psychopaths to pass themselves off as “moderates” — ponder what is next.

Who knows? By the end of the year al-Jazeera may well be announcing all sorts of “democratic” reforms in their broadcasts. Bill Clinton might be touring to assure the final successful implementation of the original “Clinton” peace plan. The U.N. may be looking into Syrian occupation, rather than Israeli incursion — and old Gore Vidal may write his last historical novel on Ariel Sharon.

Fantasy? Perhaps. But the miasmic cloud is gradually starting to clear, and we are at least finally seeing some hope at the bottom — but we cannot stop now.

©2002 Victor Davis Hanson

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