The Difference Between Machine and Operator

What liberation tells us about Iran and the bomb.

In terms of politics, Freedom House's December announcement that the year of 2005 was "one of the most successful for freedom" in three decades kicked off a holiday for democratists who usually promote their argument in apology. Dictatorships down in number, stable democracies up; in-between nations mostly edging towards liberalism. The Near East was signally visited by reform, moving Freedom House director Thomas Melia to frame the events as a sign "that men and women in this region share the universal desire to live in free societies."

Inherent self-determination was the condition for an adjuvant occupation in Iraq, running as it did counter to several traditionalist doctrines whose advocates disparaged the campaign as a bungle if it wasn't hooey in the first. So the democratist turns around with the Freedom House report to argue how ideation was wed with practice, consummation serving to affirm both. There is a retort: The Near East's tilt forward was tangential to or even in spite of American-led efforts. But it comes from the same corner that augured Judgment in 2003 when most of the West had had enough of what was said desert peoples take pride in — enslavement, benightment, aggrandizement and quotidian brutality carried out by sovereign cliques — and deposed Saddam Hussein. The Arab street did rise; only, what do you know, it peacefully assembled and petitioned for equity and filed into polling places.

Every act of democratic spontaneity in 2005 proceeded on grounds set by some measure of Washington's influence. The Lebanese would still be quartering Syrian fascists if Bashar Assad lacked the punitive reference of a nearby Ba'athist; unless prodded, Egypt's and Saudi Arabia's regimes would not have so much as begrudged citizens nominal elections; Kuwaitis might not be celebrating women's suffrage quite as they did had they remained Iraq's nineteenth province for longer than six months.

And as for Iraq, ongoing document forensics reveal the free world's decade-long toleration of the Arab autocracy not to have been the custody of a regional balance of power but an unsound constriction of fulminate. The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes titles his mid-January report "Saddam's Terror Training Camps" for good reason: eleven government officials, he writes, confirm that the Iraqi Intelligence Service founded an ambitious internship program for terrorists, including those from al Qaeda, totaling eight thousand at least. So, again, it has been found that philosophies are procured by authoritarians as means to power — remember that Adolf Hitler was the Nazi least interested in national socialism — and that there was a manifest threat of Arab Socialist Baghdad handing off something to an Islamist subcontractor. Something like what? A chemical or biological weapon that, as Charles Duelfer of the CIA's Iraqi Survey Group determined, Hussein would assemble as soon as his Gulf War probation and sanctions could be pardoned.

Hayes interviewed defense and intelligence officials involved with the slow translation of over 2 million Iraqi Ba'athist government files; Duelfer got his best information from Saddam's advisors. Neither the question of Saddam Hussein's weaponry nor that of his terrorist malefaction could be answered with finality until each was made safely moot — and Hayes reports that Washington has examined less than 3 percent of captured evidence. From that is a truth countervailing any usefulness in biding time with a man like Saddam: Dictatorships, where the lie is prime currency, cannot be compromised by human intelligence operations while they stand. Saddam Hussein in his twilight grew insular and mercurial, ensconced himself in tribal elite and issued progressively opaque commands, often orally. How could that have been penetrated — Marlon Brando sent over to impersonate Tariq Aziz? We value George Orwell's decryption of Newspeak because a good author ought to be exegete of his own book; Orwell invented Oceania, not industrial totalitarianism.

As a replacement for the fulsome Mohammed Khatami, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a curiously insolent man, choosing international speaking engagements to impart the kind of mephitis most despots save for closed rallies. The theocratic state behind him is less candid. What is known about Tehran's Khomeinist mullahs? They are a) impresarios of global terrorism, b) despised by most Iranians, c) going to build an atomic bomb, and d) shrewder than Saddam Hussein, whose French-built nuclear reactor made for an easy pustule to lance in 1981. Western governments publicly estimate the Islamists will have a weapon in a few years, leaving Iran expert Michael Ledeen to recommend fitting Iranian revolutionaries with American dollars, if not materiel; and the US Army War College to conclude that if Iran must be a nuclear power, it should be the seat of a democratic government.

A European trio has led diplomacy with Tehran but it is President Bush who commands a military of any consequence. Speaking about the war to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the president set forgotten struggles and the underappreciated denouement of postwar Japan alongside Iraq. "President Harry Truman stuck to his guns. He believed, as I do, in freedom's power to transform an adversary into an ally." That would also apply to Iran. Appease Tehran, try to slow its unstoppable bomb program or — ? The democratist's argument was always strongest; now it is stronger.

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