March 20, 2003
As I write these words, with our nation just over the brink of war, it is clear that once again the country is color-coded. Think back to the night of 2000 presidential election, when the network maps showed the states voting for Al Gore in blue and those for George W. Bush in red. The map of support for the war today is similar, if not identical. In the seaboard cities and liberal urban centers, there is a strong opposition and enduring reservations. In the heartland, support is much stronger, and as the actual battle is joined, the red will continue to outnumber the blue.
When people have asked me where the Los Angeles Jewish community stands on the war with Iraq, I've said that about one-third are in favor, one-third stand opposed and one-third stand with Tom Friedman.
The New York Times columnist has been a voice of informed reason throughout the buildup to this conflict. He came into it with a significantly deeper understanding of the region than our president - a bit of understatement there -- and a willingness to follow facts, not factions. Before Sept. 11, Friedman was writing that the Arab world had to choose between the lure of extremism and an Arab vision that combines modernism with tradition.
He sounded an early warning against an American response to Sept. 11 that didn't try to salve the running sores of the Arab world. These include the virulent anti-Western and anti-Semitic propaganda taught in many Arab schools and mosques, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the poverty and political repression that make so many Arab nations terrorist petri dishes.
This past January, as the Bush team pressed toward war, Friedman wrote a two-installment column, "Thinking About Iraq," which weighed the arguments of the pro- and anti-war sides. "My gut tells me we should continue the troop buildup, continue the inspections and do everything we can for as long as we can to produce either a coup or the sort of evidence that will give us the broadest coalition possible, so we can do the best nation-building job possible," he wrote at the end of Part Two. "But if war turns out to be the only option, then war it will have to be -- because I believe that our kids will have a better chance of growing up in a safer world if we help put Iraq on a more progressive path and stimulate some real change in an Arab world that is badly in need of reform. Such a war would indeed be a shock to this region, but, if we do it right, there is a decent chance that it would be shock therapy."
So many in the Jewish community ascribe to Friedman because he does not, like our president, think in black and white, or even, like the true believers among us, in red or blue, but in hues. The soldiers who are fighting this war have our absolute support. Our support for the war they are engaged in is, however, conditional -- not on the actions of our soldiers, but on the decisions of their commander-in-chief.
The president has already failed on one of those conditions: building significant international support for the war. As of today, America is a red country is a world of blue, and the president and his State Department have done an amateurish job of making the case to oust Saddam. But it is not too late for President Bush take at least three postwar actions that will assure the support of the uncertain third:
1. Follow through on his promise to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pushing for an alternative to Yasser Arafat in the person of incoming Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was a necessary condition of renewed efforts. After the war comes the time to push Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into a resolution that protects Israel's security and respects Palestinian rights.
2. Follow through on his promise to build a democratic Iraq. "I reject the notion that Iraq is incapable of establishing a democratic form of government," writes Kenneth Pollack in "The Threatening Storm" (Random House, 2002), the proof text and blueprint for this conflict. We must give Iraq the economic and political tools to do so.
3.Â Follow through on his promise to help the entire Middle East. War is not the answer for countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, but neither is ignoring the vile effect these regimes -- as well as Syria and Iran -- have had on generations of Muslim youth. It won't do us any good to let these countries fester as Iraq flourishes.
Taking these next steps will assure many of us that this war made the world a safer and better place than it was before March 19, 2003. Â