Mr. Hussein's government had, with reason, been called "a criminal one," Mr. Putin said, but he disputed one of the core reasons given by President Bush for attacking Iraq in March: the assertion that it had ties to international Islamic militancy and terrorism. Rather, he suggested that the invasion of Iraq had created a terrorist haven where one did not previously exist.
Putin described the United States as a partner but also stressed firmly that the Iraqi campaign should not be lumped in with the broader international war on terrorism — as Washington is doing.
"We do not want the United States to lose their war on terrorism. We are US partners in the fight against terrorism," Putin said.
"But as for Iraq, this is a separate matter. There were no international terrorists under Hussein. This is a separate problem," said Putin.
The Left: The war on Iraq is a disaster! The world hates us! You did it unilaterally! You should have gotten Russia on board. You should have gotten Putin to support a U.N. resolution. The support of Russia would show this isn't just America being imperialist, but the whole unified world coming together to face Saddam.
The Right: Well, Putin says Saddam was going to attack us with terrorists.
The Left: Well, who the hell trusts Putin and the Russians?
As for weapons of mass destruction, he thinks that if al-Qaida does not have them already, it will inevitably acquire them.
The most likely source of a nuclear device would be the former Soviet Union, he believes. Dirty bombs, chemical and biological weapons, could be home-made by al-Qaida's own experts, many of them trained in the US and Britain.
With all these tragedies, how can there still be a moral case for the war in Iraq? Because Iraqis today--no matter how scared and how bitter--are, in some meaningful sense, free. From the hundreds of Iraqi newspapers to the roughly 40 new Iraqi political parties to the local councils being elected across the country, Iraqis are developing the independent civil society and open politics that the Middle East desperately needs. Could this embryonic freedom be extinguished? Of course. Given the militias roaming the country, Iraq's political future could well be decided by guns rather than ballots. If another dictator murders his way to power, or the country dissolves into violent fiefdoms, the war will have proved not just a strategic failure, but a moral one as well.
But that is clearly not what Iraqis want. Polls show that most Iraqis desire a democracy with Islamic characteristics and think they will achieve one. Prominent Iraqis like Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani don't denounce the United States for bringing too much democracy, but for not bringing it quickly enough.
And, throughout the Arab and Muslim world, people are watching. They may not hate America any less than they did before the war--for the time being, they may even hate it more. But, with the fall of Iraq's dictator, they can finally envision the fall of their own. And the new discourse emerging in Iraq is reverberating across its borders, changing what is conceivable. In March, demonstrators gathered outside the parliament building in Damascus, demanding an end to the country's longstanding state of emergency. A few days later, Kurds rioted in the country's northeast, prompting eleven Syrian human rights groups to blame the unrest on "the absence of democratic life and public freedoms." That same month, a group of prominent Arab intellectuals and activists met in Alexandria, Egypt, where they issued what famed Egyptian dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim called "a sort of Arab Magna Carta" demanding reform. "In the Middle East today, you talk about food, you talk about football--and you talk about democracy," a young Egyptian political scientist named Mohammed Kamal recently told Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl. "There is a serious debate going on in the Arab world about their own societies. The United States has triggered this debate."
The outcome of that debate is in Arab hands, not American ones. Even in Iraq, although we must still assist as best we can, our control is slipping away. Ultimately, it is this new, bewildering, liberating debate, rather than U.S. force of arms, upon which our hopes for Iraq, and the whole Arab world, now rest. Americans no longer have the power to redeem this war. But Iraqis still can.
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