Axis of appeasement

Posted in Europe | 22-Mar-04 | Author: Thomas Friedman| Source: The New York Times

WASHINGTON - The new Spanish government's decision to respond to the attack by Al Qaeda by going ahead with plans to pull its troops from Iraq constitutes the most dangerous moment we've faced since Sept. 11. It's what happens when the Axis of Evil intersects with the Axis of Appeasement and the Axis of Incompetence.

Let's start with the Axis of Evil. We are up against a terrible nihilistic enemy. Think about what the Islamist terrorists are doing: They are trying to kill as many people in Iraq and elsewhere as possible so the United States fails in Iraq, so Iraq collapses into civil war, so even a glimmer of democracy never takes root in the Arab world and so America is weakened.

But if they are so bad, why isn't the United States doing better? It has to do with the pigheadedness of the Bush team and the softheadedness of many allies. Regarding the Bush team, let me say yet again: America does not have enough troops in Iraq, and we never did. From the outset, the Bush Pentagon has treated Iraq as a lab test to prove that it can win a war with a small, mobile high-tech army. Well, maybe you can defeat Saddam Hussein that way, but you can't build a new Iraq - and control its borders to prevent foreign terrorists from coming in - with so few troops, especially when you disband the Iraqi Army on top of it.

Don't tell me America has enough troops in Iraq when U.S. soldiers are getting picked off daily by roadside bombs, when aid workers are getting murdered and when Iraqis are getting massacred by suicide missions. Don't tell me we are not fighting this war on the cheap when diplomats in Baghdad don't have enough armored cars, cellphones, bulletproof vests or escort troops to protect them as they try to travel around the country. We are now paying for the contradiction between President George W. Bush's two great projects: his war on taxes and his war on terrorism.

Yes, America can still win this, but right now, despite L. Paul Bremer 3rd's heroic success in helping Iraqis forge a progressive interim Constitution, America can still lose it. If we do, it will be largely because of the Pentagon's inability to secure Iraq, which has encouraged Iraqis to turn to sectarian militias for security, undermining nation-building and planting the seeds of civil war. Second, it will be because America has so few real allies. As Spain proves, we had a few friendly governments, but most people in Europe and Asia have never been with the Bush team - especially when it continues to insist that we are going to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify the war. It's time for the Bush team to admit it was wrong about this and move on.

Unless Bush dispenses with his discredited argument for the war - weapons of mass destruction - no one will hear or listen to what I believe was always the only right argument for the war and is now the only rationale left: to depose the genocidal Saddam regime in order to partner with the Iraqi people to build a decent government in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world - because it is the pathologies and humiliations produced by Arab misgovernance that are the root causes of terrorism and Muslim extremism.

Spain is planning to do something crazy: to try to appease radical evil by pulling Spain's troops out of Iraq - even though those troops are now supporting the first democracy-building project ever in the Arab world.

I understand that many Spanish voters felt lied to by their rightist government over who was responsible for the Madrid bombings, and therefore voted it out of office. But they should now follow that up by vowing to keep their troops in Iraq - to make clear that in cleaning up their own democracy, they do not want to subvert the Iraqis' attempt to build one of their own. Otherwise, the Spanish vote will not be remembered as an act of cleansing, but of appeasement.

My dream is that the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Spain announce tomorrow that in response to the Madrid bombing, they are sending a new joint force of 5,000 troops to Iraq for the sole purpose of protecting the United Nations' return to Baghdad to oversee Iraq's first democratic election.

The notion that Spain can separate itself from Al Qaeda's onslaught on Western civilization by pulling its troops from Iraq is a fantasy. Osama bin Laden has said that Spain was once Muslim and he wants it restored that way. As a friend in Cairo e-mailed me, a Spanish pullout from Iraq would only bring to mind Churchill's remark after Chamberlain returned from signing the Munich pact with Hitler: "You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war."