Can Iraq Be Won?

In moving to topple Saddam Hussein's regime, the Bush administration stakes its case on two critical arguments. First, President Bush and his senior aides insist that the coming Iraq war is an extension of the military campaign against terrorism. It would spare America and the world, in the words of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, "the danger that Iraq's weapons of mass terror could fall into the hands of terrorists."

Second, the Bush team is pledging to bring democracy to Iraq, a transformation that - it is hoped - will spur democratization across the region. A peaceful, democratic dawn in Iraq, they assert, would soon break over other authoritarian Arab states as well. By transforming the political landscape of the Middle East, American officials hope to strike at the root causes of Islamic extremism.

Messrs. Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz like to pose as realists, but just how realistic is such thinking? Is it based on a sober assessment of the complex realities in Iraq and the region? Or is it driven by ideology and wishful thinking? Will a war against Iraq help the US in its fight against terrorists, or will it make Americans more vulnerable?

Despair and alienation have taken hold of the younger generation of Arabs, who represent over 50% of the region's population. Political repression and the silence of Arab public opinion should worry America and its Arab allies, not reassure them, because it means that there is no way for the public to channel its interests, demands, and frustrations peacefully.