The news from the Middle East this week has, with the exception of the wounding of two members of the media, moved away from Iraq. Attention is now focused on the two growing threats to peace in the region; the electoral victory of Hamas in Palestine and the nuclear rantings of Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad has said that Israel needs to be wiped off the map and the boys at Hamas totally concur. Some, including Jimmy Carter who, if possible, is more annoying in his dotage than he was in the White House, think their gaining power might be a good thing.
Although the former president conceded that Hamas are "so-called terrorists," so far "there have been no complaints of corruption against [their] elected officials." So the man who once lamented committing lust in his heart now sees a moral equivalence between corruption and the premeditated, cold-blooded murder of innocent women and children.
So while Israel and other peaceful Middle East nations are under the dual threats from Iran and a Hamas-led Palestine, the question that needs to be asked is, how much more dire would the situation be had Saddam Hussein remained in power?
While it's true that Saddam once waged war on Iran -- after the Shah had been deserted by then-President Carter, basically letting the jihad genie out of the bottle -- there existed afterwards a tenuous peace between the two Arab countries. When the U.S. took action against Saddam in 2003, Iran condemned the invasion as "unjustifiable and illegitimate."
Though its WMD capacity would have been greatly diminished if Saddam stayed in power, Iraq was still one of the largest military powers in the Middle East before we invaded. Does anyone believe that an Iraq still in the hands of Saddam would have stayed neutral in the nuclear game of chicken currently playing out between Ahmadinejad and the West?
And although the U.S. has in the past been allied with both Iran and Iraq, does anyone doubt that Saddam would have now, at least temporarily sided with Iran against us? Or that Saddam and Ahmadinejad might have agreed to bury the scimitar, squarely in our back? After all, "the enemy of the Great Satan is my friend."
And what of Hamas and Saddam? Iraq has long been a supporter of terrorists while maintaining its own terror training grounds at Salman Pak, just fifteen miles south of Baghdad. Let us not forget that he paid $25,000 to the families of those who dedicate themselves to killing Israelis:
Under the new Iraqi payscale, decided on March 12  during an Arab conference in Baghdad, the families of gunmen and others who die fighting the Israelis will still receive $10,000, while the relatives of suicide bombers will get $25,000.
[T]he Arab Liberation Front visits families in the northern West Bank and makes the payments. "We go to every family and give them a check," he said. "We tell them that this is a gift from President Saddam and Iraq."
Some think the ascension of Hamas and the presidency of Ahmadinejad bode badly for the future of the Middle East, making U.S. predictions of stability there after Saddam's fall seem a misguided daydream or just plain wrong. But this view is short-sighted at best.
Given the fact that Iran's election process is skewed to produce extremists, the rise of a man like Ahmadinejad was inevitable. Says Human Rights Watch, "Iran's elections for all practical purposes are pre-cooked. The Guardian Council appoints a few candidates, and then Iranians get to choose from this very restricted list... These elections are neither free nor fair."
As for Hamas, their victory must be seen largely as a result of Ariel Sharon's land for peace policy. Just as the appeasement of dictators is like red meat to a lion, so too is any show of perceived weakness to avowed terrorists and their supporters. The pre-9/11 treatment of terror attacks against the U.S. -- by both Democratic and Republican administrations -- as a law enforcement issue merely emboldened the shadowy murderers.
The truth is, liberty and democracy, albeit limited in some ways, have come to the Middle East. Victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, the withdrawal of the Syrians from Lebanon, elections in Egypt and even those in Palestine represent true change. It is now up to these nations to either sow the seeds of legitimacy or pay the consequences; political, economic or otherwise.
Whether or not they do so is at present unknowable. But one thing is certain: the former head of a huge military power; the man who saw himself as the new Saladin; the leader who tortured and gassed thousands of his own citizens; that man will be unavailable to aid the likes of Ahmadinejad and Hamas. And for that, we should be grateful.
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