And a time for peace

Paul Greenberg

March 05, 1991|By Paul Greenberg

IT IS ONLY prudence: To preserve the peace, a nation must be prepared for war. And in war, the shape of the peace to come must be envisioned. That is not visionary; it is only prudent.

There is a time for war and a time for peace.

As the mother of all collapses continues, the time for peace comes. The emphasis now shifts from war to diplomacy.

Yes, this war had to be prosecuted with "undiminished intensity," to use George Bush's phrase. (Can his new speech writer, Tony Snow from the Washington Times, already be on the job? Those who have followed Snow over the years can expect Bush to grow much more eloquent in the near future.)

Yes, Saddam Hussein had to be defanged militarily and humiliated politically.

Yes, justice must be done and compensation made. Happily, both Kuwait and Iraq are rich in a natural resource -- petroleum -- that can serve as a basis for reconstruction. A whole new structure of economic and military security must be established in the Middle East. So that this does not happen again. So that these honored dead shall not have died in vain.

But to impose punitive reparations on Iraq would be as short-sighted as the harsh peace imposed on Germany at Versailles, which saddled that country with guilt, debt and, in the end, a fanatical reaction. It will be important to remember that this has been a war against a vicious leader, not the people he misled.

The West is constantly being warned by apologists for evil that, by fighting Saddam Hussein, it has only encouraged Arab fanaticism -- as if that sickness had not existed before Aug. 2, 1990. Fanaticism seems ever-present in the Arab world, and requires only an occasional Saddam to bring it out into the open.

It is a sickness spawned by defeat after defeat, and no one who has ever loved a once-conquered country -- a Southerner, for example -- need be told how tempting hatred can be. And how self-defeating.

The Western response to this sickness has been to encourage moderation, as in the phrase "moderate Arab regimes." When that has not worked -- note how Jordan's King Hussein was caught up in this whirlwind -- the West has had to meet force with greater force, as in the contemptible case of Saddam Hussein.

But it ought to be clear even now that peace for Arabdom will not be assured simply by prevailing over the Saddam Husseins from time to bloody time. The pride and dreams that these pseudo-Saladins exploit must be put to better use than crime and conquest.

The Nassers and Arafats, the King Husseins and Saddam Husseins, are only symptoms of the underlying sickness of a once-great civilization that was a center of tolerance, learning and chivalry when the West was sunk in darkness and superstition.

To restore the glory that was Arabdom, it will not do simply to encourage moderate Arabs, a conception that may be something of an oxymoron. Arabs may settle for moderation but the dynamic of the culture argues against their choosing it freely. In the Arab East, words are all, and an idea cannot be defeated simply by moderating it. It must be overwhelmed by another idea.

Better ideas await. The Arab code that stresses hospitality and honor waits to be revived, the Arab habit of commerce to be restored, the Arab genius for poetry to be honored.

Arab aspirations need to be raised, not crushed. Just as certain Southern virtues survived the moral shame of slavery and the ill-fated experiment called the Confederate States of America.

What, extract no vengeance? Wreak no destruction for all the destruction Saddam Hussein has heaped on others? Right: The object must be to make a friend of Iraq, not a conquest. As the war between the American states approached its end, and President Lincoln spoke of reconstruction, he was approached by an angry woman who told the commander-in-chief he would be better engaged in destroying the enemies of the Union than in befriending them.

"Why, Madam," Lincoln is said to have replied, "when I make them my friends, do I not destroy them?"

Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Pine Bluff (Ark.) Commercial, is a syndicated columnist.

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