December 28, 2005
The Big Story of 2005 (Someone Tell The
New York Times)
2004, I wrote a column that led with this line: "Mark it on
your calendar: Next month, the Arab Middle East will revolt."
placed the January 2005 Palestinian and Iraqi elections in historical
context. These were not the revolutions of generals with tanks
and terrorists with fatwas, but the slow revolutions of the ballot
box, with political moderates and liberal reformers the genuinely
revolutionary vanguard. To massage Churchill's phrase, these revolts
were the beginning of democratic politics, where "jaw jaw"
begins to replace "war war" and "terror terror."
revolts against tyranny and terror continue, and are the "big
story" of 2005 and the truly "big history" of our
ignorant, fear-filled rhetoric tends to obscure this big history,
in part because the big story moves slowly. The democratic revolt
is grand drama, but it doesn't cram into a daily news cycle, much
less into "news updates" every 30 minutes.
the medium where image is a tyrant, finds incremental economic
and political development a particularly frustrating story to
tell. A brick is visually boring -- a bomb is not. The significance
of a brick takes time to explain, time to establish context, while
a spectacular explosion incites immediate visceral and emotional
responses. In the long term, hope may propel millions -- hope
that democracy will replace tyranny and terror. But in the short
haul, violence and vile rhetoric, like sex and celebrity, guarantee
an immediate audience.
So the "big
stories" get lost in the momentum of the "now."
2004, I interviewed former U.S. Sen. (and 9/11 commission member)
Bob Kerrey. The subject was Iraq and the War on Terror in "historical
terms." Kerrey had argued in a speech he gave in late 2003
that "20 years from now, we'll be hard-pressed to find anyone
who says it wasn't worth the effort. This is not just another
democracy. This (Iraq) is a democracy in the Arab world."
you look beyond the short-term violence and instability (in Iraq),"
Kerrey told me, "you do see significant activities on the
part of the Iraqi people that indicate they understand the commitment
necessary to govern themselves. ... There are going to be in the
short term terrifying, confusing moments, (like) attacks on Iraqi
police headquarters. The intent (by the opposition) is to produce
destabilization, to cause people to say, 'Let's get out of here;
they don't like us.' ... If we stay, then I am very confident
that Iraq will build a stable democracy ..."
clear statement of U.S. strategy in Iraq. Here's my formulation,
from February 2003: "Removing Saddam begins the reconfiguration
of the Middle East, a dangerous, expensive process, but one that
will lay the foundation for true states where the consent of the
governed creates legitimacy and where terrorists are prosecuted,
the policies and sustaining the will to achieve these goals is
of course immensely difficult. It's a painfully slow process --
too slow, it appears, for television.
people, however, see it. In October, after the Iraqi constitutional
vote, an Iraqi friend of mine dropped me an e-mail: "Major
players (in Iraq) are coming more and more to realize that dialogue,
alliances, common interests and just plain politics is the way
to win -- not violence, intimidation and terror. So this (lesson)
is apparently slowly 'sinking in' in our confused and frightened
Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said that the constitution is "a
sign of civilization. ... This constitution has come after heavy
sacrifices. It is a new birth."
echoed a sentiment I heard last year while serving on active duty
in Iraq. Several Iraqis told me they knew democracy was "our
big chance." One man said it was Iraq's chance to "escape
bad history." To paraphrase a couple of other Iraqis, toppling
Saddam and building a more open society was a chance "to
enter the modern world."
democratic revolts are profoundly promising history. They are
the big story of 2005 -- and, for that matter, the next three
or four decades.
2005 Creators Syndicate