David Frum December 28th, 2002 at 12:00 am
the war on terror, 2002 was a year of preparation and waiting. The year 2003
will be one of action and decision. Here’s a look back — and a guess at what
the spectacular triumphs in Afghanistan in November 2001, the war on terror
went quiet — so quiet that it often seemed that nothing was happening at all.
In fact, serious and important work was being done in four separate areas –
and all of them are about to pay off.
order was restored to Afghanistan. For all the questions about whether the
United States has done enough to stabilize Afghanistan, there’s no doubt at all
that the world’s wildest country has become freer and safer than ever before,
and that it has ceased to be a base of operations for al-Qaeda and other
Second, the United States and
Great Britain have built themselves an advanced new network of bases and
facilities in the Middle East and Central Asia. The most important is the huge
new airbase — as large as Washington’s Dulles International Airport — put up
in less than a year in Qatar. Thanks to the Qatar base, the U.S. coalition is
no longer dependent on the Prince Sultan Airbase in Saudi Arabia, which means the
Saudis have lost their veto over Western military actions in the Persian Gulf.
2002 was the year that the Bush administration committed itself to fostering
democracy in the Arab world. In June, President Bush delivered his important
speech calling for a new and accountable Palestinian leadership. That speech
announced a new approach not only to the Arab-Israeli dispute, but to the more
general problem of violence and extremism in the Arab world. And it implied
that the goal of intervention in Iraq would be bigger than the mere toppling of
a dictator: The goal would be the creation of an Arab alternative, a new regime
that demonstrated that an Arab state that turned to law and liberty and peace
could deliver better results for its people than sheiks, mullahs, and
and last, 2002 was a year in which no major terrorist attacks occurred in the
West. It’s too early to say that the war on terror is being won. But it can be
said that police and intelligence work is disrupting the terrorist networks and
thwarting their plans. For most of us, this last is the most important success
The year ahead will be a year
of more visible activity. The United States and its allies are now ready to
strike at Saddam Hussein. The crucial date is Feb. 8, the end of the annual
pilgrimage to Mecca. The Americans are reluctant to move so long as large
throngs of potentially militant Muslims are gathered in one place. After they
leave, the way will be open for the fighting to start.
prediction is that the war will go with blinding speed. It has to, because the
greatest danger to the West is that Saddam will take his own people hostage. He
will say: "If U.S. tanks cross my borders, I will use chemical weapons
against the Shiites in southern Iraq — I will kill hundreds of thousands of
people and you will be to blame." The best way to defeat this threat is to
charge forward so quickly that Saddam’s forces are overwhelmed before they can
begin to use their poisons.
then will begin a truly searching debate about the future of Iraq — and of the
Arab world’s relationship with the West. Do the Americans install a pro-Western
strongman and get out? Or do they stay to do the long, slow work of building
representative institutions, of providing security without terror and of
restoring a functioning market economy?
the beginning of the war on terror, the war’s critics and opponents wondered,
"Why do they" — meaning the terrorists and their supporters –
"hate us?" It was a question that assumed that terrorism is somehow
provoked by terrorism’s victims. We are learning better now. Terrorism’s causes
are to be sought in the region and culture from which the terrorists came. And
it is there too that terrorism must be cured.
Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, once showed me a photograph
of seven Iraqi men, all in dark blue suits — the directors of the Iraqi sugar
company, which at the time was the largest company listed on any stock exchange
in the Arab world. One of the men was Jewish. Two were Christians. Two were
Sunni Muslims. Two were Shiites, including Chalabi’s father, the chairman of
picture," Chalabi said, "was taken in 1942. If somebody had predicted
then that Germany would soon be a liberal democracy, who would have believed
him? If the Germany of 1942 could become a free and tolerant country, why not
"why not?" will test us all in 2003 — Arabs and Westerners alike.