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Explosion and Harangue

The closely watched surge in Iraq (The operation is called ‘Enforce the Law’: Fahrd al-Qanoon.) has already shown headway, with significant reductions in Baghdad murders and kidnappings, and the citizenry coming to accept that no corner of the country is off-limits to Iraqi Security Forces and American military personnel. The one terror that has slickened its sheen in the past month has been car bombings, which are coincidentally the least risky to execute and among the surest to succeed—many of them end up being detonated at checkpoints just as the bomb is about to be discovered.

Today, al Qaeda detonated a sizeable bomb in the cafeteria of the Iraqi Parliament building. You can see the explosion here. But the bang (and the quiet hiss that follows; riven sheetrock snowing down on rubble) really distracts from the issue. The bang and the hiss—in them Islamists have a P.R. victory.

But the symbolic message rings louder. The explosion today was the brashest possible proof that the Islamists’ crusade is not against American occupiers as such (this was, after all, the Iraqi parliament, and the Americans present were a few private security contractors). Today’s bomb was about what America is protecting: Muslims who have dared to organize politically in a way that forecloses the brand of religious tyranny al Qaeda is attempting to spread.

bin Laden can count on stateside opportunists to give his perverted spin on the news.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the bombing was further evidence that the war was going badly and U.S. troops should come home.
Senator Reid has it backwards, of course. The bomb would worry us, and it would cause us to believe the war was proceedingly badly, if the war were nothing but an entrenched firefight between one army and another.

But it isn’t that at all. Iraq is won but for a violent rebellious faction with a political goal, and the best any military force could hope to do is to brace the beams of state long enough for a peaceful polity to harden, for a veil of legitimacy to descend, and for terrorism to become stigmatized as inimical to the commonwealth. That will happen organically or it will not happen at all. The great hope of liberal democracies is that they were not fooling themselves when they decided that their basic ideas—republicanism and tolerance—could not possibly be parochial; must be universal. Pinpricks like this bomb (which killed eight but did no irrepairable damage) are not assaults on an opposing army. Rather they are assaults on the faith—now held only tenuously—that keeps Coalition forces in Iraq, establishing a sort of political womb for a nascent democracy. It is the spiritual damage that matters, not the material.

There’s nothing to say this womb won’t collapse on itself a week hence. There’s also nothing that gives us license to abandon what we’ve begun.

* * *

Here is one more mention of a chance for you to invest in the great, mild Iraqi middle. A group of Dartmouth students has founded the Iraqi Kids Project, which is sending clothing and toys to children in Iraq. Details on how to give are here.


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