There is nothing that you can’t do to someone in the Middle East today, and there is no leader or movement — no Nelson Mandela and no million-mom march — coming out of this region, or into this region, to put a stop to the madness.
And I mean madness. We’ve seen Sunni Muslims in Iraq suicide-bomb a Shiite mosque on Ramadan; we’ve seen Shiite militiamen torture Sunnis in Iraq by drilling holes in their heads with power tools; we’ve seen Jordanian Islamist parliamentarians mourning the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, even though he once blew up a Jordanian wedding; we’ve seen hundreds of Palestinian suicide bombings of Israeli cafes and buses; and we’ve seen Israel retaliating by, at times, leveling whole buildings, with the guilty and the innocent inside.
Now we’ve seen the Hezbollah leader, Hasan Nasrallah, take all of Lebanon into a devastating, unprovoked war with Israel, just to improve his political standing and take pressure off Iran.
America should be galvanizing the forces of order — Europe, Russia, China and India — into a coalition against these trends. But we can’t. Why? In part, it’s because our president and secretary of state, although they speak with great moral clarity, have no moral authority. That’s been shattered by their performance in Iraq.
The world hates George Bush more than any U.S. president in my lifetime. He is radioactive — and so caught up in his own ideological bubble that he is incapable of imagining or forging alternative strategies.
In part, it is also because China, Europe and Russia have become freeloaders off U.S. power. They reap enormous profits from the post-cold-war order that America has shaped, but rather than become real stakeholders in that order, helping to draw and defend redlines, they duck, mumble, waffle or cut their own deals.
This does not bode well for global stability. A religious militia that calls itself “the party of God” takes over a state and drags it into war, using high-tech rockets — mullahs with drones — and the world is paralyzed. Those who ignore this madness will one day see it come to a theater near them.
There will be no new Middle East — not as long as the New Middle Easterners, like Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, get gunned down; not as long as Old Middle Easterners, like Nasrallah, use all their wits and resources to start a new Arab-Israeli war rather than build a new Arab university; and not as long as Arab media and intellectuals refuse to speak out clearly against those who encourage their youth to embrace martyrdom with religious zeal rather than meld modernity with Arab culture.
Without that, we are wasting our time and the Arab world is wasting its future. It will forever be “on the eve of modernity.”