Feeling the Heat

The beneficent effects of the administration’s Iraq policy continue to be felt. Municipal elections have taken place in Saudi Arabia; Lebanese citizens march for self-rule; Egypt announces a plan for competitive elections, which, the International Herald Tribune says, responds to “stepped-up pressure from the United States,” but also to the fact that the Arab world is “bubbling with expectations for political reform.”
These steps are, of course, halting and imperfect, but one can only be impressed by the speed with which progress toward democracy in Iraq has sent pressure for reform through other Muslim countries. Somewhat remarkably, I think, the Bush administration is not resting on its laurels, but is continuing to press for more. Thus, Mubarak’s announcement of constitutional reform in Egypt followed on the heels of Secretary of State Rice’s decision to forgo a visit to Egypt to show concern over the Mubarak government’s failure to allow greater political freedom.
And today, Syria demonstrated that it, too, is feeling the heat, by arresting and handing over to the Iraqi government Saddam Hussein’s half-brother, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, along with twenty-nine other members of Iraq’s Baath party who had been operating in Syria. An Iraqi official described the handover of the thirty Baathists as “a goodwill gesture by the Syrians to show that they are cooperating.”
There has never been any doubt about the fact that die-hards from Saddam’s regime were participating in and directing the Iraqi insurgency from what was thought to be a safe haven in Syria. The fact that the Syrian haven is no longer safe seems enormously significant, for two reasons. First, Assad is obviously worried about his own survival if his regime continues to try to undermine the new Iraqi government. Second, Syria has apparently concluded that the insurgency is being defeated and is going to fail. Why else would it turn on the Iraqi Baathists whom, until now, it has sheltered and encouraged?
The principal reason for deposing Saddam Hussein, as articulated repeatedly by President Bush and others in his administration, was to begin the process of reforming the Arab world–the only long-term strategy for dealing with the problem of Islamic terrorism that has yet been proposed. Two years ago, no one could have known how likely the administration’s policy was to succeed, and today, of course, there are still huge uncertainties. Nevertheless, it seems fair to say that all current indications suggest that Bush’s Iraq policy may be more successful, and sooner, than even its most optimistic backers had dared to hope.
UPDATE: Michael Barone has similar thoughts on Real Clear Politics.

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