To venture into the Arab world, as I did recently over four weeks in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq, is to travel into Bush Country. I was to encounter people from practically all Arab lands, to listen in on a great debate about the possibility of freedom and liberty. I met Lebanese giddy with the Cedar Revolution that liberated their country from the Syrian prison that had seemed an unalterable curse. They were under no illusions about the change that had come their way. They knew that this new history was the gift of an American president who had put the Syrian rulers on notice. The speed with which Syria quit Lebanon was astonishing, a race to the border to forestall an American strike that the regime could not discount. I met Syrians in the know who admitted that the fear of American power, and the example of American forces flushing Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, now drive Syrian policy. They hang on George Bush's words in Damascus, I was told: the rulers wondering if Iraq was a crystal ball in which they could glimpse their future.
A lively press has sprouted in Iraq: There is an astonishing number of newspapers and weeklies, more than 250 in all. There are dozens of private TV channels and radio stations. Journalists and editors speak of a press free of censorship. Admittedly, the work is hard and dangerous, the logistics a veritable nightmare. But no single truth claimed this country, no "big man" sucked the air out of its public life. The insurgents will do what they are good at. But no one really believes that those dispensers of death can turn back the clock. Among the Sunni Arabs, there is growing recognition that the past cannot be retrieved, that it had been a big error to choose truculence and political maximalism. By a twist of fate, the one Arab country that had seemed ever marked for brutality and sorrow now stands poised on the frontier of a new political world. No Iraqis I met look to neighboring Arab lands for political inspiration: They are scorched by the terror and the insurgency, but a better political culture is tantalizingly close.
But since the media portray Iraq as an unsolvable problem, a mere stage on which lunatic Arabs blow each other up with increasing abandon, the above is merely propaganda.