WINNING WAR WON’T BE OUR HARDEST TASK

Try to imagine America defeated by a foreign power — Russia, let’s say — and then Russia assigning one of its generals to run the United States, “just for a while.”

“Just for a while” meaning two to 10 years.

Your child grows up with a Russian general running America. How would you deal with that?

Not well, right? So it’s hard to imagine the average Iraqi taking a shine to our plan to install a U.S. general, most likely Tommy Franks, to rule Iraq after we defeat it. Let’s be honest. Someone named Tommy running Iraq is about as palatable to Iraqis as a Mohammed in the Oval Office is to us.

What the “let’s-get-’em!” folks in this country don’t understand about our upcoming war — and it is coming — is that winning would be least of it. It’s in winning that the real problems could begin.

“The honeymoon would be over very quickly,” predicted Laith Kubba, cofounder of the exiled Iraqi National Congress. “You’d soon have a Million Man March in Baghdad demanding the U.S. leader leave.”

The role of bin Laden

Did you hear the latest Osama bin Laden tape? He exhorts Muslims everywhere — including Iraq — to kill us. And what does he use as a rallying cry? Israel. He refers to “Tel Aviv and Washington” as one and the same. Why? Because he knows the hottest fuse in the Arab world is the idea that Jews have “occupied” Arab lands. It is the one constant that boils the blood of not only zealous Islamists but moderates, too.

Well. If the very mention of Israel can unify bin Laden’s followers and open floodgates to new recruits, how do the think America’s ruling Iraq is going to go over? We might as well print his brochures.

“Look,” he will tell his followers, “this is the true aim of America — to invade and conquer Muslims. Join me — or you’re next.”

We know it’s not true, but so what? It’s gasoline on an already raging fire. Al Qaeda will swell. And let’s not forget who our biggest enemy is here. All this talk about Saddam Hussein’s evil potential is one thing, but we are not in Code Orange because of Saddam Hussein. We’re in Code Orange because of Al Qaeda.

We’re in Code Orange because Al Qaeda maniacs are here, among us, hiding in a country they hate. Iraqis don’t want to die. Al Qaeda members do.

And the more we increase their ranks, the more danger America is in.

The role of Muslims

This is why what happens after we beat up Iraq is critical and why a UN-backed control is probably essential. Those who say, “Who cares? They hate us anyway,” are being shortsighted. There are still many Muslims who do not approve of bin Laden. They may be our most precious asset.

Muslims won’t listen to Americans telling them what’s good for them, but they will listen to other Muslims. The more places like Turkey, a Muslim country slowly budding with democracy, can serve as a model, the better off we are.

Iraq can one day be that, too — once it loses the madman at the top. But if an American — an American military officer at that — replaces Hussein, any progress we make would be clouded by hate. Look at Israel. Does it matter that Arabs live better there than they do in many Arab countries? Has that stopped the violence?

Even Gen. Douglas MacArthur, in rebuilding Japan, kept the emperor on the throne and worked through him. And the Japanese are quite different from the Iraqis.

So here’s the thing. When good, smart Americans call for patience and UN support in this war, they are not being cowardly, weak or ultraliberal. On the contrary. They know the problem doesn’t end the day Saddam Hussein goes away
— that, in fact, a bigger problem will then begin. By calling for caution, they are not being dovish. They are being militant: They are watching out for the long-term safety of America, this land, this people. You know what they call that? Patriotism.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. “The Mitch Albom Show” is 3-6 weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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