- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2003

A few days before the fall of Constantinople to the armies of Ottoman Jihad some six centuries ago, a strange debate was taking place inside the imperial city. The Washington of the times had a very loud senate, stubborn theologians and merciless philosophers. It was the heir of the Greco-Roman universal civilization, but it was also a place of heated debate. The smoke from these intellectual clashes isolated its elites from the realities of what was then world politics. The political establishment of the Eastern Roman Empire was consumed by complex rhetoric — so complex that historians called it later “Byzantine debate.” A few days before it fell to the Islamic armies which were surrounding the walls of the city, a rabid debate was splitting the lawmakers and their respective intellectual supporters. Was it about how to defend the state and protect the people? No. The political establishment of the Byzantines was sharply split over a “major” question, which superceded everything else, including the marching Jihad. And that matter was: What is the sex of the angels? Are they males or females? The sultan understood that Constantinople was ripe for the taking. Indeed, it fell like an old apple in his hands.

Six hundred years later, another debate is rampant in the new Rome. Senators, intellectuals and the theologians of politics are busy with the new “American debate.” The focus within the Beltway today is not analysis of the root causes of the marching new Jihad worldwide, but debate over the technical grounds upon which Washington removed Saddam Hussein from power. In daily terms, the raging menu of the day is about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. But, what is the debate about?

Today, the Byzantines of the Americas want to investigate whether the information about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction warranted the intervention at all. Read it in reverse. Had Saddam not had weapons of mass destruction at the time of the U.S. decision to invade Iraq, Washington is at fault. This is so, even if the Baghdad Baathists had, in the past, possessed these doom devices. And, although Chemical Ali has suffocated thousands of Kurds in Halabja and bio-agents were used on Iranians, that alone is not a ground for intervention in the mind of hopeful politicians.

Isn’t it strange to see some of our legislators and their intellectual backers impatient to “see” the weapons, but totally ignoring the corpses? It is so Kafkaesque to observe those critics rabidly raging in American politics on the technical matter of where the weapons are, while they passed on the mass victims of the Baath Party’s killing machine.

Where are our politicians when the mass graves in Iraq are discovered? They are looking for another type of mass grave: digging trenches for upcoming elections. They have totally missed the meanings of the changes taking place in Iraq, in the region and worldwide. They have not even understood the post-September 11 parameters. In their minds, the war against terrorism is just collecting information about al Qaeda and finding the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. That’s the best we can use in international politics? Back in the 15th century, one Byzantine legislator accused the emperor of lying to the people. The hopeful member of the Byzantine Senate was furious at the Basileus because he has no proof that the forces below the towers were indeed a direct threat to Constantinople! Besides, he had more important issues to deal with: The sex of the angels, for example. How can they send armies to meet Jihad while we can’t figure out the angels’ gender?

Today, America is repeating the play. If we cannot see why we went to Iraq, after we got there, even if we don’t see yet the biochemical elements we are looking for still, then we are blind. The weapons of mass destruction exist. They were shotguns and knifes that slaughtered half a million men and women. Mass destruction occurred, and that is relevant. For that reason alone, our intervention was more than warranted. It was obligatory, and, unfortunately for many, it was late. We may find some remnant of illegal unconventional arms, and we may just miss them. But the graves are there. In Washington, however, we must not be so trivial as to unleash our own weapons of mass distraction. We need to look harder at what is happening outside the walls.

Walid Phares is a Professor of Comparative Politics at Florida Atlantic University and an MSNBC analyst.

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