- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 12, 2006

The future of Iraq is unwritten, but the options are narrowing. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, triggering a sequence of events that has produced largely balanced democracies across what was once the communist-dominated Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Exactly 200 years earlier, in 1789, the French Revolution, launched in the name of “liberty, equity and humanity,” cascaded out of control. By 1793, “the terror” had slaughtered thousands of innocents.

In short, democratic revolutions are not predictable beasts. Getting at part of the problem, John Adams would decry the widening circles of violence in France with an unwelcome warning. “Mankind will in time discover that unbridled majorities are as tyrannical and cruel as unlimited despots.”

If Saddam Hussein was an “unlimited despot,” Iraq now lurches toward what, at best, seems the tyranny of an “unbridled majority,” or in modern parlance, the sectarian Shi’ite retribution for unforgettable horrors committed by a once-powerful Sunni minority.

Compounding the strife, Iraq’s religious divisions overlay geographic divisions. The geographic divisions put oil wealth and other advantages in the hands of Shi’ites and Kurds, with minority Sunnis rich only in sand.

Where does such a state of democratic flux, if we may call it that, lead? If history is any example, it can only lead in one of a few directions. If common sense, a general revulsion at hate and terror, or a fear of intergenerational killing suddenly sweeps across Iraq, we could expect a surge of citizen intelligence to give Iraqis and American military personnel the push long needed to throttle back terrorist activities.

To get there and end the violence, the Iraqi people must dare to fuse with their leadership. They must see the abyss and wish to avert it, bringing forth heroic leaders to help them form one nation. Call it Option One.

Option Two is what happens if courage ebbs, not least among the Iraqi people. The ungovernable rise of rule by terror, of religiously motivated killing, and the eventual emergence of a Shi’ite dominated region, potentially running from Iran through Iraq and around to what is left of Lebanon, could carry the day.

While other factors will influence that possible outcome, including the state in which Hezbollah is left after the current conflict in Lebanon, the state of the Lebanese government when the dust settles, and the aggressive nature of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, Option Two is a very real possibility. Summed up, it is civil war leading to mass slaughter, Shi’ite dominance, Kurdish separation, wider circles of regional conflict to the north, south, east and west.

U.S. policy in response to Option Two, if not exhaustingly aggressive on many fronts, would end up being — at best — Round Two of a long-term containment policy for a violent, illegitimate, non-democratic part of the globe. How the acquisition of nuclear weapons by that contingent — and potential for delivering them — would affect containment of this radical Islamic crescent is unclear. At the very least, we would be in for a long, largely non-negotiable conflict.

Option Three is a robust effort to rally all Arab and European nations, indeed all nations of import, around a strong international push for some balanced government in Iraq and Lebanon, in combination with a robust effort to unify all nations around negotiation of terms for a non-nuclear Iran.

The collateral terms of such a peace would be an express end by Middle Eastern governments to both overt and covert support for terrorist organizations, a return to tolerance for moderate or slowly evolving Middle Eastern governments, an end to the idea that America can deliver all non-democratic nations out of their misery and inequity by U.S. treasure and military intervention, and the rise of multilateral institutions in the Middle East that will encourage but not force the pace of economic and democratic change.

In short, Option Three is a return to the slow spread of balanced democratic government, based on the appeal of that timeless idea to those who will most benefit, and a retreat from the desire of others to see progress made on any other timetable.

America and the liberty we represent, together with our promise of security and prosperity, are a beacon. On the rock of our balanced government and unique constitutional history, the beacon will continue to shine. But the beacon can no more go to all in need of light than a candle can search out every moth, or lighthouse track down every embattled ship on the night sea.

The options are clear — Iraqi courage supported by American faith in that new-found courage, containment as terror and civil war wash all promise out to sea, or a robust international drive to bring peace before that prospect is snuffed out by competing international interests, indifference and fear.

Option One is still within reach, although Iraqis of courage must step forward soon. Option Three is the fall-back, which to be real, must be privately pursued with vigor now. Option Two is the legacy no one should wish to leave or inherit, since containment of “unlimited despots” and “unbridled majorities” is equally hard — and equally perilous.

Robert B. Charles, president of the Washington-based Charles Group, is the former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement (2003-2005). His responsibilities included first phase training for the Iraqi and Afghan police, together with rule of law and counter-narcotics programs in nearly 70 countries.

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