As the Cheering Starts

This commentary appeared in a symposium (contributors included William J. Bennett and John Derbyshire) at National Review Online.

The long-awaited scenes of celebration from Iraq tell us this: Iraq’s own people have lost their fear of Saddam. They know that even if he still lives, he will not return. A chapter is closed.

But in Baghdad, a joyous crowd celebrates every regime change. In 1958, a military coup destroyed the royal family. The crowd seized the body of the regent and dismembered it. The trunk was secured to the balcony of the Defense Ministry. “A young man with a knife in his hand climbed a lamp-post nearby,” wrote an Iraqi witness, “and began cutting off the flesh, working from the buttocks upwards.”

No doubt, there are many in today’s crowds who would do the same to the body of Saddam—including people who, only last week, pledged themselves willing to sacrifice their spirit and blood for him.

The Iraqis, in the end, did not rise up. They waited to see the whites of American eyes before they headed into the streets. They did not earn their freedom; they had it delivered to them, U.S. federal express. It is doubtful they are ready to assume its responsibilities.

This is the time to put illusions aside, and take a hard look at the people whose fates we now control. Just as they could not remove the dictator without American lifting, they cannot make a civil order without American prodding. There’s nothing exceptional about an excitable crowd in Baghdad. “Liberation Day” will come only when the Iraqis go to the polls, and convene a parliament.