TCS Daily

Good Collateral Damage

By Bryan Preston - March 4, 2005 12:00 AM

No matter how careful you are, whenever you go to war you will inevitably injure or even kill someone other than your enemy. It's called collateral damage, and the United States goes far out of its way to minimize it as much as possible. Collateral damage can wreck our moral standing in the eyes of the world and undermine our cause, no matter how just. But, depending on your perspective, not all collateral damage is necessarily bad. In toppling the Soviet Union to win the Cold War, for instance, positive collateral damage fell on the entire East bloc, freeing millions whom Communism had enslaved. And we're now seeing the building of a wave of positive collateral damage in the Middle East, helping us defeat the insurgents in Iraq and win the broader war.

Across the entire Middle East, protests and movements toward freedom are building pressure on the brittle, one-man-rule governments there. In Lebanon, thousands protesting in the streets brought down the Syrian-backed government and may yet push the Syrians entirely out of that country. The Syrians now face a choice, to either crack down the way the Soviets did during the 1960s or to let Lebanon go its own way, similar to the way the Soviets let Eastern Europe spin out of their orbit in 1989. A crackdown with American forces just over the border in Iraq invites intervention, which could lead to the end of the Assad regime. Letting Lebanon go could produce the kind of groundswell within Syria that could also lead to the end of the Assad regime. The war in Iraq was not primarily about getting terrorist-supporting tyrant Bashar Assad booted from his throne, but he may become positive collateral damage. The war in Iraq was also not primarily about getting terrorists out of Lebanon's Bekka Valley, but getting Syria out of Lebanon will probably put the terrorists Syria keeps in the valley out of business. That collateral damage helps Israel, which has been plagued by those Syrian-backed terrorists for decades.

Meanwhile in Egypt, President-for-life Hosni Mubarak's recent arrest of a political dissident has led, oddly enough, to Mubarak calling for free, or at least free-er, elections. Calling for free elections was among the things that got the dissident arrested, yet now the same call is coming from the man who ordered his arrest. It's another example of the beneficial collateral damage spreading across the Middle East. A deposed Taliban and a vanquished Saddam, coupled with a failed al Qaeda insurgency and added to the Bush administration's pro-democracy assertiveness are combining to collaterally damage all sorts of things that weren't necessarily targets of the war but weren't helpful to our cause, either.

Before leaving the Middle East, it's worth noting two other examples of collateral damage, one in the bag and the other on its way there. Libya was once enemy number one, but today its nuclear weapons program is crated up in Tennessee, shipped there after the invasion of Iraq convinced Ghaddafi that might end up in a spider hole if he didn't get on America's good side. And the House of Saud recently allowed the first municipal elections in the kingdom's history. Though only men were allowed to vote, one of that country's bazillion princes promised that women will get to vote in the next go-round. He even said he thought women made "more sensible" voters than men. That is coming from a kingdom that doesn't even allow women to drive and would not allow American servicewomen serving there to, well, do much of anything in the presence of a Saudi man. Yet women will soon vote in elections there. Both the Libyan nuclear program and the House of Saud's misogynistic grip on power have suffered collateral damage from the war on Iraq.

With all of this happy collateral damage going on, the sensible thing for the Bush administration's domestic opposition to do would be to lend credit where it's due while drawing distinctions on policies that effect the American pocketbook. By doing that they could work the foreign policy successes to a draw and start making inroads on the other issues where they might press an advantage. But as a party the words "Democrats" and "sensible" probably don't even belong in the same sentence anymore. That party appears determined to destroy itself flailing against obvious administration success while promoting no useful policies of its own. Thus all around Democrat-dominated Vermont this week, fifty towns voted on whether to support the war in Iraq that began nearly two years ago and is on its way to a successful end. Thus on Jon Stewart's Daily Show the other night, former Clinton aide Nancy Soderberg actually hoped that the Arab street that has been busy of late rising up against local tyrants and terrorists will instead turn on George W. Bush and the American troops in the region on his orders. And thus this week Senator Robert Byrd compared a proposal to change an arcane Senate debating rule to the legal machinations of Adolph Hitler. And thus the new chairman of the Democratic party, Governor Howard Dean (he insists that his new staff at the DNC call him that) describes the usual tussle between his party and the Republicans as "a struggle of good and evil." He added, somewhat defensively, "And we're the good." If you have to add the latter sentence, it's because you either think your audience may not know which side is which, or because you doubt it yourself.

We are seeing not a party that believes it has any chance of regaining lost power, but a party bent on preaching to an ever-shrinking base of its true believers. It may well be the last gasps of a dying political force. If the Democrats keep going they way they are going, they too will become collateral damage in this war. The war against Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and the rest of the Middle East's worst and dimmest will have inadvertently destroyed America's oldest political party.

Bryan Preston is a multimedia producer and freelance writer, as well as author of JunkYardBlog.


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