By Mark Steyn
Three years ago - April 6 2002, if you want to rummage through the old Spectators in the attic - I wrote: "The stability junkies in the EU, UN and elsewhere have, as usual, missed the point. The Middle East is too stable. So, if you had to pick only one regime to topple, why not Iraq? Once you've got rid of the ruling gang, it's the West's best shot at incubating a reasonably non-insane polity. That's why the unravelling of the Middle East has to start not in the West Bank but in Baghdad."
I don't like to say I told you so. But, actually, I do like to say I told you so. What I don't like to do is the obligatory false self-deprecatory thing to mitigate against the insufferableness of my saying I told you so. But nevertheless I did.
Consider just the past couple of days' news: not the ever more desperate depravity of the floundering "insurgency", but the real popular Arab resistance the car-bombers and the head-hackers are flailing against: the Saudi foreign minister, who by remarkable coincidence goes by the name of Prince Saud, told Newsweek that women would be voting in the next Saudi election. "That is going to be good for the election," he said, "because I think women are more sensible voters than men."
Four-time Egyptian election winner - and with 90 per cent of the vote! - President Mubarak announced that next polling day he wouldn't mind an opponent. Ordering his stenographer to change the constitution to permit the first multi-choice presidential elections in Egyptian history, His Excellency said the country would benefit from "more freedom and democracy". The state-run TV network hailed the president's speech as a "historical decision in the nation's 7,000-year-old march toward democracy". After 7,000 years on the march, they're barely out of the parking lot, so Mubarak's move is, as they say, a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile in Damascus, Boy Assad, having badly overplayed his hand in Lebanon and after months of denying that he was harbouring any refugee Saddamites, suddenly discovered that - wouldja believe it? - Saddam's brother and 29 other bigshot Baghdad Baathists were holed up in north-eastern Syria, and promptly handed them over to the Iraqi government.
And, for perhaps the most remarkable development, consider this report from Mohammed Ballas of Associated Press: "Palestinians expressed anger on Saturday at an overnight suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed four Israelis and threatened a fragile truce, a departure from former times when they welcomed attacks on their Israeli foes."
No disrespect to Associated Press, but I was disinclined to take their word for it. However, Charles Johnson, whose Little Green Footballs website has done an invaluable job these past three years presenting the ugly truth about Palestinian death-cultism, reported that he went hunting around the internet for the usual photographs of deliriously happy Gazans dancing in the street and handing out sweets to celebrate the latest addition to the pile of Jew corpses - and, to his surprise, couldn't find any.
Why is all this happening? Answer: January 30. Don't take my word for it, listen to Walid Jumblatt, big-time Lebanese Druze leader and a man of impeccable anti-American credentials: "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Berlin Wall has fallen."
Just so. Left to their own devices, the House of Saud - which demanded all US female air-traffic controllers be stood down for Crown Prince Abdullah's flight to the Bush ranch in Crawford - would stick to their traditional line that Wahhabi women have no place in a voting booth; instead, they have to dress like a voting booth - a big black impenetrable curtain with a little slot to drop your ballot through. Likewise, Hosni Mubarak has no desire to take part in campaign debates with Hosno Name-Recognition. Boy Assad has no desire to hand over his co-Baathists to the Great Satan's puppets in Baghdad.
But none of them has much of a choice. In the space of a month, the Iraq election has become the prism through which all other events in the region are seen.
Assad's regime knocks off a troublemaker in Lebanon. Big deal. They've done it a gazillion times. But this time the streets are full of demonstrators demanding an end to Syrian occupation.
A suicide bomber kills four Jews. So what's new? But this time the Palestinians decline to celebrate. And some even question whether being a delivery system for plastic explosives is really all life has to offer, even on the West Bank.
Mubarak announces the arrest of an opposition leader. Like, who cares? The jails are full of 'em. But this time Condi Rice cancels her visit and the Egyptian government notices that its annual cheque from Washington is a month late.
Three years ago, those of us in favour of destabilising the Middle East didn't have to be far-sighted geniuses: it was a win/win proposition. As Sam Goldwyn said, I'm sick of the old clichés, bring me some new clichés. The old clichés - Pan-Arabism, Baathism, Islamism, Arafatism - brought us the sewer that led to September 11. The new clichés could hardly be worse. Even if the old thug-for-life had merely been replaced by a new thug-for-life, the latter would come to power in the wake of the cautionary tale of the former.
But some of us - notably US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz - thought things would go a lot better than that. Wolfowitz was right, and so was Bush, and the Left, who were wrong about the Berlin Wall, were wrong again, the only difference being that this time they were joined in the dunce's corner of history by far too many British Tories. No surprise there. The EU's political establishment doesn't trust its own people, so why would they trust anybody else's? Bush trusts the American people, and he's happy to extend the same courtesy to the Iraqi people, the Syrian people, the Iranian people, etc.
Prof Glenn Reynolds, America's Instapundit, observes that "democratisation is a process, not an event". Far too often, it's treated like an event: ship in the monitors, hold the election, get it approved by Jimmy Carter and the UN, and that's it. Doesn't work like that. What's happening in the Middle East is the start of a long-delayed process. Eight million Iraqis did more for the Arab world on January 30 than 7,000 years of Mubarak-pace marching.