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Historic Repercussions By: James Lileks
Newhouse News Service | Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The German welfare system may be generous, but it's not run by idiots. Turn down a good job, and you get your benefits cut. But here's the rub, literally: The Germans decriminalized prostitution, which means brothels are now legitimate businesses. According to the British newspaper the Telegraph, at least one job seeker has been forced to choose: work in a brothel or lose your goodies.

There you have the two extremes of the Muslim world and the West: the burqa or the thong. Take off your clothes, you're stoned. Keep them on, and you forfeit your pension contributions.

It's a facile comparison, of course, but not entirely useless. It does seem that Europe often goes backwards in the name of the brave new future. Two nations, on the other hand, have shown the world that Muslim-dominated states can head in the right direction after all -- if they're given a little help. And by "help" we mean invasion and occupation, alas.

Still, it beats the alternative. In the past, "help" meant credits to the various butchers, autocrats, sheiks and nicely suited Nazis who ran the region. If you gave the president enough loans, he would buy French missiles and Chinese artillery, hold conferences at splendid hotels built by German firms, and distribute the kickbacks with a fair and just hand. Aside from the odd Scud lobbed at the Jews or the occasional briefcase full of money or plastique handed to some of those excitable fellows always going on about jihad, things would percolate along nicely. Who would want to disturb such a well-oiled order?

If the Iraq campaign didn't show everyone how that order had crumbled, the recent election made the rubble bounce, just to prove the point.

Several million purple fingers drew one simple X over all the old assumptions about the region, namely, that Arabs are best sealed in nice, tidy Tupperware containers and left to molder in the back of the fridge. France would have been happy for Saddam Hussein to die in bed; the United Nations would have been content to issue a biannual tut-tut at his sons, only to pull out a chair for their ambassador when he showed up to vote against a resolution begging Hamas to shell fewer Israeli kindergartens. The run-up to the war revealed the toothlessness of UN resolutions; as Zell Miller might put it, how would the bureaucrats have brought about elections and defeated Saddam? Gummed him to death?

We know what it takes to upend the ossified order -- a progressive, an idealist and a revolutionary. That's George W. Bush, and no matter how much the academics weep into their trademarked Che Guevara T-shirts, that's how history will judge him.

This leaves the reactionary Left in a quandary: Do they toss in their lot with transnational progressives who want a thin smear of Nordic socialism spread everywhere, or anti-capitalist anarchists who regard Starbucks as the evil empire, or neo-Stalinist nut goodies like ANSWER? Do they consider that there might be a higher purpose in life than hating Bush's guts, and give Americans a blast of steely can-do optimism for which the Democrats were once justly known?

Ask Howard Dean, who remarked at a recent New York City fund-raiser that he "hated the Republicans and everything they stand for." Hmm. Like elections in Afghanistan and Iraq?

The bullet train of history has left, Howard. Here's your handcart. Start pumping.

Elsewhere: Reports from North Korea suggest the regime is trouble, as some factions realize that a country is ill-served by a leader who blows the national light-bulb budget on gilt-edged toilet paper. The leaders of Iran and Syria are fuming and sweating over the Iraqi election. What orange was to Ukraine, the purple digit is to the Middle East. Who knows what hue comes next? The flag of the 21st century might well be plaid. The remainder of Bush's term could see the end of the Axis of Evil, and then some. The end result of Sept. 11: elections for everyone! That'll show 'em!

Threat met; enemy stunned to disorder and confusion. You know exactly how a grateful nation would react once it suspected the war was truly winding down:

Hillary/Obama. Forty-state sweep.

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