I think even the fiercest critics of president Bush’s handling of the post-liberation phase in Iraq will still be thrilled at what appears to me to be glacial but important shifts in the right direction in the region. The Iraq elections may not be the end of the Middle East Berlin Wall, but they certainly demonstrate its crumbling. The uprising against Syria’s occupation of Lebanon is extremely encouraging; Syria’s attempt to buy off some good will by coughing up Saddam’s half-brother is also a good sign; ditto Mubarak’s attempt to make his own dictatorship look more democratic. Add all of that to the emergence of Abbas and a subtle shift in the Arab media and you are beginning to see the start of a real and fundamental change. Almost all of this was accomplished by the liberation of Iraq. Nothing else would have persuaded the thugs and mafia bosses who run so many Arab nations that the West is serious about democracy. The hard thing for liberals – and I don’t mean that term in a pejorative sense – will be to acknowledge this president’s critical role in moving this region toward democracy. In my view, 9/11 demanded nothing less. We are tackling the problem at the surface – by wiping out the institutional core of al Qaeda – and in the depths – by tackling the autocracy that makes Islamo-fascism more attractive to the younger generation. This is what we owed to the victims of 9/11. And we are keeping that trust.

FRUM ON MARRIAGE: David Frum frets that equal marriage rights spell the “overthrow” of marriage because it undermines traditional gender roles. But I think that conflates two issues. A civil marriage is between two citizens and the state should not distinguish between sexual orientations any more than it should distinguish between other immutable characteristics, like race, or even mutable ones, like religion. I believe that government should be as neutral as possible and as restrained as possible in determining divisive and private issues like how a husband relates to his wife and vice versa. Different couples, in my view, should be free to create whatever relations they want in their own marital relationships – and that goes for evangelical couples with Tammy Wynette values or arranged Muslim marriages or very modern partnership models. Let a thousand flowers bloom, I say. Marriage has always been a dynamic institution and free people will develop it in the future as in the past. May the state be neutral in this social change, except in as much as it encourages social support for relationships as such. It seems to me to be hyperbole to argue, as David does, that the state’s neutrality means that it makes “forever unthinkable the idea that husbands and wives each have special duties to one another, and that a husband’s duties to his wife – while equally binding and equally supreme – are not the same as a wife’s duties to her husband.” Unthinkable? I’m sure David will be able to think for himself in a world where everyone has the right to marry the person he or she loves. But the gender role argument against equal marriage rights has always been to my mind the most coherent of those on offer. If you believe that women should be subservient to men in marriage – and men should take proportionate responsibility to take care of and lead their wives – then indeed the idea of complete equality and interchangeability in the marriage compact is threatening. So let David and the right make that argument: we want to keep traditional gender roles in civil marriage and letting gays marry hurts that effort. Let them spell out a wife’s duties and a husband’s responsibilities. And let them make that case openly to the public. Support for same-sex marriage – especially among women – will soar. Because they will see it for what it is: a big advance for the civil equality of women.