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Op-Ed Columnist

Romania is Iraq

Bucharest

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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What has been going on in Romania is earth-flattening, and it has been on my mind ever since it began. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means on the street. The current administration seems too caught up in dissecting the macro-level situation to pay attention to what's important on the ground. Just call it missing the battle for the bullets.

When thinking about the ongoing problems, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like muppets, so attempts to treat them as such are going to come across as foreign. Muppets never suddenly blow themselves up. Two, Romania has spent decades as a dictatorship closed to the world, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, capitalism is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If ethnic conflict is Romania's glass ceiling, then capitalism is certainly its faucet.

When I was in Romania last June, I was amazed by the level of Westernization for such a closed society, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Romania have no shortage of courage, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Romania are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Romania? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not lob a handful of cruise missiles and hope that some explosions will snap Romania's leaders to attention. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the seeds of democratic ideals. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to stability is so poorly marked that Romania will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Bucharest needs to cooperate.

Speaking with a local farmer from the unpopular Jewish community here, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, nama es tubo, which is a local saying that means roughly, "Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs."

I don't know what Romania will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will probably look very different from the country we see now, even if it remains true to its basic cultural heritage. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.