Across the Bay

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Dream On (Part I)

Much has occurred in these last few days, and I'm going to try to filter through some of the pieces that I deem significant. These pieces, as I read them, signal a marked shift in US policy back to Realism and soft-power. However, despite the many jeers, I still believe that ironically, the brief shift of policy exemplified by the Iraq war will prove to be a lasting positive even if never again repeated. It is this short-lived policy that will prove to be the only reason why the soft-power approach might work in the future, and why the ME peoples might be able to see some changes in the long and difficult path towards democratic governance.

The articles I will be discussing include a wide variety of views, all centered on how to change the ME. I will classify them as follows:

1- Pro regime-change (Ajami and Drezner), who hold that the best way forward is with a clean break with the existing regimes. It can be maintained that this view mirrors Wolfowitz's.
2- Against regime-change (Landis and Salame), who argue that on the contrary, the best way forward on reform and change in the ME is for the US to work with existing regimes pushing them in the right direction. This position is similar to Powell's.
3- Those who want it both ways (Friedman), in flippy-floppy punditry. And the classic Arab pathological counterparts (Khoury) who have absolutely no idea what they're talking about, but think they're uttering wisdom sayings from the Orient.

I will address these three points in three different posts for the sake of time and space. Today's post will deal with the first category.

1- In a very somber op-ed in the NYT, Ajami laid down his arms and gave up on the entire US-ME relationship, declaring a moratorium on "the dream" of a free and democratic ME, thus signaling his dive into depression and pessimistic determinism. The fact that the piece appeared in the Times should alone be an indication! They must have been giggling silly! However, there are a few things to be said about it.

First, despite its focus on the ME, the piece speaks more of the internal debate in the US regarding what policy to pursue in the ME. Its defeatist tone is not reflective of a US defeat in the ME (as the piece seems to suggest), rather it tells of the abandonment of a particular foreign policy, and thus the defeat of its proponents, including Ajami himself. A similar reaction (also featured gloatingly in the NYT) is this piece reporting an outcry by Richard Perle and James Woolsey on the "abuse of power" by the CIA and the DoS in the Chalabi affair. The point is, as I have suggested on this blog, the DoS and the CIA have made their move against the DoD in their bid to oversee things in Iraq. Perhaps the appointment of the CIA-favorite (former Baathist) Iyad Allawi as Iraq's transitional prime minister is an indication, after the Chalabi affair, that they have succeeded. (A defense of Chalabi by Christopher Hitchens can be seen here in Slate.)

That aspect of "defeat" aside, Ajami exhibited a remarkably problematic view of Iraq. Michael Young spotted the determinism of Ajami's piece, as well as what Young labeled "American attitudes" (which I think means something along the lines I mentioned above). But there is a lot more in there that requires commentary.

For one, the "dream" is not dead, because the dream is the Iraqi people, and they're just beginning to come alive. Ironically, it was people like Ajami who maintained that this is a long term project, so it is hardly time to say that the project has failed. Secondly, Ajami always quotes Fernand Braudel, the historian who understood time in terms of three maritime analogies (inspired by the Mediterranean, his life subject): long term like the undercurrents, middle term like the waves, and short term like the crest of broken waves. The Iraq project is long term. This is a fight for a different socio-political culture, and a different ideology or mentalité.

Braudel's philosophy of history was based on a conscious attack on previous European historiography which focused on "great men" and "great events." Braudel said that these belong to the crest, not the undercurrents, even when they might act as agents of change. Bush and the war are merely the necessary seeds, the first spin of the wheel. Necessary because the staying of Saddam Hussein in power was a hurdle for change not because of his person, but because his presence paralyzed all the other factors necessary for change (all the mid and long term elements). That move has been done. Now let the wheels turn slowly, they're rusted and they're cracked, but they will turn. Just don't abandon them, stay on the side and be willing to help. The worst thing you can do now is abandon it to be sucked back into the Arab nationalist quick sand. So Ajami's alarm is understandable only if it refers to the danger of reverting to the old policies of appeasement and the backing of dictators (i.e. the notion of setting up a "military strongman" in Iraq, as in King Abdullah of Jordan's recent stupid statement).

A second problem in Ajami's piece is his view of the nature of society in Iraq. Ajami expressed his surprise that Iraq didn't turn out to be as secular as we had thought! (Ajami's views on this can be seen in an old Foreign Affairs article.) This is astonishing in two ways: If indeed people didn't think that the clerics would immediately fill in the void left by Saddam's removal, then they were deluding themselves. At the same time however, the overthrow of Saddam has not only brought forth a flurry of political parties (including of course the Communist Party), but has also shown the tremendous diversity within the religious circles, which display a range of attitudes from distance from micro-involvement in state affairs (Sistani) to moderate Islamism, to full-blown Khomeinism. In other words, the scene in Iraq is not only normal, but healthy, and by no means is cause for alarm or depression! This is proof of life, not death! This piece in The Daily Star argues for the nascent dynamism of Iraqi civic society due to the removal of Saddam Hussein.

But Ajami is not alone in his seemingly misconceived view of Iraqi society. On the other end of the intellectual spectrum, this featured opinion on Juan Cole's site shows a perverted view of Iraq and the US, similar to Rami Khoury's which we will discuss in a future post.

The opinion is by a U. Chicago archaeologist, McGuire Gibson, who claims, in classic post-colonial rhetoric, that it is the US that is fomenting sectarian politics that "didn't exist" before!

"The Occupation authority has made it almost impossible to have a political base other than religion or ethnic community, and we are thus creating splits and tension between Iraqis that have not been very noticeable in the past."

I.e., the US is nefariously involved in messing with Iraqi identities, corrupting their previous nationalism (under Saddam!!!) and introducing sub-national referents! Obviously this guy knows nothing about Iraq or the ME. In fact, even Joshua Landis (whom I shall also discuss in the second part of this essay) has remarked (with reference to Syria) that tribalism is intrinsic to the political culture in Syria (and indeed the ME in general to one extent or another) but it was downplayed and repressed by the military Arab nationalist dictatorships:

"This is truly new language for a Syrian President. For the past 40 years Syrians have categorically denied that tribalism or sectarianism is a part of their politics. This always created a surreal quality to Ba'thi explanations of their political structure, because the Syrian system is so clearly under-girded by sectarian and even tribal considerations. Now that the US is learning its own painful lessons about tribalism in Iraq and how difficult it is to build democracy in segmented societies..."

Landis is commenting on Bashar Asad's statement that these identities "don't go back just tens of years; they go back thousands of years. It's not so easy to change."

Take also this quote from the piece by Ghassan Salame which will be discussed in Part II of this essay (in a future post):

"The fifth point entails creating a new balance between the rights of individuals and those of groups and communities in the Arab world.

Western democracy was based first on liberating the individual from the control of the church, then from restrictive family bonds to fully direct one's loyalty toward the nation as a whole. Nothing comparable to that took place in the Arab world.

Individuals in our countries continue to refer to their families, tribes and sects for support and help in different aspects of life. We should thus work in our Arab world to bringing about a balance between the need for the individual's loyalty to the nation as a whole on one hand, and his right to continue to enjoy being part of a family, tribe or sect on the other.
"

So Gibson doesn't know the first thing about Iraq, which is even more astonishing for an archaeologist of Iraq! There is evidence for tribalism in Iraq-Syria dating back millenia (like Bashar said). For instance, the archives of the ancient city of Mari in the Middle Euphrates (ca. 19th-18th c. BCE), provide a vivid picture of tribal politics in the area. They have been studied by Daniel Fleming in his book Democracy's Ancient Ancestors. Apparently Gibson hasn't read it, even when he obviously needs to. If these identities were not "noticeable" in the past (which itself is untrue), that is because they were crushed to the ground by the brutality of Saddam's totalitarian regime which crushed everything else in the country! Furthermore, it was these same tribal and sectarian politics that brokered the recent deal with Muqtada, in tandem with US military power which pushed Muqtada to a dead end where he had to make a deal (again, not too far from the line I laid out earlier on the blog). Also, see my earlier comments on sub-national identities here and here.

As Shafeeq Ghabra recently wrote, the Arab world is indeed living a "pre-democratic" moment. There is therefore no need for Ajami's gloom and doom in that regard. What we need to be discussing is whether this policy of establishing democracies in the ME will be sustained or abandoned due to public perception of failure. (This is certainly not helped by the media coverage, despite what Matt Welch says. Cf. this piece by Andrew Sullivan fisking Susan Sontag. I'll come back to it in another post.)

This dilemma was addressed by Daniel Drezner in TNR:

"Say what you will about the neoconservatives' skills at manners or management; their big idea cannot be dismissed lightly. There is a compelling logic to the argument that the primary source of frustration among Arabs in the Middle East is a sense of powerlessness. Trapped in a region littered with authoritarian and corrupt regimes, they are encouraged by these regimes and their Islamic critics to blame their situation on Israel and the United States. This is an ideal environment for fomenting terrorism. Creating an open society in Iraq would put the lie to this kind of hate-mongering.

To be sure, democracy promotion is far from easy. Indeed, regime change in the Middle East looks like a lousy, rotten policy option for addressing the root causes of terrorism, until one considers the alternatives--appeasement or muddling through. The latter option was essentially the pre-9/11 position of the United States and its allies, and has been found wanting. Appeasement or isolation has the same benefits and costs that the strategy had in the 1930s: It buys short-term solace but raises the long-term costs of facing a stronger and potentially undeterrable adversary.
"

This position is in stark contrast to that espoused by Landis for instance. Although, ultimately, Landis' goal is to push the area towards parliamentary politics and free economies. In that sense, it is unfair to include Landis among people who want to leave the ME to its own malignancies. Far from it. I will discuss Landis' position in a following post when I get the time. (It will be soon, in case you're so excited you can't wait!!)

To further quote Drezner:

"The craft of foreign policy is choosing wisely from a set of imperfect options. While flawed, the neoconservative plan of democracy promotion in the Middle East remains preferable to any known alternatives. Of course, such a risky strategy places great demands on execution, and so far this administration has executed poorly. It would be a cruel irony if, in the end, the biggest proponents of ambitious reform in the Middle East are responsible for unfairly discrediting their own idea."

I will address this point in the subsequent parts of this post. To anticipate my argument, and to recapitulate what I stated at the outset, whatever imperfect policy the US will pursue here on out, its potential success will inevitably be due to this war in Iraq, and not vice versa. For whatever the future merits of soft-power pressure or active engagement, such as the ones proposed by Powell and Landis respectively, they wouldn't have had teeth without the US willingness to go to war to actively and decisively create an environment for historical change, one (in Saddam's case) that soft-power was demonstrably not able to create.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Iraqis Speak Out

Remember that panic attack by Juan Cole entitled "Shiite International," where he accused Bush of radicalizing Shiites worldwide etc.?

Well he should read the following post by Ali, who writes in the Iraqi blog "Iraq the Model":

"I really laughed at a scene that was not supposed to be funny at all. I was watching the news and they showed a report about a huge demonstration organized in Lebanon by Hizbullah. The estimates said that there were about 500 thousands of She’at Muslim protesting against the “violations” of the American army in the holy cities of Najaf and Kerballa.
...
That scene took me for a while away from the reality where I stand. It took me a moment to ‘glance’ back to where I am, to Iraq. Despite some alleged "Fatwas" and few speeches about “red lines”, most of the political AND religious leaders were calling for withdrawal of *all* armed forces and militias from the holy cities. No one called for jihad, and no one blamed the Americans, except for Sadr followers. There were almost no anti-American demonstrations regarding this issue, at least not any significant ones.

If one is to believe the media and the Arab leaders and Muslim clerics, the only conclusions that can be drawn from such a situation, is that there are no Iraqis in Iraq. The only Iraqis who seem to exist and “care about the Iraqi people” live outside Iraq! I can name in this respect, in addition to the above; the western media, the French, German and Russian governments and the “pacifists”. Otherwise why aren’t the Iraqis going out to the streets in hundreds of thousands to protest against their "oppressors"!?

I guess there are only few answers to this question. It’s either that the majority of Iraqis don’t feel there’s such huge violation that needs to be protested against, or that they are more interested in their daily lives; their jobs and the future of their children than whining about buildings that as holy as they are to them, can not match their care about their jobs and children’s future.
"

As for the comment on how George Bush has lost all the Muslims in the universe (among whom are Iraqis I presume!), Omar, another Iraqi blogger drew our attention to an opinion poll where Iraqis expressed their views on life in today's Iraq. One Iraqi from Baghdad had this to say:

"I'm an Iraqi citizen and I want to thank president GWB from all my heart for the great service he's done to the Iraqi people by freeing us from one of the worst tyrants in history. This liberation didn't suit the enemies of humanity and freedom, thus we see them committing terrorist acts claiming to resist occupation by killing their own people, but that will not affect the Iraqis lust for freedom. Thanks again GWB.
Kamal-Adhamya-Baghdad.
"

The following also would make for good reading for Cole, as well as Blix:

"We lived our worst years under Saddam regime, a regime that many Arabs still believe in! We don't know why don't they leave us in peace, especially the Arab media that turns liberation into occupation and criminals into resistant. We, Iraqis, know the truth very well. The situation is much better now for the vast majority of Iraqis. Most of the people are government employees who used to get paid 4 or 6 thousand Iraqi dinars. Now the lowest salary is 100 thousand Iraqi Dinar. We feel free and we don't fear prisons and torture. The Arab media, as expected, made a huge fuss about the prisoners abuse in Abu-Gharib. Shame on them. Where were they when Saddam put explosives around a bunch of young men and blasted their bodies and they all saw that on TV? Where were they?
Saman-Iraq.

I had to leave Iraq because I didn't want to be one of Saddam's slaves. After so many years, I'm back to my country and I saw that people are not as nervous as they used to be. I saw hope in their eyes despite the security problems. All I have to say to our Arab brothers is,"We are practicing democracy. You keep enjoying dictatorship"
Ilham Hussain-Baghdad.

The daily life in Basra is not that different from other parts of Iraq; It's very hot, the water and power supply are not Continueous, still I prefer to live a year in these conditions than one hour like those we lived under Saddam.
Abbas Mahir Tahir-Basra.
"

Ali also wrote a piece on Chalabi which is worth reading.

But this story is reserved for Watenpaugh, who had the following (among other rubbish) to say about US-Iraq cooperation in the education field:

"I listened to the same language of democratization and development being employed as part of a broader, concerted plan to turn Iraq into a dependent and docile American client; and key features of Iraqi society, including higher education, media, culture, and the arts would be subordinated to that program.
...
And in the short-term, while these programs have the potential to aid Iraqis as they rebuild their educational structures, in the long run they will tar all American educational initiatives and American academics with the same neo-colonialist brush. Being perceived as, or in fact being, allied to the military occupation of Iraq or as agents of American domination will hinder the creation of permanent, collegial and productive relations between the US and Iraqi academic communities as equals. The ultimate cost of failing to create viable and permanent relationships and of confusing what appears to be voluntary cooperation with a strategy to survive is that the core values of open exchange, freedom of inquiry, women’s participation in higher education and faculty self-management may all be dismissed as “American” values and moreover as anti-Muslim despite our assertion of their inherent universality.
"

Counter that with the reaction in the Iraqi blog:

"I really wish there could be more of those programs (i.e. like the Fulbright or other exchange programs. Tony) and hope that there could be a chance for some American students to come to Iraq too, although I’m aware of the dangers right now. Such programs can open many eyes and help remove so much misunderstanding and distrust that is created by ignorance about the others and facilitated by the pictures that the media convey. I’m sure those Iraqi students, when they come back, will affect at least the way their families and close friends view the American people, and officials as well."

Perhaps then Bush's premise is right, people's instinct is for freedom, and his money is on the right horse, if, that is, the horse is indeed the Iraqi people, and not the UN.

Freudian Slip

This came from an utterly useless guest commentary by Keith Watenpaugh on Juan Cole's site:

"As a rule historians should avoid the use of history to predicate the future. Yet, in an essay I wrote shortly before the war for Logos, I opined that thinking about the exit strategies of the various interwar colonial powers could shed light on what the US would do in Iraq. At the time, I argued that the way the British left Iraq – install a loyal client leadership backed by a strong military, gain basing rights and oil concessions – would be repeated. I was convinced that the US would not leave Iraq like the British left Palestine in 1948: merely abandoning it to the UN and laying the groundwork for a half century of ongoing and unremitting war and suffering. I think I was wrong."

Leaving alone all the other exhausted, post-colonial, "Saidian" clichés he uttered in that piece, this one in particular struck me as it explicitly shows contempt for the UN from an anti-Bush, anti-war academic! What Watenpaugh basically says is that it would be a mistake to leave things for the UN to run as it might be a recipe for ethnic conflict!!! This was the only insightful thing said in that entire bunch of nonsense!

But that was countered by the following "Cole-on Cleanser" by Juan Cole, which endorsed this "wisdom saying" by Gen. Zinni:

"Gen. Zinni has presented a concise diagnosis of the follies of the Bush Administration's Iraq policy. A summary by way of excerpts (I've omitted ellipses, but these grafs are not continuous with one another):

"And I think that will be the first mistake that will be recorded in history, the belief that containment as a policy doesn't work. It certainly worked against the Soviet Union, has worked with North Korea and others.
" (Emphasis added)

You can put that one right up there next to Blix's imbecility.

Iraqi Democracy and other Mundane Affairs

In what could almost serve as a response to Michael Young's criticism of US micromanagement, David Brooks analyzed President Bush's speech yesterday and addressed the need of letting the Iraqis take control of running their own affairs:

"It is only through the mundane acts of democratic citizenship that Iraqis will be able to build a civil society. It is only through self-government that Iraq can become secure."

But perhaps the most important thing that Brooks said is this comment:

"It's a huge gamble to think that the solution to chaos is liberty. But it's fitting that during the gravest crisis of his presidency, President Bush reverted to his most fundamental political belief. He began this war in Iraq repeating the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence, that our creator has endowed all human beings with the right to liberty, and the ability to function as democratic citizens. He said last night with absolute confidence that the Iraqis are democrats at heart." (Emphasis added)

The biggest danger facing the project in Iraq was for the US to buy into the DoS/CIA (and the rest of the world!) position that stability (their conception of stability) is the main objective. What that means is putting civil liberties and democratic self-governance in the back seat and allowing for the emergence of a democratically enclined "soft-dictator," or worse yet, a "strongman," as King Abdullah of Jordan recently recommended! What that would do is basically take us back to square one, conforming Iraq to the miserable plateau of the ME, which is ornate with such "strongmen."

Another interesting twist is the tying of such a enterprise with a characteristically American ideal, one that includes reference to God-given rights. Far from understanding this in religious terms, I saw this as a re-interpretation of an old American phenomenon, what Robert Kaplan called "the missionary-Arabist." (The Arabists, p. 8)

Kaplan's point was to distinguish between the British Arabists and their American counterparts. He noted that the driving force behind the British Arabists was British imperialism, whereas "mission work defines the American Arabist" since American Arabists were originally missionaries. (ibid.)

"Truly there are few social species as authentically American as the missionary and, by extension, the missionary-Arabist: a person concerned less with political power than with the doing of good deeds in order to improve the world and to be loved by less-fortunate others. The British sought to dominate, to acquire a culture and a terrain as one acquires a rare and beautiful book. But Americans... sought to change this terrain, to improve upon it, using their own model. They manifested a psychology that grew out of the American Revolution..." (pp.8-9, emphasis added)

In many ways, Brooks' (and Bush's) point attempts to recapture that (what people have called Wilsonialism). Unfortunately, the old Arabists ended up at the opposite end of this ideal. As Francis Fukuyama remarked (in Kaplan's book):

""[Arabists] have been more systemically wrong than any other area specialists in the diplomatic core. This is because Arabists not only take on the cause of the Arabs, but also the Arabs' tendency for self-delusion."" (Emphasis added)

That remark should be qualified. It is better to substitute the "cause of the Arabs" with the "cause of Arab nationalism" and the self-delusions that ensue from that deadly ideology. That's why I said that Brooks' (and Bush's) remarks are a re-interpretation, or a recapturing, of the initial ideal before it fell under the influence of Arab nationalism. And this particular American model (that can no longer be claimed by the DoS) seeks the freedom and improvement of Arabs, but free from Arab nationalist delusions, or the insulting contempt of many an anti-war European, or "Arabist" American academics.

Dark Humor

This tragic story appeared in The Daily Star yesterday about reactions to the Abu Ghraib scandal by former Iraqi prisoners under Saddam.

Ibrahim al-Idrissi, once a prisoner during Saddam's reign and now head of the Association for Free Prisoners, thought that the recent scandal at Abu Ghraib was "a joke" compared to the horrors under Saddam:

"Ibrahim Idrissi has mixed feelings about the recent uproar caused by the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib under the US occupation. "As a humanitarian organization, we oppose this," he says. "But these are soldiers who have come to Iraq to fight, not to be prison guards. It was to be expected. Of course, if there are innocent people in there ... it is possible, I guess, that some of them are innocent."
...
Then Idrissi says: "What we have seen about the recent abuse at Abu Ghraib is a joke to us."
"

You know we have no idea how deeply traumatized that country is when you hear such stories, which makes Blix's (and anyone like him) comments so reprehensible and self-absorbed.

Blitzing Blix

The New York Post ran a polemical and quite funny review of Hans Blix's book.

Readers are reminded of Hans Blix's classic judgement that Iraqis are worse off now than they were under Saddam! Such utterances are what Michael Young, in a remarkably suitable choice of words, labeled "imbecilities!"

Missing the Point?

Michael Young questioned whether the US micromanagement of affairs in Iraq is counterproductive. Young focused mainly on the sustained military effort against Sadr.

You can find my response to his post in the Comments (under Tony). For the sake of convenience, I will paste my comments here:

He's [Young] also right about the comments made by that military official about not negotiating with murderers. The whole point is to get the IRAQIS to handle Sadr. The question is how?


If you believe Sadr's people and some other Shiite figures, they say the US is responsible for the breakdown of a negotiated solution. I don't buy it. It is clear from the WaPo report that Young mentions and from this story in the NYT that the Americans are very much still seeking a negotiated settlement where it would appear that the IRAQIS themselves marginalized Sadr. Take this quote from the NYT report:


"American officials say they have no intention of sending soldiers into the heart of Najaf, which is centered around the Shrine of Ali, dedicated to the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. They say they fear such an attack could provoke a backlash from Shiite Muslims around the world, and would prefer that senior clerics persuade Mr. Sadr to surrender."


Young neglected to mention this quote from the WaPo report:


""If there is progress to be made, we are open-minded, given that those two conditions are met -- Moqtada al-Sadr faces justice and his illegal militia disbanded and disarmed," said Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq. "But in the interim, we will continue to use our own methods for getting Moqtada's militia off the streets.""


I've discussed this a bit on my blog, and that's why I don't buy that the US is blocking a negotiated settlement. I think that Sadr is trying to get around facing charges for the murder of Kho'i. he has said in the past that he would disband his militia if the higher clerical authorities request it. They did, he hasn't. So it's not as pig-headed as Young seems to imply. At least I don't think so.


So is this indeed a combination of sticks and politics like one reader remarked here? It's possible. I.e., the US will maintain the relentless pressure squeezing Sadr into a corner where he would have no choice but to take whatever deal the tribal chiefs and clerical authorities offer him. Young made a reference to the threats of the tribes. But there are also other Shiite militias (SCIRI's and the Daawa party's) who have been rumored to have attacked Sadrists themselves. So it's not simply "after" he disappeared from Karbala. It's been going on for a while.


I think there might be yet another reason why the US is maintaining military pressure on Sadr. I think they cannot afford another re-run of Fallujah. As Young pointed out, that deal was a disaster (one that pissed off the Kurds and Shiites by the way). They can't let Muqtada get that type of victory and maintain a grip on those cities through intimidation of other Shiites (something he had been doing). Young mentioned the Islamic laws and attacks on people with liquor. Well, Sadr has been doing that in his areas since the liberation! Many of the victims have been christians (since they can deal with liquor). Women also were being threatened (with beatings and acid) if they wandered around without their veils. These things make me skeptical about letting the Iraqis vote Sadr out (without the American pressure). While I do believe that he would be ousted from many areas (in fact, in several local elections in Iraq, Islamists lost), he has enough popularity to retain some parts that he would then continue to intimidate. I also believe that he would have sought to intimidate his way into other areas as well.


Bottom line, I see Young's point, and I agree to a certain degree. Empowering the Iraqis is the key here on out. Let them voice their opinions, let them take charge. Yet in some instances, a measured use of force is necessary to get a message accross and put thugs like Sadr in his place. Yet ultimately, it is the Iraqis that will have to do this kind of thing on their own, through the power of elections and politics. On that, Young is right.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Manji and Critical Qoranic Scholarship

Irshad Manji wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on Muslims' reaction to the Nick Berg slaughter, tackling what I have called the most serious challenge facing Islam today: a historical-critical approach to the Quran.

"Moderate Muslims, like moderate Christians and Jews, shouldn't be afraid to ask: What if our holy script isn't perfect? What if it's inconsistent, even contradictory? What if it's riddled with human biases? As an illiterate trader, Prophet Mohammed relied on scribes to jot down the words he heard from God. Sometimes the Prophet himself had an agonizing go at deciphering what he heard. What's wrong with saying so?

What's wrong with not saying so is this: If we Muslims can't bring ourselves to question the peaceable perfection of the Koran, then we can't effectively question the actions that flow from certain readings of it. All we'll be doing is chanting that the terrorists broke the rules, without coming to terms with where they got their concept of "the rules" in the first place. In which case, we'll only be sanitizing what we don't want to hear.

That's no way to address Islam's intellectual lethargy, or the moral dereliction that goes with it.
"

Manji should expect Masaad to label her an "Orientalist racist" any day now!

Canary in a Cole Mine

I am going to start a new feature on this blog that will deal from time to time with some of the hilarious excesses by Juan Cole. I'll call it, "Cole-on Cleansing"! Today's Cole-on Cleansing deals with this recent post by Cole on the reaction of Shiites worldwide to the fights in the holy cities in the south of Iraq.

I'm going to highlight some of the "interesting" things that Cole said:

"once Israelis steal your land, they don't usually give it back"
...
"it (Hizbullah) hasn't been involved in international terrorism for many years to my knowledge"
...
"There is some danger of joint US and Israeli policies re-radicalizing Lebanese Shiites, and making the more militant Hizbullah more popular than the sedate AMAL. All you have to do is fire helicopter gunship missiles into civilian crowds in Gaza and then bombard Karbala, and somehow it mysteriously angers a lot of Lebanese Shiites."
...
"I said the other day I thought Bush was pushing Europe to the left with his policies. I think he is at the same time pushing the Shiite world to the radical Right, and I fear my grandchildren will still be reaping the whirlwind that George W. Bush is sowing in the city of Imam Husain. I concluded in early April that Bush had lost Iraq. He has by now lost the entire Muslim world."

Hold your horses! I'm not even going to bother to respond to the first two statements! The other two however are funny enough to merit a comment. They are so typically over the top that they almost sound like someone on crack!

First of all, the usual Arab pathology that Cole swallows hook, line and sinker is this business of "joint US and Israeli policies." What the hell does the Israeli policies in Gaza have to do with Muqtada's insurgency in Iraq!? Secondly, it's "RE-radicalizing" Shiites in Lebanon!? When did they cease to be radicalized!? AMAL is sedate!? Perhaps relative to Hizbullah, but it was from AMAL that Hizbullah was born! It just paled in comparison to Hizbullah in recent years. But it was AMAL's founder, Musa As-Sadr, who coined the term "Israel is Absolute Evil"! Quite sedate!

The weaving together of Israeli policies in Gaza (Rafah) and the flattening of houses of bombers there with the American counter-insurgency fight in Karbala is simply nefarious, as the Americans didn't systematically flatten anybody's house and their use of heavy weaponry has been limited. This report in the NYT makes the differences quite clear:

"A large overnight raid met no resistance coming from a group of buildings where insurgents had been firing at American tanks with rocket-propelled grenades. Civilians were seen returning to homes in central Karbala that they had abandoned during fierce fighting. And in the afternoon on Saturday, tribal sheiks approached American commanders offering to persuade the militia, the Mahdi Army, to lay down its arms and leave the city.
...
American officials say they have no intention of sending soldiers into the heart of Najaf, which is centered around the Shrine of Ali, dedicated to the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. They say they fear such an attack could provoke a backlash from Shiite Muslims around the world, and would prefer that senior clerics persuade Mr. Sadr to surrender.
"

First, the Americans are quite careful about heavy fighting in the holy cities, and second, Iraqis themselves are trying to remove Sadr from the cities, which means his support is quite limited, and the Americans are trying to work with tribal chiefs to achieve that end.

But the final comment is the best! Bush, you see, is singlehandedly responsible for everybody else's radicalization!!! Wow! That tops Arab victimology and passive-agressiveness, and I didn't think that was possible! You see in the Arab pathological narrative, there is always a transfer of agency, and thus blame, to another external party. It's never their fault. Cole is regurgitating that in an even more hilarious way! The Shiite radicalization began more than three decades ago, when Bush was a nobody. Iran's revolution happened during Carter's era. Carter, the "peace maker", remember him!?

But Cole doesn't stop there, he makes an even more grandiose statement that Bush has lost the entire Muslim world! Apparently, Cole wasn't with us for the last, oh I don't know, 40 years! As Lee Smith pointed out, Arabs were already anti-US since the fifties (remember Nasser!?). And that's even when the US backed Egypt by stopping the French, British, and Israeli attack! (Yes, the French!)

So Cole should take a serious chill-pill and cool off on the Bush material. One Michael Moore is enough for indigestion. Better stick to history and scholarship.

Furthermore, in light of the turn of events in Karbala, this "mysterious" cease-fire might finally lead to Muqtada accepting a deal, like the many that were being attempted. If that indeed is the case, then Cole's analysis would have been totally wrong (with regards to the Americans, Muqtada, and other Iraqi Shiites. Other shiites around the world don't really matter. If Sistani and other non-Sadrist Shiites are ok, then that's all that really matters). Yet, i have a feeling that if that is the case, Cole will still slam the US! He sounds like Hizbullah! If they win they claim victory, and if they lose, they still claim victory! Taheri's much calmer and more coherent conclusion would be vindicated, and Muqtada would indeed eat humble pie (it almost seems inevitable, given the tribal and senior clerics' reaction). Cole reaction to that would be of course that Muqtada won! Like I said, he sounds like the worst Arab-Muslim pathologies. Anything is a victory!! It's what Friedman called a "one-night stand" type of satisfaction. Like jumping on burned US jeeps, or dancing in the streets after 9/11 or shooting anti-aircraft fire on sky-high Israeli planes in south Lebanon... it's masturbation. Those are the victories and sloganisms of the Arab world, and Cole swallows them whole. Otherwise, he would be an Orientalist!

Searing Syria

Lee Smith wrote a piece on Syria that is well worth reading. One important point, among many, that Smith made is with regard to the slogans that people uncritically endorse, without considering that these myths correspond with official propaganda.

Smith also touched on the important issue of control of information, a point that Bernard Lewis has been emphasizing in his recent talks. Smith goes on to debunk the DoS position as well as the CIA's position vis à vis Syria, which sought to keep the Syrians on the good side in order to get information on Islamists. That's why the last friend of Syria's in Washington has been the CIA who has been pushing for a delay on the Syria Accountability Act.

Smith makes the following interesting point:

"Isn't it worth entertaining the possibility that the regime's ties to those Islamist groups are at least as important as peace with Israel? After all, in the Middle East, it is dangerous for leaders to make peace with Israel and safe to make common cause with Israel's enemies."

In response to that, you might want to read Michael Young's op-ed on what seems to be another Syrian miscalculation, interfering in favor of Hizbullah in the Lebanese local elections.

For more on Syrian miscalculations, also see this piece by Chris Suellentrop. Yet another piece on Syria is the followingby Michael Young in Slate.

Finally, to get a glimpse of the reeking carcass called the Arab League, take a look at this report on the Arab Summit. For those who don't read Arabic, I'll translate some pathetic comments by the young Assad:

"What are we supposed to dialogue about with those who propose reforms (i.e. the US)? Are we supposed to dialogue about our internal affairs? We in Syria do not dialogue with anyone regarding our internal affairs, and if we want any foreigner to dialogue with us that would be within the following framework: 1) that the West bears responsibility of solving the ME crisis (i.e. the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), and 2) the issue of economic growth. These (i.e. internal reforms) are issues that we shouldn't be discussing with them (the West) and we will not hold dialogue on internal affairs because that would establish a precedent for the future, as if we have to present a report every time."

Assad further emphasized the issue of the Right of Return of the Palestinians.

He's clearly pissed off! But here's a news flash: you're damn right that you need to present a "report" because Syria has one of the worst human rights records in the universe. In fact, all Arab countries should do that, especially Sudan. Yet, as Avineri noted, Arabs don't really care about this, because only they are the victims (i.e. the Palestinians), and only Israel should have its internal affairs meddled with (this is not to condone whatever human rights abuses that occur in that conflict from both sides)! The ethnic cleansing in Sudan for instance is really a footnote and the Arabs shouldn't be submitting reports to anyone!

Bitter Broken Record

The Washington Post had a review of Rashid Khalidi's latest book. The review quotes a few statements by Khalidi, and I decided to comment on them due to their pathetic nature. They basically (predictably) recycle the ideology of Edward Said, whose chair Khalidi now occupies at Columbia (if you lose one Palestinian-American academic, make sure to replace him with another Palestinian-American academic!), and by that I mean Said's disdain for academia that's close to power. So Khalidi condescendingly attacks all the supposed academic sponsors of the Iraq war. The funny thing however is that he laments the fact that his type of academics are not influencing decisions or being consulted! This has been an issue since 9/11 as it became clear that those types of academics (Khalidi's ilk) basically drew such a warped picture of the Middle East, one that was a decided delusion and a complete failure. Now Khalidi wants those people back as the experts on the "real" picture of the ME.

I have discussed this business of the "authentic image" of the ME in relation to Said earlier on this blog. My contention with Said is that while he critiqued the Orientalist reductionist, and thus fake, image of the Middle East, his own image of that Middle East is equally fake and reductionist, and ideologically driven, because it is Arabist. In a recent piece in the Jerusalem Post, Shlomo Avineri addressed this basic problem with the Arabist ideology and its view of the "Arab East," which, as he noted, is equally problematic as "Near East" is as far as nomenclature goes, since it reduces the mosaic of the region into an exclusive Arab picture.

But let me give another example of those academics that Khalidi wants back in charge of filtering through an image of the ME. It will come as no surprise that the academic, Joseph Masaad, teaches at Columbia! It is equally predictable that his argument runs the exhausted route of ranting on Western Orientalism, racism, imperialism, and the rest of that familiar broken record. Masaad wrote his piece for the notoriously bad Al-Ahram paper. And, as I told my friend who forwarded it to me, it shows from reading the piece how bad the editorial staff there really is! The piece is so horrendous: it's logically flawed, ideologically bankrupt, derivative, hypocritical, terrible at using sources and so biased in the way it presents them. It connects dots in a very questionable manner. I might add that were it done to Islam and Arabs, Masaad would have cried "racism"!

The piece basically mirrors the terrible pieces of garbage penned by Fisk and Raban, on which I recently commented. In fact, Masaad makes reference to Fisk (most likely the same piece I posted). Masaad draws the same hypocritical conclusions about Western culture that Fisk did with regard to Abu Ghraib. Similar to Raban, he also invoked the feminization of the enemy and the use of sexual imagery as classic elements of the Orientalist repertoire. Supposedly these are all embedded in the Western culture and drive it in its relation to the East, not only in the 19th c. but today!!! Of course there is zero evidence for this, and Masaad doesn't provide any anyway!! To him it goes without saying! Furthermore, Masaad doesn't mention the fact that the intersection of sexual and war imagery is in fact found in Islamic culture! For instance, take the word Fateh, which should be familiar to readers from Yaser Arafat's infamous organization, the Fatah. The word is sexually charged, and is a technical term for "military conquest." In Arabic, the literal meaning is "opening," and I leave the rest for your imagination! This term is used for the Islamic imperial conquests of the Levant. Yet Masaad uniquely attributes this to Western Orientalist discourse!

I will not even bother to critique his section on women! I'll just refer you to Kanan Makiya's analysis in his Cruelty and Silence (pp. 287-300), a book that I highly recommend. I'll quote his translation of Mai Ghosoub, a Lebanese feminist:

"It has been all too easy to conflate the imperialist and the infidel, and to mobilize the masses to avenge the humiliations inflicted by Western civilization on Islamic identity. ... In this setting of 'internal' conformism for purposes of 'external' confrontation, there is no better symbol of cultural continuity in the Islamic world than the veiling of the woman, refuge par excellence of traditional values. ... The rigidity of the stature of women in the Arab family has been and continues to be the innermost asylum of Arabo-Muslim identity." (p. 298)

Of course Masaad doesn't mention the status of women in the Arab world, or any malignancy of the Arabs. Instead, he condescendingly ridicules Westerners for their concern over "honor killings." This type of misrepresentation and embellishment is the hallmark of these academics that Khalidi wants to be the only "native informants." (right back at you!)

To complete the circle, Masaad has to throw in something on Israel and Zionism, and surely enough, his entire description of Western culture relies on conflating that culture (which by itself is clearly a reductionism if there ever was one) with Zionism!!! That's partly what I meant about the poor quality of this paper. Like I said to my friend, if this was a paper from one of my undergraduate students, it would have received a C, and that's on a good day!

It is instances like this that make you almost see the point of people like Martin Kramer and his hilarious "Bir Zeit on the Hudson" jab! Khalidi's lamentations and condescending remarks notwithstanding, this nonsense no longer stands to scrutiny. This position is not only out-dated, but it is also a marked failure, just like Arab nationalism is.

Friday, May 21, 2004

"Truth, War and Consequences"

I've been making lots of references to statements by Kanan Makiya in light of the recent affair with Chalabi, without giving you sources. After hearing a CIA official pop up on FOX News and smear Chalabi beyond words ("traitor, selling secrets to Iran," the works...) I became convinced that this was a set-up by the CIA in a bid to take the upper hand in Iraq.

So I went back to my files and found the interview with Kanan Makiya that I've been quoting endlessly, as I knew that he discussed in it, from an insider's point of view, the entire dealings with Chalabi, the DoD, the CIA and the DoS.

I recommend you read it, especially as I have a feeling that the CIA and the DoS are going to fill the media (they already have) with "leaks" on Chalabi. So a voice from the other side is needed to keep things in perspective, and see the long battle the CIA and the DoS have been waging to undermine the DoD. Tom Friedman (in his typical style) said that the DoD wanted to see Powell defeated more than Saddam. He, in his recent shift to that side, failed to see that the CIA and DoS want the civilians in the Pentagon defeated, and their Arabist position endorsed, more than they want to see a truly free and democratic Iraq, free of the virus of Arabism.

Sadr Among Experts

Slate's Mickey Kaus wrote on the problems of figuring out events in Iraq, with such seemingly contradictory voices as Cole and Taheri filtering them through to us.

I like Kaus' assessment of Cole, as it is very much mine (as is clear from my posts on Cole).

"I am grateful to Cole for his serious response--though his equating of Wolfowitz and Saddam suggests why he's still too shrill to be completely trustworthy in my book."

Kaus has previously labeled Cole's site "useful but alarmist" which is probably the best description of it. He should add Cole obvious anti-Bush bias (which has led him to write a couple of pieces on how Bush is seeking to bring on the Apocalypse! I.e. he has gone from historian to a Michael Moore wannabe!) as well as a pro-DoS/CIA view and a deep hatred for Wolfowitz. These things taint his analysis to a significant extent, as Kaus rightly concludes.

Here's what Taheri wrote on Sadr this past Tuesday, which is clearly different (at least in emphasis) than what Cole wrote:

"Muqtada al-Sadr, the self-styled warring mullah, is desperately shopping around for a way out of the tangle he has created for himself. He has proposed to dissolve his so-called Army of the Mahdi and says he is even ready to go into exile to prevent further bloodshed. All he is asking for is for the Shiite grand ayatollahs to intervene to get him off the hook of an arrest warrant on a charge of murder. The grand ayatollahs, however, insist that he should eat humble pie."

Taheri concludes:

"Notwithstanding the forebodings of doom coming from "experts" who know nothing of Iraq, the newly liberated nation could, as President Bush has promised, become a model of democratization for other Arabs. Iraq will be won or lost not in Baghdad or Najaf or Fallujah, but in Washington."

Cole recently refered to this piece in Al-Ahram on the future of the Shiite scene in Iraq. Cole drew attention to the "chilling" words of Sistani at the end of the piece:

"Should the situation continue to deteriorate, however, Al-Kashmiri would not elaborate on whether or not Al-Sistani would change his stand. But he warned that if the occupation forces cross the line in Najaf, then, in what was nearing a threatening tone, he said that "the marjaiyyah might eventually be forced to change its quietist stand."

The funny thing is that Cole himself has said that Sistani and SCIRI (and there is other evidence that tribes and even common folks) have "green-lighted" or approved the US offensive on Sadr in the holy cities. (Some "empire" the US is, needing the green light to take action!)

There is another bizarre thing that is still unclear to me. This report says that it was the Americans who refused a peaceful deal (which included Muqtada being prosecuted for the murder of Kho'i). But this doesn't add up. There are too many loose ends, especially given the physical threats made by Sadrists against Sistani and other Shiites. Also, look at the statements talking about SCIRI and Shiite tribes threatening to take action against Sadr themselves. It's simply not convincing that "the Americans refuse a peaceful option." It's too simplistic, and doesn't stand up to the other elements being reported. This is not to say that on the tactical level, the US isn't making blunders that might end up being to the benefit of Sadr, but so far, none of those blunders have pushed the other Shiites over the edge, and this report doesn't give another picture. In fact, the final paragraph about Sistani is perhaps best understood in that light.

However, it's quite another thing to hear Cole comparing the US to Yazid, Wolfowitz to Saddam, and claiming that the US can no longer be said to be aiding the Shiites, but rather it's now killing them. That hardly qualifies as "trustworthy" (cf. the story from "Iraq the Model") and Kaus' "shrill" qualifier seems quite the understatement!

A Couple More on Chalabi

The portrayal of Ahmad Chalabi in the news has truly been disgraceful. To me however, it's been somewhat an indicator that the DoS and the CIA have the lead in Iraq.

I've stated my position on Chalabi on this blog and I've said that while I do not endorse "handing Iraq over to him," he should (he certainly deserves to) have a shot at running for office in a new Iraq as he is a legitimate political figure with a long history of active anti-Baathism. What he does not deserve is this demonization and discrediting by the CIA and the DoS. This is tantamount to assassination, both political and potentially physical. As Jim Hoagland remarked today:

"[T]he police carted off at least one computer, files and, most critically, a score or more weapons from the Iraqi politician's own security guards.
...
In the chaos rapidly enveloping the occupation of Iraq, the scene can only encourage Ba'athist killers or others who'd be willing to rid the occupation authority of this meddlesome Shiite politician. Torture by proxy is already an issue in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Murder by proxy now seems within the realm of the possible in U.S.-occupied Iraq.

The raid carved into concrete and then flashed a spotlight on the message that Chalabi will receive no protection from U.S. occupation forces.
"

Mind you that this dates back to the beginning of the war. (Kanan Makiya has told the story that at the beginning of the invasion, Ahmad Chalabi was dumped by the CIA in an abandoned shack in Iraq with no communication or protection.)

Hoagland has repeated (via Frances Brooke, Chalabi's adviser) the suspicion that the people involved in the raid on Chalabi were CIA.

Slate has also dug up this piece on Chalabi by Christopher Hitchens. (See also the piece from The National Review refered to below.)

What all these pieces confirm is that the DoS and the CIA want Chalabi out of the picture entirely. But the question is why aren't his supporters doing anything about it? According to Hoagland, the CIA apparently convinced Bush to dump Chalabi. If this is true, it would confirm my suspicion that the DoS and the CIA have new life in Iraq. It could be that Bush is desperate for Brahimi to come up with a government by June 30th, that anything standing in his way is to be removed. This move towards the "Arabist solution" is Powell's (and the CIA's) hallmark, which is quite predictable as it is the choice of the status quo. It could be seen in Powell's (and Bush's) shift towards the "Pan-Arab audience" (as in the apologies for Abu Ghraib and the summit in Jordan) criticized by Ajami, Young, Hoagland, and lastly by Amir Taheri in today's NY Post:

"Another complaint: American leaders seldom bother to appear on the Iraqi station. President Bush went on the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya to speak of his horror about Abu Ghraib, which happens to be in Iraq. And it was in an interview with Al Ahram, the Egyptian government's newspaper, that the president offered his apologies over the prisoner-abuse scandal.

Iraq has 150 new newspapers, almost all of them better than Al Ahram, if only because they aren't propaganda sheets for an unelected government. Yet they can't even get an interview with Bremer's driver, let alone President Bush.

Worse still, Bush presented his first Abu Ghraib apologies to Jordan's King Abdullah. The Iraqis regard themselves as potential leaders of the Middle East and resent being treated as if they were under the tutelage of the King of Jordan or anyone else.
...
To make matters worse, the Coalition now wants to bring in Lakhdar Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat, to rule Iraq in the transition period.

"Iraq was a state and a founder of the United Nations when Algeria was a French province," says Ali. "Is there no Iraqi capable of doing the job that they have reserved for Brahimi?"

Contrary to the generally held view that Iraq is an "artificial country" with no sense of identity, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis have strong patriotic sentiments that cut across ethnic and religious differences. They set the concept of "Uruqua" (Iraqi-ness) against that of "Uruba" (Arabness) to claim a special leadership place for their country.
"

All this to me indicates a thoroughly Arabist approach, with the fingerprints of the DoS and the CIA all over it. That would be a real shame, as well as a self-defeating, back-to-square-one approach. (See this paper for the track record, although it should be read with the proverbial grain of salt.)

But I find myself repeating my points over and over, and the more the Arabists are involved, the more nervous I get. How can you be optimistic with Powell and the CIA leading the way? And what's the alternative? Kerry?! The man whose entire agenda is a handover of things to the UN (and ostensibly the Arabs)!? And they're blaming the people who wanted to stress Iraq's singularity for the mess, and cheering for the upholders of the Pan-Arab solution. Well, you've seen nothing yet! Wait and see if the Arabists actually win! Leaving Iraq for the Iraqis alone to handle would then be the more cautious option!! Leaving it with the UN and Arabs (let alone the CIA) would be worse!

As Hoagland said, that would not be the democracy the Iraqis were promised. But hey, it will please the rest of the world!

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Iraqi Voices

I found this link to an Iraqi blog (Iraq the Model) in The National Review. I had wanted to feature an Iraqi blog for a while and I'm finally doing so (it's now among the links to your left!). The blog itself links to other Iraq-based blogs.

It's important to hear these voices to get a sense of what people there are thinking and feeling (as opposed to relying on Juan Cole for a description of the Shiites' positions for instance!), and sure enough, I'm pasting this story from "Iraq the Model" to give you an example:


Few days ago, I was riding a cap from work to my home. The driver as expected tried to start a chat. I was too tired and not in the mood to join him. There was a traffic jam that obviously annoyed him and the weather was hot as expected in a May noon. He said, "Baghdad has become impossible" this has become a usual phrase to start a conversation. It’s the synonym for the British “looks like a nice weather today”. I was becoming sick of complaints that usually start with this phrase. I said to myself, "Oh my god not another American hater" I didn’t want to reply but I thought it might help to pass time so I answered, “When was Baghdad ‘possible’?” the driver replied, “yes, life was always hard but these days they’ve become intolerable”
-Because of the Americans, you mean?

-No, of course not. Because of the difficulties in work.

-What do you mean? I know that you now charge double or triple the fees while cars and spare parts are cheaper now than ever.

-Yes, but the hours we can work in have decreased considerably because of the bad security conditions.

-What bad security conditions!? You are still afraid that someone might rob your car and get away with it in such a traffic jam??

-Of course not, but I can’t work for a late hour.

-I understand your fears but I always have known this place to be busy until midnight.

-That’s true but not in my neighborhood, so I have to go back much earlier than that

-Where do you live?

-In Sadr city.

-Oh I see, but what do you think the cause of this insecurity?

-Is that a question?? They are those thugs and thieves.

-Who are those?!

-Sadr followers.

-I agree, but I don’t understand your people there. Why do they support them!?

-Do you really believe that?? I swear to God they are no more than a couple of thousands terrorizing millions and hiding behind slogans like jihad and resistance. The whole city has got sick and tired of their doings. We just want to work, feed our children and take a break. We are tired of all this bullshit. They can’t deceive us anymore.
This idiot is taking advantage of his father’s name and we know the people who are gathering around him. Most of them are gangsters and ex-convicts with some foolish teenagers. They are anything but Muslims. Every now and then one of these cowards come hiding his face and fire against the American troops and when the Americans respond innocents get hurt.

I was encouraged by his attitude and asked:

-Why don’t you try to do something about it?

-Who says we aren’t? I’m one of the people who reported some members of the Mahdi army to the IP and now they are in prison.

-Really!? God bless you. That was brave of you. These people really belong there.

-Sure they do! Did this idiot forget who killed his father!? And who took his revenge? Could he have ever raised his voice if it wasn’t for the same people whom he’s fighting now? Well let the Iranians help him now! Believe me brother when I say that the majority of Sadr city people are grateful for the Americans. We didn’t fire a bullet at them when they entered our city. We gave them the reception of liberators and they are. Why would we fight them now!?

Follow up on Chalabi

I picked up this piece on Chalabi in The National Review from Reason's Hit & Run.

It's worth reading.

Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?

In a story that is sure to tickle Juan Cole pink, it is reported that US and Iraqi troops raided Ahmed Chalabi's house and retrieved documents and other material.

INC spokesman Entifadh Qanbar is alleging that the raid has to do with Chalabi's insistence on keeping the UN Oil-for-Food program open for investigation. Also, Qanbar claims that this was an attempt to put Chalabi in his place and shut him up.

I heard Qanbar on CNN saying that the people who raided Chalabi's place were CIA people as well as Iraqi forces.

What the hell is going on? If you've been reading Cole's blog, you'd know that Chalabi has documents relating to former Baath party members (i.e. records of a lot of people's dirty deeds). Also, you've heard of the DoS and the CIA's dislike of Chalabi. Colin Powell's recent remarks and the pressure to stop Chalabi's allowance, and to scapegoat him on the WMD's have made it clear that the DoS and the CIA are intent on getting rid of him, as he's the DoD's guy. This seems to me to be linked with the rise of the DoS and CIA in Iraq.

The search for documents therefore could very well be attempt by the CIA and DoS to seize all the documents on former Baathists and anything that has to do with the UN's dirty laundry.

There is a Sunni-based string in all of this. All the neighboring Sunni Arab countries hate Chalabi. Chalabi and Lakhdar Brahimi (who's in charge of preparing the transitional government that would marginalize Chalabi) have been in a fight of words, with the former accusing the latter of Sunni-centrism veiled as Arab nationalism.

The issue of the UN Oil-for-Food program is related to the UN's return to Iraq, and its bestowing legitimacy on the Iraqi transitional government. The real backer for a UN role in the Bush administration is Powell (who said today that the UN endorsement is critical). Also, the US is "rehabilitating" former Baathists (mainly Sunnis), which also could have something to do with it (perhaps grooming figures for the future government that would be acceptable to the Arabs, whom Powell has been cuddling up to in Jordan, and to the UN's Brahimi).

Also the CIA did not want Chalabi to hold any documents (Cole agrees with that premise, that Chalabi shouldn't hold anything) on anyone of the former Baathists (many of those generals were being approached by the CIA to topple Saddam and might be involved in its plans for the future government) and Chalabi wasn't happy -- and he wasn't alone -- with the return of Baathists to positions of power. Basically, Chalabi had a lot of dirt on those who want to take over or return to power (the UN and Sunni Baathists), and was annoying Brahimi, so he had to be put in his place.

Everyone who reads my posts knows that I dislike the DoS and Powell and their way of doing things, but this is ridiculous. Seeking legitimacy from those who ruined Iraq is really brilliant, and shows you the disastrous stalemate that is Powell's way.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

A Tale of Three "P's"

Ramy Khoury in his eternal wisdom has decided to enlighten us -- with a dash of witty charm on top! -- on what the real solution for the ME is.

He oh-so-cleverly summed it up in three "P's": "the Palestinians, Powell, and Arab Power." Oh... you had me at P. But then I P-uked my guts out.

As you might have guessed (after all, is it really that difficult?!) Ramy's genius solution is the solution of the Palestinian problem. But whom does he call to task on it? Powell... Can you feel the excitement? Is there anything more stagnant than these two: Powell and the Palestinan problem? And finally to "reveal" the breathtaking "original" conclusion, what is the hurdle to Arab reform ("power")? The above-mentioned Powell (whom Khoury calls: "a cruel symbol of the global values we wish to embrace to live life to its fullest, and also of the pro-Israeli American policies we abhor because they promote death and suffering in different Arab lands.") and the Palestinian tragedy. Mind-blowing isn't it? How could we have missed it!?

But it gets better. Khoury then writes:

"Arab governments both promote and resist change; the Arab League speaks of change but rejects a foreign role in this, while some Arab governments expect change to happen only with prodding and assistance from abroad; the Arab private sector includes great reform leaders and success stories, alongside forces that wish to maintain the existing protected, often monopolistic systems; and civil society organizations - especially political parties, think tanks and professional associations - remain weak and marginal, beyond the useful role of articulating broad goals and advocating reformist values. Arab governments that speak of political reform and democratization are not widely believed by most of their own people, who assume that ruling elites will not voluntarily share or relinquish power."

Did I miss something here!? Powell parrots the same contradictions that Khoury just laid out! He wants the regimes to be in charge of reform, which means it'll never happen. He says it should come from the inside, which is another way of saying we'll never see it.

This is precisely what Ramzy Baroud tackled in a piece in the same paper.

I will discuss Baroud's strong points as well as his weaknesses. Let's dare to match Khoury's wit with our own "three P's": Paradox, Paranoia, and Paralysis. (I left out Pathologies this time!)

In response to Khoury's "Palestinian" problem, Baroud has this to say:

"[T]he persistence of some Arab countries on placing the solving of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a prerequisite to democratic reform seems rather self-defeating. Sure, if the idea is to highlight that Washington is only interested in achieving its strategic goals and not remedying the bleeding wound of the region, exemplified by the Middle East conflict, then, point taken.

But how long can Arab governments wave this sword? Do Arab women have to be denied proper education, Arab public political representation and Arab nations an integrated economic system, until Israel's Ariel Sharon decides to end his colonial reign in the West Bank and Gaza?

As cruel and costly as the Arab-Israeli conflict has been, I still fail to see the connection.
"

It's a good thing Edward Said is no longer with us, as he would have labeled Baroud a Zionist, like he did with Ajami, who also tried to move away from the Palestinian issue recognizing its trap.

Baroud further slams the prospect that Arab regimes hold the key (which is the Powell position) calling the bluff of slogans like "gradual change" or "reform doesn't come from the outside" which are part of the mantra of president-kings like Mubarak and Assad who are searching for any excuse to perpetuate their dynasties:

"In many Arab countries, poverty and illiteracy have reached a staggering level; human rights abuses are widespread; prisons swarm with "prisoners of conscience"; freedom of expression is confined to press releases and empty promises; even when positive change takes place, it's often slow and insufficient, a behavior that is rationalized by the compelling need for "gradualism" in reform.

Interestingly, this "gradual" change almost always guarantees the absolute role of the political elite.

...

Meanwhile, not many Arabs are comforted by the pompous promises made by their rulers of impending reform that are self-imposed and not imposed by outsiders. If there were indeed such as an official Arab alternative to the U.S.-imposed reform, then one must ask: where is it? Why not unveil it now? And what are the follow-up mechanisms that would assure its implementation if it, in fact, exists?
"

And finally, in a statement that could've been directed at Powell, Baroud writes:

"But how does one explain the fact that Ryan sees in some unmistakably undemocratic Arab governments an example to be followed, while assertively dismissing others who are just as undemocratic?"

These are the strong points. The problem I see in Baroud's piece is his inability to go beyond a paranoid (and always reductionist) view of the US and its supposed "hidden motives." (An almost irresistible delicacy in the Arab world is the speculation about "hidden motives.")

Part of the reason behind this view is a dogmatically materialist outlook. Take for instance the following words and how they're phrased:

"Pletka, one of America's leading neoconservatives, must've known that this talk about democracy, liberation, and the empowerment of mankind convinces no one, except perhaps some innocent souls living on the periphery of history without a spec of knowledge of the political economy that steered its course for millennia."

Add to that Baroud's certainty that America's "real" motives are "obvious."

To be fair, it's not completely due to Baroud's dogmatic materialism that he's left with the impression that the US is only interested in Realpolitik. But here's where the paradox comes in. In their antipathy towards figures like Wolfowitz (who gets lumped under the all-inclusive label "neo-conservative") the Arabs miss a crucial point that it is precisely people like Wolfowitz who want to reverse the Realist grip on US foreign policy and its ineffective results. The opposing policy dictates that the US shouldn't deal with dictators in order to simply guarantee its interests, as that will surely harm its interests in the long run. Case in point, the modern ME. Look at Baroud's comment:

"It seems that the U.S. government's "democracy scale" will always tip in favor of those who unquestionably conform to Washington's political and business interests in the Middle East."

This is what they're expecting: a US sell-out. Yet at the same time, and this perplexes me beyond words, they oppose any action aimed at removing dictators, and go back to calling on Powell, the same man whose entire program is based on stalemate! It's mind-boggling.

That tension is frequently there (see my earlier comments on this blog on a piece by Shibley Telhami). In the end, Baroud arrives at this frustrated conclusion:

"Loaded slogans no longer suffice. Tangible change demands tangible action. Either that or eventually the browbeaten and demoralized Arabs would be left with no other option but that envisaged by Washington."

The thing is that the "Wolfowitz solution" already is the only viable solution, because it's the only solution that hits at the heart of the problem: the ME stalemate cannot persist. As Baroud has shown, all the other "P's" (Arab Powers, the Palestinian issue, and Powell) are jokes at best, or Trojan horses at worst, that will keep the Arabs in the same hole they've been in for decades, if not centuries.

But like I said, the "Wolfowitz solution" is not a limited materialist one, it also strikes at the deadly cultural myths and ideologies (like Arab nationalism for instance).

Unlike Baroud, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi realizes that culture and ideas are at the heart of historical change and nails a very significant point:

"[Panahi] was equally outspoken on the importance that some would give to the role of economic policy on helping societies progress to democracy: "I don't see necessarily see that economics are the basis for democracy. As an artist, I believe culture should be the basis for democracy. As long as mentalities haven't changed, we cannot bring democracy into a system. There is nothing we can do if people haven't changed the way they think.

"For example, take Qatar. From talking to people about this country, I understand that Qataris are well paid, they have social security, they have free education, water, electricity and good salaries. With this economy, in principle, Qatar should be the most democratic country in the world."

...

"When we talk about culture, we're also talking about beliefs. When we have this freedom for different expressions, particularly artistic expressions, we also have ears. We can find out what people's different tastes are, their different approaches, the different concerns, and this is the only way for me to understand what the public or the people want, through those endeavors and cultural happenings."
"

This has been the problem in the Arab world since the 18th-19th c. (and the early 20th c.) and the encounter with Europe. The "reformists" of that age like Abduh, and later more militant activists like Qutb, coveted only Europe's technological and economic progress but disdained its values and ideas (save of course for Nationalism, and later Fascism and Stalinism that gave birth to Arab nationalism and the Baath, and define modern Islamism!).

This attitude laid the foundation of what has come to be known as Occidentalism, a reductionist view of the West that labels it "morally degenerate and corrupt" or "lacking spirituality" etc. These views were best expressed in the reactions to (and manipulations of) the Abu Ghraib scandal, which by the way was merely a self-fulfilling prophecy, as it was used to confirm these Occidentalist views of the West.

Instead, what Panahi seems to advocate is an open (dare I say globalized?!) exchange of ideas and views:

"[T]his is how you get a vision, how you communicate different ideas and open new doors. Any type of artistic or cultural event is the best way to dialogue. It's a dialogue between intellectuals from different countries."

This shatters the pathological (I couldn't help it!) and lame excuse of "reform doesn't come from the outside." Of course it does! It comes from an exchange of ideas, which by definition involves the outside! This detrimental dichotomy of "inside/outside" has deep roots, and it was best critiqued by Iraqi intellectual Kanan Makiya in his brilliant book (one that Edward Said hated) Cruelty and Silence, where he labeled it: "that other ever so destructive dictum of Arab cultural nationalism: never wash your dirty laundry in public, and especially not where a westerner can see you." (p. 321. See also his points on Arab "rejectionism." See also pp. 234-41 and 314-19.)

Unfortunately, we have to go back to our "P's": Paradox and Paranoia resulting in Paralysis. After making all these excellent points, Panahi shatters it all in this conclusion:

"I don't believe you can bring democracy with an army, and that's why my next film will be about that subject. For me it's humiliating and disturbing to see a superpower come and impose its own ideas of democracy in a foreign country.""

Panahi is in denial about the nature of the regimes in the ME. How else but on a tank could the Iraqis have gotten rid of Saddam? And that tank had to have been foreign as no other Arab or Muslim tank was going to do it, and the Iraqi tanks belonged to Saddam himself! I don't see any European from the war generation complaining that their liberation from Hitler couldn't have happened without the intervention of the Americans. Neither do I see any Kosovars complaining that foreign armies helped them get rid of Milosevic.

As for "imposing" democracy, that's simply not true, as the US has gone out of its way, bending over backwards, to make clear that it doesn't expect a carbon copy of US liberal democracy in Iraq. But this is part of the nonsense that leads to Paralysis (which is manipulated by despots in the region). There are fixed elements in the concept of democracy regardless where it comes from. You can't eliminate them and say that you've installed a home-grown democracy, and Panahi certainly understands that. That kind of "democracy" is that of the despotic regimes, and/or the Islamists, who certainly have no problem using democratic principles to get elected, only to abolish them after they take power.

As you can see, there is some sort of debate going on, and Panahi is certainly right when he says that whatever happens in Iraq directly affects Iran and the region. The only question is will the people of the region manage to move beyond the stagnant "P's".

Fisk and Fisq

The blabber-mouth known as Robert Fisk had a piece of his on (what else?) Abu Ghraib published in An-Nahar today.

I'll spare you the details, as they are as nauseating as Fisk's daily hangovers. But his conclusion is worth quoting because it is as hypocritical as it is stupid. I'm re-translating into English from the Arabic translation. I can't access the original in English as now you have to pay to read Fisk, and I'll be damned if I'll spend a dime to read this imbecile.

"Yes, this [the outrageous acts at Abu Ghraib] is part of a culture, of an old tradition going back to the Crusades, which considers the Muslim to be filthy and sexually degenerate (the Arabic word used here is fa:siq) as well as anti-Christian, and not worthy to be part of the human race. This is the way Usama Bin Ladin (whom George Bush seems to be related to) thinks of us westerners.

Our deceptive, illegal, and immoral war has produced the pictures that expose our racism.
"

In case you're still tuned in, and haven't taken a puke break, here's what I think of this crock of horse manure.

When Muslim Jihadists blew up people in New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania, and Madrid and all over the world, everyone (esp. Fisk) made sure to assert that this has nothing to do with the Islamic religion or with Islamic and Arabic culture. It's the work of a lunatic fringe. Certainly no one tried to link those atrocities to any particular historical experience like the Crusades. For instance, no one brought up the institution of Jihad in Islam and the atrocities it committed, and then connected the dots with the modern Jihadists. Anyone who did was labelled Orientalist to the extreme. I'll also remind you of the reactions of jubilation among a significant number of Arabs to the murders of 9/11.

Now Fisk reacts in the exact opposite manner to the actions of some soldiers at Abu Ghraib. Now it's "our culture" that is to blame. Not only that, he effortlessly linked it to the Crusades and their supposed psychological motivations!!! So the pictures (as well as the Crusades!!) are obvious evidence of "our racism"!!! This shady use of the collective is not to be seen as a reflection of defeatism and self-loathing in Fisk. This is a technique he always uses to bash the US and its allies. For instance, when he got beat up in Afghanistan he used it as well, saying that if he were in their shoes he would have beaten Robert Fisk as well or "any westerner" around.

We don't need Fisk's fake self-flagellations. The proof is in the reaction of the American public to the acts. Unlike their Arab counterparts, there was no passing of sweets in the streets and shouts of "Jesus is Great." There was a barrage of self-critical, self-questioning democratic hearings, investigations (which by the way were issued by the Army itself!) and judicial practices. That's our culture, not the artificial and pseudo-historical nonsense that Fisk wants to sell us.

And this guy is loved in the Arab world! No wonder as he feeds into the victimology and passive-aggressiveness dominating the "Arab street."

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Colin the Shots?

Slate has a couple of interesting pieces on Powell and Iraq by Mickey Kaus and Jack Shafer.

The way I read them, both signal to me how Powell is striking back at the DoD and bidding for taking charge of Iraq. For instance, Kaus quotes an editorial from the Washington Post whose recommendations, on the issue of elections, aren't too dissimilar from the one by William Kristol and Robert Kagan in the Standard which I linked earlier:

"[T]he supposed utopian solution -- elections -- offers the most pragmatic way of establishing a viable government. Elections, as opposed to war or outside appointment, are still the mechanism favored by the country's most powerful political forces for determining Iraq's future. They offer the best chance of defeating the extremists.

Elections, in short, are the best U.S. endgame in Iraq -- provided the administration adopts a realists' view of them. It is sensible for the United States to give the United Nations as large a role as it will accept in organizing and conducting those elections; it is foolish to cling to the idea that U.S. political favorites, such as some of the exiles on the appointed Governing Council, can survive a popular vote. It is unrealistic to believe that U.S. appointees and advisers can be positioned to control the future government or that unilateral U.S. control over security matters can be maintained past the first ballot; Iraqi forces must be prepared to control security. The Bush administration also must accept, sooner rather than later, that an elected Iraqi government is likely to embrace economic or social policies not favored by the United States and may not be particularly friendly to Washington or to Israel.[Emphasis added]
"

Having heard yesterday that Powell said that he is willing to accept an Islamic theocracy in Iraq should that be the outcome of elections in Iraq, and hearing the rumor that Chalabi's allowance has been stopped, it seems that the Post's self-styled "Realist" recommendations have their "Realist" audience in the DoS. Mind you, the allowance cessation with Chalabi is only the most recent jab. Earlier, the DoS and the CIA were promoting a rumor that Chalabi was getting money from Iran for selling secrets on US actions in Iraq that led to US casualties!

Besides the allowance issue, the other part of the "one, two" punch sequence is Powell's "confession" that the CIA was "deliberately mislead" on the WMD. He blamed the INC. That was the first time any top US official made that claim (which was a favorite of Anne Coulter's Democrat mirror image, Maureen Dowd).

I wonder what all this will amount to, if anything at all. I certainly hope the US stays, and is not using this as a way to find an acceptable story for a withdrawal after early elections. Today Schroeder said that Muslim peacekeeping troops would be preferable to NATO ones. I hope that doesn't mean that the US would pull out to be replaced by (UN-led?) Muslim troops (the majority of whom would be Sunnis). Thankfully, Rumsfeld insisted yesterday in a talk at the Heritage Foundation that the US troops aren't going anywhere. Let's hope that is the case.

Splitting Hairs

Reason Magazine's Matt Welch wrote a very significant piece on the exact differences between the Democrat Kosovo war hawks, and the Bush administration.

Welch concludes:

"The difference? One party talks up the virtues of multilateralism, while the other talks it down.

That distinction may be enough to earn my vote in November, but as tangible philosophical differences go it ranks somewhere not far above splitting a hair. If the most vexing foreign policy issue we face is that American supremacy is indeed a bubble inflated by military assertiveness -- and that’s the big if -- then playing nice with international institutions is about as structurally significant as applying a new shade of lipstick on a very old pig.
"

That, and a clear partisan war! At one point Welch writes:

"But both fail to acknowledge that the democratizing idealism of Bush administration officials such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is in fact suspiciously similar to their own nosy Wilsonianism. They do not ponder whether aggressive Democratic interventionism made Bush’s Republican (and therefore less palatable) version more possible. To the contrary: Soros even writes an entire chapter on how to overcome that annoying obstacle of "sovereignty" when meddling in the affairs of tyrants. He and Albright both skate over the fact that, in Kosovo especially, their pro-war and anti-U.N. arguments could be cut and pasted into Dick Cheney’s talking points on Iraq."

But here's a really interesting point, which hearkens back to my remarks on the merging of Realism and Idealism (what I tentatively called a "Weberian" approach in a different context):

"Like Soros, Clark is alarmed, not heartened, that a Wolfowitz-flavored Wilsonianism was grafted onto the Kissinger-style balance-of-power approach after September 11. "Overnight, U.S. foreign policy became not only unilateralist but moralistic, intensely patriotic, and assertive...intimating the New American Empire.""

Yes, being assertive after your hardest hit in ages is a big problem. It's far better to have a policy analogical to telling US athletes not to "flaunt" American flags after winning medals. That is really "humble."

Got Michael?!

The indispensable Michael Young wrote this fantastic piece for Reason Magazine smacking around all those (like Tom Friedman) who are switching sides now when things got tough.

Michael places his confidence in the Iraqi people's politics of compromise and their ability to flesh out a decent government for themselves that will replace the hell they lived under, Hans Blix's irresponsible blitherings notwithstanding.

I must admit that whereas I hold that position as well, as is clear in my posts, I momentarily panicked when I saw the pieces by Ajami and Friedman, coupled by a relentless barrage of negativity here in the US and the hints of a speedier US withdrawal by Powell at the G-8 (and his more recent remarks about being ok with an Islamic theocracy in Iraq). I never truly appreciated the old saying about the morale at home being crucial for the war, but now I see it, and how many people (in the West, let alone the ME) are adamant to see this Iraq project fail.

There is also no pleasing critics. Take Juan Cole for instance. He is effectively critiquing anyone in Iraq who sides with the US! He has maintained that SCIRI and Sistani will lose presitge and standing because they gave the US the green light to take out Sadr in Najaf. He thinks that the US attack on Sadr was ill-advised, and that they should have let him be. But then again, the will of Iraqis who took to the streets to protest Moqtada's taking them hostage and messing with their future makes no difference. Neither does the Kurdish position!

Yet, I still see some signs that the DoS might be taking the upper hand in Iraq. See this story in the NYT for example, reporting that Chalabi's allowance has been halted. This of course delights Juan Cole, who harbors an obvious hatred towards Chalabi (as well as Wolfowitz and Feith). But the irony is that Chalabi is asking for exactly the same thing that Cole is with respect to the transfer of authority and Iraqi sovereignty:

"Ahmad Chalabi also said an agreement governing the operations of American and other foreign troops in this country must be negotiated by a sovereign Iraqi government. ... "Control of the armed forces and of the security services has to be under the Iraqis - in terms of recruitment, training, equipment, deployment and operational deployment," Chalabi told reporters. "We have to define what we mean by transfer of sovereignty.""

There is a problem with letting Colin Powell handle Iraq without the DoD people, in my view. Let me give you a hint as to why. When an Arab editorial makes the following smug remarks, you should run the other way!

"Colin Powell is the face of US diplomacy, and over the last three days at the World Economic Forum in Jordan he has been discovering, finally, that his country is digging itself deeper into a black hole in the Middle East. Arab perception of US policies and actions in the region has been communicated loud and clear. Through Powell, the US administration should, and hopefully will, go back to kindergarten to learn the basics of international relations in the Middle East."

Let's take hope in the fact that the US is bringing in more troops to Iraq from South Korea and the likelihood that this means that they're not going anywhere any time soon.

Democracies: Potential and Absent

(I started this on Sunday, but never had the chance to finish it)

In his op-ed today, Tom Friedman compared the actions of the "silent majorities" in Iraq and Israel against the "tyranny of the minority" exemplified by the settlers and Moqtada as-Sadr.

He pointed that Israelis refused to be taken hostage by the actions of "messianic" settlers by taking to the streets, and compared that to the admittedly smaller scale demonstration by Shiites in southern Iraq against the doomed and dangerous rejectionism of Moqtada's Mahdi Army. He further hope that this would be a preview of things to come in Iraq, rather than a one-time affair.

It's stunning that now Friedman is calling for an empowerment of the people (Shiites, mind you) while at the same time adopting views of CIA officials and Colin Powell. The former wants a withdrawal of US troops, and the latter seeks stability provided by a central government supported by neighboring (Sunni-majority) countries (Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia) who would have a say in its affairs, ostensibly to the detriment of Kurds and Shiites (and that wouldn't be the first time Colin Powell contributed to the selling out of Kurds and Shiites in Iraq)! He further believes that the future reforms of the ME lie in the hands of those very same autocratic regimes! Now that's pro-Arab!

Take for instance this quote from an op-ed by Jim Hoagland in the Washington Post:

""It is impossible for Iraq to be ruled by the Shiites," a political adviser to a ruling Arab monarch said recently in a not-for-attribution setting that encouraged unusual candor. "Sunnis make up 85 percent of the population of the Arab world. How could it be democratic" for a national Shiite majority to rule an Arab country? That is the key issue for King Abdullah of Jordan, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and other Sunni autocrats."

I repeat my conviction that the Iraqi Shiites and Kurds will not sit still and see what may be their only chance in this lifetime be pulled from underneath them. The Iraqis are already working the politics of compromise among themselves which is the backbone of consociational democracies.

Furthermore, as Adeed Dawisha pointed out, the US reactions to the Abu Ghraib scandal will indeed have shown a prime example of the rule of laws and institutions in a democracy, for all Iraqis to see.

But there is a point here about Israel that I would like to make. It's really more about the Arabs actually. The paradox and schizophrenia of the Arabs is best illustrated in how they at once call Israel "illegitimate" and attempt to treat it as a non-entity (by using language tricks like "the Zionist entity" etc.) while at the same time urging the Israeli people to hold its leaders accountable. I.e., banking on the functioning of the Israeli democracy, and its accomplishing of something that no Arab people can accomplish in their own states, which is to hold a leader accountable! Such is the extent of the disconnect between rhetoric and reality in the Arab world.

The Iraqis on the other have a chance to break away from this schizophrenia. The confusion of Tom Friedman and his swing towards a DoS/CIA position (the very same people whose ideology of appeasment and containment he opposed in the run up to the war) notwithstanding, the Iraqis themselves are not going to let this one get by so easily, just because the UN, Powell, and Arab despots say so.