Across the Bay

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Cole Slaw

You can't expect Juan Cole to go for too long without one of his "neocon" seizures. Sure enough, Cole was right back in his comfort zone with this marvelous statement:

"Neoconservatives tend to be far-right Zionists in the Jabotinsky tradition, whether they are Jews or Christian Zionists, and they are associated with a desire to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from the West Bank or at least to so circumscribe their existence there as to render them nonentities. The latest Neoconservative to enlist in the cause is Zell Miller, and he typifies the anger, recklessness and disregard for open, democratic values that characterize the movement."

Let's see... "far-right Zionists in the Jabotinsky tradition." Now try to square that one with Cole's following line:

"Neoconservatives have gained allies for themselves... in some cases in the far left (Christopher Hitchens is another example)."

Hitchens!? Far-right Zionist in the Jabotinsky tradition!? Colito has lost the one grey cell he might have once had.

Here's what Hitchens really thinks about the neocons and Paul Wolfowitz specifically:

"The thing that would most surprise people about Wolfowitz if they met him is that he's a real bleeding heart. He's from a Polish-Jewish immigrant family. You know the drill - Kennedy Democrats, some of the family got out of Poland in time and some didn't make it, civil rights marchers? He impressed me when he was speaking at a pro-Israel rally in Washington a few years ago and he made a point of talking about Palestinian suffering. He didn't have to do it - at all - and he was booed. He knew he would be booed, and he got it. I've taken time to find out what he thinks about these issues, and it's always interesting."

Paul Wolfowitz in fact has many sympathizers, friends and admirers among liberals and libertarians in the ME, like Michael Young, Iraqi liberal Kanan Makiya (see his comments on Wolfowitz here), and Iranian novelist Azar Nafisi who dedicated her book to Paul Wolfowitz (see also this piece by Reason's Tim Cavanaugh). In fact, it turns out that Mr. Wolfowitz is involved with Shaha Ali Riza, a Tunisian-born senior World Bank official. Here's a snippet of what she's been up to:

"Ms Riza's childhood in Saudi Arabia did much to shape her commitment to democracy, equal rights and civil liberties in the Arab world as she experienced at first hand the kingdom's oppressive regime, particularly for women. She has long pursued those beliefs in adult life and joined the World Bank in 1997 as the senior gender co-ordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, a role that involves extensive travel in the region.

She previously worked for the Iraq Foundation, set up by expatriates in 1991 to push for democracy and human rights in that country after the first Gulf war, and then established the Middle East programme at the National Endowment for Democracy, a federal agency created under Ronald Reagan in 1983 with the ambitious goal of promoting American political values internationally.

So Mr Wolfowitz and Ms Riza are not just close personally, they have also both long espoused the same deeply held conviction that democracy should be spread across the Arab world. With his ear, she is one of most influential Arabs in Washington.
"

"A desire to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians?" "A diregard for democratic values?" On the contrary. But this is Juan Cole after all, so one shouldn't have high expectations.

Then comes this sorry remark:

"Some have attempted to argue that the very term "Neoconservative" is a code word for derogatory attitudes toward Jews. This argument is mere special pleading and a playing of the race cared, however, insofar as only a tiny percentage of American Jews are Neoconservatives, and only a tiny percentage of Neoconservatives are Jews." (emphasis added.)

Really? That's not what Cole wrote last month in one of his many tirades against Larry Franklin. Cole said that despite having "a strong Brooklyn accent," he (Franklin) himself "is not Jewish" (imagine that!) "despite his strong association with the predominantly Jewish neoconservatives. I know that he is very close to Paul Wolfowitz. He seems a canny man and a political operator..." (emphasis added.)

"Derogatory attitudes toward Jews?" You bet your sweet Colo.

But I have a feeling these comments will soon come back and bite Cole in the aforementioned colo. For instance, see this piece by Lee Smith. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Michael Young Replies

Michael Young was gracious enough to weigh in on the last post ("Iraq and US Withdrawal") and has responded specifically to Joshua Landis' note. Be sure to read Josh's additional comment in the comments section. That they both took the time to contribute is greatly appreciated. Oh, and I'm not going near deciding who's Popeye and who's Bluto (Hukukukuk).

Michael's response follows:


Given the now frequent back and forth between Josh and I, it’s about time we started making money off of this; a sort of Middle Eastern Popeye and Bluto show.

I must admit that I never realized how easy France would make my riposte. Here I was struggling to detain a few berries, but now I can dine on a round Frankish boar. In the interim since my Reason piece, the French government went out and sort of specified what was hitherto an ambiguity and openly stated its support for placing a U.S. withdrawal on the agenda of an international conference on Iraq that the Bush administration would like to organize before the American presidential election. France’s foreign minister, Michel Barnier, declared that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq “must be on the agenda of such a conference, if it is to take place.” 

Better still, as Barnier was quoted as saying in Le Monde, the matter of the U.S. withdrawal “is already posed by the situation” that of “chaos in Iraq with general insecurity, including in the Green Zone.” Remarkable. Here were the French whining how the U.S. was keeping its Iraqi cards close to its chest and “doing” Iraq unilaterally, and now, when there is a chance to internationalize the conflict, they raise the barrier on approving it. Better still, Barnier suggests the U.S. should pull out as the situation in Iraq becomes more chaotic. Good plan.

The irony, of course, is that France and Russia were the two states that most ardently supported an international conference on Iraq many months ago; even John Kerry, “the world’s candidate”, backed it. Barnier didn’t torpedo the idea; he merely set an impossible condition, and hopes the damn thing will collapse under its own weight. Why? Because Chirac and his government cannot contemplate giving George W. Bush a conference that just might reassure American voters and ensure that Bush wins the U.S. election.

Now back to my friend Josh, who has just been abandoned by his hardy Gaullist allies. I disagree with his mischaracterization of my argument in Reason as encouraging France and the other European critics of the Iraq war to “get sucked into Iraq.” I was proposing nothing of the sort: Reading the dangers of Iraq more clearly, and avoiding wanton criticism of the U.S. there, without offering ideas; ensuring that democratic change can triumph in Iraq; and building an EU consensus on Iraq that includes Britain (but also Italy, I might add) are all hardly tantamount to getting sucked in. Yes, the French have now clarified their desire to see the U.S. set a timetable to withdraw, but anybody can see this would turn the Americans into lame ducks and very probably precipitate an even worse loss of control. It’s demagoguery of the worst sort that Paris is deploying.

Josh’s more serious claim is that Iraq will not turn into a Hobbesian free-for-all if the U.S. pulls out. He even offers a mechanism that is all negotiations and compromise. All I can say is that I disagree with his Yankee optimism on this, (and agree with Tony) even if several of his claims are more than acceptable (I don’t think the Shiites are “bloodthirsty” either). However, civil wars take on a dynamic that is all their own, and while I do not think Iraqis want a civil war, and while I do not think they are a gaggle of brutes waiting for a chance to kill each other (how tired I am to hear that line on Lebanon), I do think that the centrifugal forces can very easily get out of control without a central authority to control the situation. Who are “the Shiites” Josh refers to? The SCIRI? Muqtada al-Sadr? Ayatollah Sistani? He speaks of confessional groups as if they were people, but who decides? Why assume unity among Shiites or Sunnis? In a later passage, in fact, Josh himself posits Shiite disunity.

If civil war happens, the regional powers will, to my mind, get sucked into the conflict, much as they did in Lebanon. That may not occur simultaneously, or mean Saudis will be fighting Iranians. Not at all. However, vacuums invite intervention, and where Josh sees “triangulation” between different rational regional powers, I also see a whole lot of contradictory interests that might well propel dissonant dynamics of their own. Even Josh’s claim that “Iran has stayed out of Iraq” seems an odd one to me. He makes it sound like the Iranians have been watching from the sidelines. Nonsense. They have been meeting with the various actors, sizing up the situation, supporting some groups, and have only done so in an understated way because the U.S. is in Iraq. But using traditional balance of power reasoning, Iran will surely be more active in Iraq if the U.S. departs and Tehran perceives a situation that may turn to its disadvantage: witness Syria in Lebanon in 1976.

I’m puzzled that Josh should write: “The Iranians have no compelling reason to dive into Iraq should the US depart. The Iraqis don't want them and Iran has already tasted the bitter fruit of war in Iraq. So long as America is out, they can find satisfaction in whatever Shiite compromise emerges.” Surely the possibility of a chaotic Iraq is a compelling reason; and who says there will be a Shiite compromise in the short term? But worse, Josh follows up with an odd phrase further on: “ The US will have to pressure the Saudis and Iran not to get involved.” How does that line square with the argument that Iran has no compelling reason to get involved? With no such compelling reason, why would the U.S. have to apply pressure in the first place?

Josh’s last words are that a U.S. pullout “needn't be the end of the world.” However, as Keynes once said--I believe he was debunking the irrelevance of long-term economic optimism--“in the long run we’re all dead.” Yes, we may survive, but at what short- and medium-term cost to Iraq and the region?

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Iraq and US Withdrawal

In case you hadn't seen it yet, Bob Novak wrote a column where he reported some rumors about a US withdrawal from Iraq next year.

Commenting on the column, Michael Young was rather skeptical:

"Novak ignores what cutting and running actually means in Iraq. He mentions civil war as if it were easily navigable for the U.S. It would be a major disaster, far worse than what we have now. What may ensue is a regional conflict, as all sides defend their interests--the Turks against the Kurds, the Iranians to protect their Shiite friends, the Saudis to help the Sunnis, the Syrians to weaken their own Kurds, but also avoid an Israeli attack against them to the east, perhaps through Lebanon, etc. Surely, the administration cannot be so irresponsible as to leave such a mess behind, especially if terrorists are seen to thrive in an Iraq where it's truly all against all."

Young repeated his thoughts on the possibility and ramifications of a post-withdrawal civil war in Iraq, and the (non) role of the Europeans, in a piece for Reason that I noted a couple of posts ago:

"At the simplest level, where there is conflict there are migrants, and very many would wash up on Europe's shores. More ominously, an Iraqi civil war could quickly turn into a regional fracas, as Turks, Iranians, Saudis, Jordanians and Syrians enter the fray, endangering a host of vital international interests, most prominently the price of oil."

Ali of "Iraq the Model" wrote an understandbly more personal and passionate response to Novak's piece, but didn't really address the possibility of civil war.

On the other hand, another Iraqi blogger, "IraqPundit," while not responding to Novak's piece, had written a couple of posts addressing other pundits of doom and gloom, such as the oh-so-engaging Paul Krugman, and The Guardian's Luke Harding. IraqPundit voiced his outrage at some attitudes in the media that almost want to see a civil war. He thus mirrored Young's criticism of the French and Spanish smugness.

My good friend Joshua Landis of Syria Comment responded to Michael's Reason piece, and showed more skepticism at the possibility of a regional war in the case of a US withdrawal. In an email message he wrote:

"I just read Michael's very smart and witty Reason piece as always. I don't agree with him as usual though. I think he is being too alarmist.

If I were France, I would not get sucked into Iraq now either. Old Europe was very clear from the beginning that it didn't want any part of this US venture. They believed Iraq was contained and a mess. Every one with knowledge of the region suspected it would be a hellhole. America has bungled it badly - most likely irredeemably.

Of course France is ungentlemanly to gloat and do the I-told-you-so quadrille. But what goes around, comes around. We were pretty beastly with all our triumphalism and old Europe cheese eating, surrender monkey, freedom fries nonsense. Who can get too bent out of shape if the frogs make us eat our freedom fries now - topped off with a bit of Bordeaux? That is the least of our problems.

I don't think Iraq will turn into a cataclysm if we are forced to withdraw. The Shiites, as I have ventured before, will contain the Sunni resistance fairly quickly, I suspect, and try to cut a deal, offering the Sunnis some cabinet positions and a bit of autonomy. I don't think the Shiites are blood thirsty, at least they haven't shown it so far.

The Sunnis are blood thirsty, but maybe they will be less so without America to focus on. There has been surprisingly little
inter-confessional killing as of yet. Maybe that is a hopeful sign that the Arabs will be able to work something out in Iraq. The Kurdish-Arab problem is much deeper. Maybe Kurdistan would declare the independence it has already taken?

I don't think Saudi and Syria will get sucked into the fighting in a big way. They know that the Shiites will win and will not want to alienate whoever is going to come out on top. They will triangulate. The last thing Bashar would want is a bunch of Sunni fundamentalists taking power in Iraq or surviving in a failed state to become ever more troublesome for Syria. I think he would be happier with a Sistani type holding sway. Isn't he happy with Hizballah? Iran would also squeeze him if he advanced a pro-Sunni strategy in Iraq.

The Shiites, at least, have no greater-Middle East ambitions, unlike the Sunni fundamentalists. They are Iraqists and will be happy just to get a taste of state power after 1,400 years of eating Karbala dirt. They will kill the "international terrorists" that the US fears. There is no reason Iraq must turn into al-Qaida central.

Iran has stayed out of Iraq to a large degree. There is no reason for it to change that policy if America withdraws. It has already explored the Shiite messianic revolutionary thing. Shiites learned to curtail ambition and think locally. The Iranians have no compelling reason to dive into Iraq should the US depart. The Iraqis don't want them and Iran has already tasted the bitter fruit of war in Iraq. So long as America is out, they can find satisfaction in whatever Shiite compromise emerges.

The logic of American intervention was to unseat the Sunnis. Disbanding the army made that clear and irrevocable. Saudi Arabia went along with it. A Shiite Iraq is already in the cards - especially if the elections go ahead as Rumsfeld says they might, without the Sunni districts participating. If we pull out, it will mean sacrificing Allawi and the pro-American types we groomed for leadership. That will be bitter and a treason. But the sooner we pull out the less damage will be done. It will not be like Vietnam. So many of the people working with us are Shiites and likely to survive in a post US Iraq. They will have to live with a whole lot more religion than they want, but they won't be killed as out Vietnamese supporters were.

If the resistance continues and elections aren't brought off successfully, America will really have no choice. We will have to
prepare to allow the factions to find a non-American equilibrium.

The US will have to pressure the Saudis and Iran not to get involved. Europe can keep Turkey out by offering them EU membership for good behavior. Saudi Arabia is too precarious internally to go against the US on Iraq. They don't want Bin Ladenists running around Baghdad, which would be the result of their helping the Sunni opposition.

I don't think Iraq has to turn into Lebanon if the US withdraws. That is what everyone says may happen - but the analogy is not convincing to me. Lebanon was much more equally divided between its various communities than Iraq is. All Lebanon's neighbors wanted to get in on the action. Iraq's don't. They have been very reluctant to so far. Everyone knows the Shiites will rule. Which particular Shiite faction will end up on top does not have the same regional importance. In Lebanon it was Christians versus Muslims and Israel versus Damascus. The stakes were very high for the regional balance of power. In Iraq it will be a struggle between SCIRI, Da'wa and Sadrists. They may be able to work some power-sharing arrangement out amongst themselves and then patch in the Sunnis after offing the worst jihadists. It needn't be the end of the world.
"

I think that Josh paints an awfully rosy and incomplete picture. Note how the Kurdish question is handled. Their independence is taken as a forgone conclusion with little repercussions from the Turks, the Syrians, or the Arab Iraqis themselves who have not been hot on that proposition. Sadr, in fact, has been explicit in proclaiming "no more Kurdistan!"

Furthermore, I'm not sure how easy it would be for "the Shiites" to eliminate the foreign Sunni Jihadists. First of all, what does it mean for "the Shiites" to take care of that? Is it to be understood in terms of Shiite militias? And that's supposed to avert a civil war!? If what's meant is an Iraqi army, Jeff Taylor addressed their lack of preparation militarily to fully take responsibility for such a task, let alone what that entails politically. Taylor notes that it's no coincidence that the Jihadists are systematically targetting the Iraqi forces.

Landis might be right that Saudi Arabia wouldn't want to be involved, but the question is would it be able to help it? They already have their Jihadist problem, and should the US withdraw from the region, would the Saudis really be able to stop them from crossing over to Iraq, or, more importantly, from crossing over from Iraq into Saudi Arabia to wage war on the ruling family? Same question applies to Jordan. Given Jordan's past history with these groups, I would be shocked if King Abdullah wouldn't want to make sure his fragile realm is secure.

Josh seems a bit generous with Iran to say the least! I mean the notion that they would stay out if Iraqis don't want them to interfere is a bit much! Of course I'm being caricaturish.

This is without even mentioning oil (see Lee Smith's take on that). But overall I think that while Josh offers a highly optimistic vision, he ignores many variables, and creates several questions on democratization and reform in the region.

I don't see how any good could come out of a US withdrawal next year, be it for the US, the Iraqis, or the region, let alone the comatosed Europeans.

Update: Richard Cohen ponders the question of a US pull-out in the NYT. (From IraqPundit's Maureen Dowd smackdown post. Always a pleasant, and cathartic exercise.)

Not a Good Model

Self-proclaimed Oracle of Iraq, Juan Cole, is getting no respect from the guys over at the liberal Iraqi blog, Iraq The Model.

Writes Ali:

"I guess if instead I shifted to parroting Al Jazeerah or people like Michael Moore or Juan Cole, I’d be having an independent voice?"

Ouch! Although, Cole might take that as a compliment, as he has often praised Al-Jazeerah's Iraq coverage.

Congrats Ali, you've now probably made Cole's "Likudnik" shit-list!

Friday, September 24, 2004

Matters of Reason

Here are a few excellent items from some of the fine minds over at Reason:

Charles Paul Freund turns our attention to a couple of pieces translated by MEMRI. One (original Arabic) is on Jihadism and Islamic reform by a Syrian professor, Mundhir Bader Halloum, the other (original Arabic), by Shaker Nabulsi, is also on Jihadism and the state of the Arabs today.

Sticking with the theme of "reason," both decry the lack of rationalism in modern Islam and the Arab world. Halloum wrote: "what is being passed on as heritage is the latest version of Islam ... a doctrine which embraces fatwas that ostracize reason, and allow murder, and cancel time." Halloum calls for Islam to be brought to the domain of history and reason through a movement of reform.

Nabulsi followed suit, proclaiming: "we have become a mindless nation." Nabulsi also blamed this retreat from reason on the domination of "dark religious education, which instigates a fight against modernity and democracy and neo-liberalism." He goes on further with his indictment, stating that "any verse, prophetic hadith, wisdom saying, poetic verse, or intellectual voice calling for thinking and applying reason has been erased from the memory of Arabs." Instead, Arabs have surrendered to irrational and destructive romanticism. I.e., the kind of bull that Patrick Seale and other Third-Worldist idiots think is authentic and anti-colonialist.

A propos Third-Worldist and Leftist romanticism, Nick Gillespie noted Paul Berman's review of the new Che Guevara movie. I have featured Berman on this site before, and his critique of the Left, and its flirting with totalitarianism, is always worth reading. Berman minced no words:

"Che was an enemy of freedom, and yet he has been erected into a symbol of freedom. He helped establish an unjust social system in Cuba and has been erected into a symbol of social justice. He stood for the ancient rigidities of Latin-American thought, in a Marxist-Leninist version, and he has been celebrated as a free-thinker and a rebel."

Readers are also reminded of Christopher Hitchens' scathing criticism of The Nation's Naomi Klein who evoked the same repugnant romanticism in reference to thug-cleric wannabe Muqtada al-Sadr (cf. Juan Cole's Hallmark moment below in "Cole Me Advocate"). Nabulsi's piece by the way, appeared on a Leftist website! That should give Western Leftists something to think about! The website had other interesting pieces like this one here (Arabic).

Finally, my favorite, Michael Young slaps around the Bambi of Socialists, who, in the priceless words of Jacques Chirac, never misses an opportunity to shut up. Young has no time for romanticism, smugness, or demagoguery:

"A policy that is exclusively against something is no policy at all. If that's the best that a Europe as good as new can offer, then it's no surprise that one of its leading lights can get away with a nickname like Bambi."

If only the Arabs and their enablers embraced reason.

Update: Reason's Jesse Walker joins in on the criticism of Leftist romanticism, with a post on Foucault and Islamism. Edward Said had the same problem (see post "FreundLee Reminder" below and the link to Hitchens' review) and it was recognized way back in 1980, right after Said's Orientalism came out, by the late Malcom Kerr in his excellent review of the book.

Also, for another critique of Naomi Klein's Nation piece, see this one by Marc Cooper.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Lebanon and Za‛ama

There's an excellent debate going on over at Syria Comment between Joshua Landis and a Lebanese commentator over the Lebanese political system. I recommend you take a look. I will make a quick comment on it as well in the comments section.

Here's a chunk of the post by the Lebanese commentator, Rami, for the sake of convenience:

Hottinger’s definition nails post-feudal 19-20th Lebanese leaders indeed but it cannot be used to define the Assads for example, who do not represent the aspirations of the Alawite community nor do they exploit the cleavages of their society to legitimize political office, at least not openly. Their unitary approach is the offspring of nationalism.


Edward Shils, Identities, and Confessionalism

Regarding the second piece; that of Edward Shils, it repeats clichés that are very well known about the shortcomings of the Lebanese political system and the national pact. In fact you are preaching to the choir. I’m more inclined to reference Georges Naccache’s adage “Deux negations ne font pas une nation” “two negations do not make a nation”. For the record Naccache is one of those pesky agents of political Maronitism; isn’t it ironic that we all agree about the failures of the Lebanese formula? But I’m yet to hear anyone come forward with an appropriate alternative. I guess one alternative might be to nullify communal differences under one supranational narrative that harks back thousands of year to a dead culture and impose that culture forcefully on everyone. Now to do so we would destroy civil society by emasculating professional unions, stifling the press and other liberties, persecuting minorities, building a huge army and flank it by a ubiquitous intelligence network. Is that what you propose? But in Lebanon it can go both ways, we can have Phoenicians instead of Arabs and Moaronitism instead of Sunnism. Is that the alternative?

But going back to Shills points, he is placing all of the failures of the system on the indigenous players of that system and not the system itself. He is making it seem that it is the Lebanese fabric of the system that caused it to fail. What he fails to note is the vulnerability of consociational democracies and the absolute need for such a system in Lebanon for modernism and democracy to develop. Dr. Salim Talhuq a Druze chieftain asserted as much when he states:

“Lebanon is currently composed of communities which replace the political parties of other countries. Any community, which does not have a share in the power, considers itself wronged. We must take all possible steps to attain unity between the communities, none of which should be sacrificed. It was with this intention that article 95 was included… I repeat we want to attain unity gradually, not by force.” (Lebanon’s Quest by Meir Zamir)

John Entelis also commented on this in his book Pluralism and Party Transformation in Lebanon.

“This implies that political unity and cultural diversity can simultaneously be established as the foundation of a modern state. This is possible in a society where no single sectarian or ethnic group dominates.”

The system however does not alleviate communal distrust nor does it bring national consensus nor does it offer turnover in leadership whether it is applied, in Lebanon, Belgium or South Africa. However it does offer “recognition of its (speaking of an ethnic group) political and other rights, and responsiveness on the part of the government to the community’s needs” (Illya Harik - The Ethnic Revolution and Political Integration in the Middle East) Also, as assessed by Arthur Lewis in Politics in West Africa he states that the core problem of pluralistic societies is “to create political institutions which give all the various groups the opportunity to participate in decision making”. Lebanese post independence democracy did that; it did it in an imperfect way but it did it and it contained the aspirations of the various groups as long as foreign interference was minimal. Of course this gets complicated when arms and guerillas are smuggled across the borders via Syria (from Syria and countless other Arab countries), when the PLO opens up shop and when Syria and Israel invade. I’m not one to claim that the Lebanese are “brothers” but without the primer you have no explosion. But going back to the original point, identities matter, identities in Lebanon matter as described by Hourani himself he states that ethnic groups are “communities of which the members have shared a historical experience long and profound enough to give them a significant degree of identity, in language and all that is bound up with it in modes of thought and feeling” (A Vision of History: Near Eastern and Other Essays).

My contention is that Lebanese consociational democracy although vulnerable was not inflammatory. In every conflict there were outside players. The system although flawed worked for everyone and worked as it was intended to work spawning unbelievable cross sectarian alliances (most notable of which is Musa Namur’s cooperation with Emille Edde) but sometimes it failed to push for the common good as you have demonstrated with stalling the actions of the government but guess what this also happened pre-national pact with Emille Edde’s government and its inability to achieve the reform it set out to achieve. As Lijphart asserts though: “non-decisions are preferable to bad decisions”.

What is the alternative to confessionalism? “Formal abolition of confessionalism without supplanting it by a higher social order would lay the state open to abuses by communities bound to be strengthened from outside in undermining the foundations of the state” (Moshe Zeltzer, Aspects of Near East Society).


Conclusion

It is insane to justify one evil by referencing another. In effect you are not engaged in the debate to discover a viable solution of the Lebanon problem you are merely attempting to justify the current Syrian hegemony. I’m not implying that you should care about a long-term Lebanese solution but given the fact that you lament and denigrate Lebanon’s past you must engage in the discourse to remedy the reasons of this past. The current injustice inflicted on segments of Lebanese society has no equal in its history, even before independence. Riadh el Solh is a national hero even though he openly campaigned towards the dissolution of the Lebanese Syrian borders, even after independence. Antoun Saadeh’s party was licensed at different stages in history even though it advocated the destruction of the Lebanese state, (he was only arrested and executed when he forcefully and illegally tried to overturn the government, heck if he did constitutionally, like Chamoun in 1952, I don’t think he would have been stopped), and the examples are countless. At no point were agitators imprisoned, exiled, killed or persecuted as systematically and consistently as during the Syrian era. There is no room for opposition in the current axiom. All of this fails to mirror the importance of communal memory, traditions, cultures and way of life. That has been under assault since 1990. This is the real crime what Bat Ye’or calls the “Exclusion and Concealment of History”. This has never happened before, at the height of Maronite supremacy no such efforts were undertaken. National narratives supplemented existing narratives but never sought to replace them. When the Shiites were not allowed to publish one newspaper in the Arab world, al ‘Irfan was vibrant in Lebanon. The Arab nationalist ideologues operated freely in the heart of Lebanon. The same spirit is not there anymore.

You might argue that stability was sacrificed for such a system but it is with great confidence that I assert that the Lebanese would prefer instability over Syrian or Iraqi stability. Isn’t that why Syrians to this day continue to migrate to Lebanon for work, this also happened during the war.


Update: Here are my two short replies on Josh's site.

1- I think that the key factor in all of this is the Ottoman legacy. I touch on it in a post I'm preparing on Phoenicianism for "Across the Bay" that'll be posted imminently. Here's the quote:

"In my opinion, and this is not something I've pursued, I think the common denominator for in the above is the Ottoman experience and the millet system. I remind you that the term millet meant "nation" and only later came to be associated with what we call "confessional groups." Of course, the millet system is based on the concept ofdhimma, and is a direct continuation of it in terms of who was recognized by the millet system. A good essay on this subject is Kemal Karpat's "The Ottoman Ethnic and Confessional Legacy in the Middle East," in Milton J. Esman and Itamar Rabinovich (eds.), Ethnicity, Pluralism, and the State in the Middle East (Ithaca and London, 1988), pp. 35-53.

Given that the millet system provided considerable autonomy, despite the discriminatory laws of dhimma, it's little wonder that many Christians, especially the non-Arabist Lebanese Christians, hearken back to it with nostalgia (esp. the mutasarrifiya system of the late 19th c.). Needless to say, this drives Arabists crazy, but as Martin Kramer recently noted in Sandbox (entry "Clio Abuse," Wed, Aug 4 2004 8:41 am), quoting the great Elie Kedourie:

"Christians and Jews, he wrote, "were considered Iraqis first—that is, as far as their duties went. When it came to their rights, they were still the second-class subject of Ottoman times—but they had, in the meanwhile, lost all the advantages of the Ottoman arrangement: communal standing and self-government." Precisely. (From Kedourie's essay "Minorities.")"

The picture that emerges is that what's postulated is a mixture of what Arabists hate most: Sykes-Picot and Ottomanism. I.e., the autonomy granted by the Ottomans within a new polity, outlined by Sykes-Picot, along with the constitutional rights that it gives. In other words, what's sought is the elimination of the entire Arabist project! This in a nutshell is the definition of the Maronite project in Lebanon, and the Kurdish project today."

Another great essay in that collection by Esman and Rabinovich is the one by Gabriel Ben-Dor entitled "Ethnopolitics and the Middle Eastern State." Its outline and conclusion are very similar to your views Josh. I just disagree with the solution you provide. I believe a version of Republican politics is the key for Lebanon: a central state yes, but not an overbearing one. Rather, a federal system or some form of political decentralization, with a lot more autonomy on the local level. Chihabism or any quasi-Arab order is not the way forward. It was the tensions of Arab nationalism that broke the system not allowing it to naturally and gradually evolve and offer better solutions. See Farid El-Khazen's The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon for a more elaborate analysis.

It's not only political subcommunities that challenge the state, it's also supranational abstract ideologies like Arabism. In fact, as Michael Young, myself, and now Rami, have argued, the latter are far more destructive, while the former can be an asset, as long as a balance is struck between state and communities.


2- "Lebanese society revolves around an empty center."

This quote, I believe, is the center (no pun intended) of your piece.

I do agree there has to be a slightly stronger state, one that can sustain pressure from the outside, like the pressure of Arabism, which the pre-75 Lebanon didn't have. However, I still think that the key to success in Lebanon, is a balance between center and communities, in the same vein as what's sought after in Iraq. I.e., the center needs to be limited.

Since Hegel we tend to think of the state as an end in itself. Elman Service has enshrined that evolutionary approach: Tribe-Chiefdom-State. I think that this needs to be reviewed in our case. A new dialectic between "center" and "periphery" needs to be laid out. It's not a relationship emanating from the center outward.

Also, in Lebanon, entrepreneurship was always key, you can't stifle it with an overly centralized system. How all that is supposed to take place, I don't have an answer yet, because it has not been put to test. Obviously decentralization and federalism need to be considered. Possibly, one needs to consider bicameralism as a buffer to the tyranny of the majority. I believe that that was the essence of the Maronite supremacy earlier on in Lebanon. Their fears can be appeased through bicameralism and such measures as those found in Belgium for instance. Lijphart explains those things well in his books (Democraciesand Democracy in Plural Societies).

I also agree with you that education is the solution in the end. You can't police that. It doesn't work that way. It has been policed in Lebanon now since 1990, and it's useless as anything. People still feel about each other as they did in 75 and worse. Syria is a facade Josh. Your paper on Islamic education demonstrates that.

I maintain my Republican analogy. Small government, more local autonomy.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Readers' Response

Two readers responded to my reply to Josh with a couple of interesting points that I didn't clarify well in my post.

The Syrian reader from the Far East wondered whether Mediterraneanism falls in the same trap as Arabism by being a supra-national idea. Therefore, why not just focus on a local nationalism (Syrianism, Lebanonism, etc.)?

First, I do believe that the focus should be on local nationalism. I didn't clarify that as I should have in the post, but I do agree on that point.

However, I disagree with your characterization of Mediterraneanism. It's not a nationalism. My understanding of Mediterraneanism is similar to the concept of "Europe" that Josh wants to wed to Arabism, which I think is a misfit. It's not ethnic, it's not nationalist, it's conceptual on a cultural-geographic-symbolic level. It points to an openness to the West, and an acknowledgement of several concepts such as pluralism, cosmopolitanism, mercantilism, and free exchange of goods and ideas. It's Braudelian in many ways (reference to Fernand Braudel, whose works on the Mediterranean are well worth reading). It's an attitude.

Now, on a more specific level, it fits well with Lebanon's sense of identity and its Phoenicianist elements. The merits of the Phoenicianists' worldview are those same elements I sketched above. This is also a great example of how a local nationalism (Lebanonism) can very easily coexist with a concept of Mediterraneanism. Lebanon's history and heritage is rich and complex, and much of it involves the meaningful symbolism of the Mediterranean.

For instance, encounter of East and West. In fact, the Phoenicianists' greatest myth was that of Qadmus and Europa. There is an interesting interpretation of the names (not the only one of course). Qedem in Phoenician (as in Hebrew) means "East" and Ereb (what those interpreters see as initially behind the name Europa) means "West." Whether this is true or not is inconsequential, it reflects how they understood the story and how it applies to their vision. Their whole fascination with the Roman and Hellenistic eras as a time of cross-civilizational pollenization that included Phoenicians (whom they saw as a reflection of themselves) is centered on the Mediterranean.

At the same time, this was not in conflict with their Syriac Maronitism, or their serious work on the Arabic language. It's a more relaxed dynamic than the tension with Arab nationalism.

So Phoenicianism wasn't a nationalism, Lebanonism was. Phoenicianism was a heritage and a historical addendum. It explained how they read the past and how they envisioned the present and the future. Mediterraneanism is similar in that it is not a nationalism, but simply an outlook; a prism. It's an outlook that's essentially opposite to that of Arabism in all its aspects.

Finally, with regard to your points on Tunisians and Spaniards and what have you, one can make the case that a Tunisian or Moroccan has more in common with a Frenchman or a Spaniard than with a Yemeni! The Lebanese have more in common with Greeks or the French than with a Saudi! etc.

In response to Matt's comment, I will address only two points.

1- The notion that Arabism will linger on.

I have no interest in eradicating Arabism by force or what have you. People will reinvent it in ways meaningful to them. I believe that it has enough contradictions in its make up so as the reinterpretation will continue to dilute it. One of the questions that Josh didn't ask, and that I skipped over, was not just "belonging to what?" it's also "belonging based on what?" That I think is the main driving engine of reinterpretation. Most recently polls indicate that (surprise) it's based on Islam (much as it was in the beginning anyway!) more and more, and an Arabo-centric view of Islam at that. Secondly, it's that narrow xenophobic, sometimes called anti-imperialist, outlook. That somehow "Arabs" are targets. That causes people not to actually ponder what the hell their "Arabness" means.

But lack of critical examination was never the only problem. Which leads us to the second point.

2- Arabism as dominant state ideology.

This point is one of the reasons why I think that any notion of a liberal Arabism is a contradiction in terms, and why the analogy with the EU is non-existent. If the ideology itself is based on homogeneity and the drive to eliminate or marginalize others, i.e., the negation of pluralism, I don't see how you can reconcile that with a liberal outlook. That's why Kanan Makiya in his vision of post-Baathist Iraq thought that a true pluralist, federal Iraq, cannot be officially an Arab country. (See here).

Therefore, after the first question is solved (what does considering oneself to be "Arab" mean?), the other task is to relegate Arabism to a secondary identifier in a local nationalist system. E.g. Iraq is home to people who consider themselves Arabs, Turkmen, Kurds, Assyrians, etc.

So your point runs counter to Josh's contention that Arabism, wed to state power, led to stability and the avoidance of sectarian war. That's the basic view on Lebanon, and needless to say i don't buy it for a minute. It was the tension with the drive of Arabism for dominance that broke the Lebanese fabric and broke the deal it was based on. It was sacrificed on the altar of Arabism and its "Palestine-first" ideology (in the Marxist sense). Read Farid El-Khazen's book The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon.

Liberal Arabism?

Josh,

considering that you technically didn't defend Seale, I will not concern myself with him either in this post. Nor will I deal too much with Syria and its supposed reforms. You already know my views on that. Instead, seeing as this discussion is about identity narratives, I will focus on your multiple -- and at times paradoxical -- definitions of Arabism, as well as your postulations on what form it might reinvent itself in. Seeing that my time now is much more limited, I will divide my reply to more than one post.

Here are some of your definitions of Arabism:

1- intima' (belonging)
2- ‘asabiyya (blood solidarity)
3- Not an ideology that wed itself to state power (contrast with #10-14)
4- Nationalism (cf. #9 below)
5- Imagined community (cf. #7)
6- Quasi-religious, tailor-made for (Sunni) Islam (cf. #12)
7- Organic, völkisch, from above, united umma
8- Arabo-centrism
9- Not just a national or ethnic feeling
10- Centralized Statism/Fascism
11- Anti-Western Confrontationism and Xenophobia
12- West-Oriented in ideology (secular - socialist)
13- Anti-tribalism/sectarianism
14- Central ideology of the state

I will also add your vision of a possible future Arabism as a variety of the EU model, based on liberal values that will supposedly do away with some of the unsavory elements listed above. That will also be included in the assessment.

As my list makes clear, your various defining elements of Arabism not only weaken your argument, they testify to why Arabism is such a disaster that needs to be relegated to the archives of history. Let's start taking apart those points. I won't be overly systematic, and there might be some redundancy. I ask the readers to bear with me.

First, there's an ambiguity with the issue of "belonging" that really constitutes the basic problem and tension that has plagued the region and caused most of its wars. Belonging to what? That's the $50,000 question. Your post never solves this. All you do is say that we should try to convince the various peoples of the M.E. to channel their belonging to the country they live in (e.g. Syrianism or Lebanonism) and its own history and heritage. Nevertheless, you still say that Arabism will linger on. Your synthesis: learn to live with it in its diluted form thus creating the "Arab EU." I'll anticipate the conclusion here and say that the European unity (which is not subscribed to by all European countries, and is not necessarily seen a self-evidently good thing!) is not based on an ethnic ‛asabiyya! Secondly, the people who do subscribe to the EU do not place it as their primary identifier in an ethnic sense. Ethnicity has no part in this whatsoever. Therefore, thinking of Arabism in terms of the EU is faulty at the most basic level. (There is a series called "The Making of Europe" that discusses many issues, including language such as in the volume by Umberto Eco entitled "The Search for the Perfect Language"). Instead, what you have with Arabism is closer to Sovietism with an imposition of language-based nationalism and the suppression of minorities.

Arabism always includes a supra-national ethnic element and therefore will always be in conflict with local nationalism. The EU model is not a solution because it doesn't deal with the basic, illiberal, nature of Arabism. To me, the "Arab-EU," as well as "liberal Arabism," is a contradiction in terms. The list above does not contain one single liberal element. So now you know my conclusion, now let me expand on it!

You claim that Arabism is not an ideology that wed itself to state power (then you say that it is!) and you were right the second time because that's exactly what Arabism is! It's an ideological reading of the past that was indoctrinated to generations through education, literature, and the media, by being the dominant (if not the only) discourse by virtue of its position of power. This led to statism, Arabo-centrism, and oppression of minorities.

Even the notion of "Arab" as a cultural Oberbegriff (a sort of overarching generic term) is problematic for the same reasons: the underlying premise is faulty. Why should historical memory be centered on the emergence of the Arab (from Arabia) Muslims on the scene? Why should that be seen as the unifying historical memory? etc.

This entails a radical reinterpretation of what "Arab" means. You can't force that on people, because that would make you just as bad, but you can remove its place of privilege and introduce all kinds of alternatives in the educational system and literature. You just can't rehash it minus some unsavory elements. How can you divorce it from elements that were so integral to its intellectual conception?

Needless to say, "Mediterraneanism" is no less ideological, it's just consciously more inclusive, liberal, corresponds better to historical realities, and reflects a more complex understanding of identity.

More to come, hopefully in response to your reaction to this post.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Cole Me Advocate

Iraqpundit wrote on Saturday that there was an anti-Sadr demonstration in Najaf on Friday, and his source was the Iraqi Az-Zaman (also picked up by the WaPo).

Cole had dedicated one sentence to that demonstration:

A small demonstration was held against Muqtada al-Sadr by Najafis.

Today he mentions another anti-Sadr demonstration, which he picked up from the Washington Times -- whose story mentioned that this was the second such demonstration in a couple of days -- and again does so in the briefest of fashions, with no commentary to follow:

There was a demonstration on Sunday in Najaf against the Mahdi Army militiamen, and clashes broke out on Monday as US forces searched for weapons stores of the militia and came under fire from the remnants still in Najaf.

The reason I highlighted the various sources that related the stories is because the Az-Zaman report quoted by Iraqpundit, and not touched by Cole, also mentions that several clerics filed a complaint with the Hawza against the Sadrists for acts of torture and killings that have taken place in the religious courts that belong to the Sadrists. The language related in the report is quite harsh. It's not new that Sadr has been bullying people left and right, and Iraqpundit's post mentions interesting information on the keys to Najaf and Karbala that might shed light on the murder of al-Khoei and his companion who had possession of the key. The point is that there are several pieces of information that would warrant comment from Cole, the self-proclaimed oracle on matters Iraqi, if not one of his fantastical conspiracy theories. But apparently he saves those for neocons, Likudniks, Israel, and most recently Walid Phares!

On the other hand, his post on another demonstration in Fallujah was followed with the usual Cole shrillness, lamenting why the US public is not seeing this demonstration on TV:

It struck me that the speakers at this demonstration and their sentiments are not being seen on US television news, and it is a shame. Even if Americans just want to understand their enemy, they would have to be aware of these sentiments. My perception is that we almost never see dissidents or opposition figures speaking freely on US cable news, and seldom on the networks.

I guess the US public shouldn't expect to get more than one or two sentences on anti-Sadr sentiments on Cole's site either. Instead, we hear this Hallmark-style romanticism in a recent piece in the WaPo, that rivals the kind of poetics heard on Al-Manar TV:

As for Sadr, he desperately wants the Iraqi people to toss the United States out of their country, as the Iranians did in 1978-79. He seems to think that if his life cannot convince them to do so, his death might.

... Aaaaand, cut!

Joshua Landis Replies

What follows is Joshua Landis' reply to my post on identity narratives. Any additions (translations) are marked.

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I am very conflicted about Arabism, like many in the West and Middle East right now. It is at the heart of the identity crises the Middle East has been struggling with since the break up of the Ottoman Empire. I don’t think Seale is wrong, as you do. Seale's 1965 book, The Struggle for Syria, remains a masterpiece of historical interpretation. He may sympathize with Arabism more than I do or defend it in a different way, but we both understand it is a force and intima’ (belonging. T.) or `asabiyya (blood solidarity. T.) that has shaped the region and will continue to shape it in the future. It will not disappear any time soon and should not be thought of like communism. Communism was an ideology that had wed itself to state power. Arabism is larger and more durable as all nationalisms are, a la Anderson’s imagined community. It is more akin to a religious worldview. Moreover, its intellectual architects put a lot of thought and effort into tailoring its most salient features to the contours of Islam. The two share the concept of an over-arching “umma” or community that must be united, of a sacred and eternal mission (risala al-khalida, of the chosenness of the Arabs, and the special role of Muhammad. That is why Arabism and Islam can coexist, even if uncomfortably at times, and why Arabism didn’t die after 1967, despite Ajami’s prediction and despite what common sense would dictate. Arabism would have died after 1948, had Ajami’s thesis that it was just a strategy been correct. But it is like the Hitchcock shower scene. It keeps coming back every time the West believes it has dealt it a mortal blow. Pan Germanism, pan Slavism, pan Turanism, you can argue, have all more or less died. But they fought for a long time.

If Arabism were just a national or ethnic feeling, it might go the way of Pan Turanism, but it is reinforced in an odd way by the anti-otherism of radical Islamism, which is very much alive. As we are seeing in Iraq, Arab nationalism and Islamism among the Sunnis has found a new synthesis. In Syria, Bashar has allied with Hizbullah and is winking at the recent 50 imams who called for struggle in Iraq. Yes, it is a dangerous game for an Alawite, who has sought to keep religion out of politics as much as possible, but he thinks he can ride it, or believes he must ride it, and he may very well be right. He is the only Arab leader who has let Islamists out of prison rather than put them in. Today, Syria holds very few Islamist prisoners – less than 200 according to Syrian human rights groups. Has there been a surge in violence? NO. On the contrary, the UN ranked Syria the third safest country in the world several months ago. Very few other Arab countries are any where close to that. No Islamic group has attacked the government in years. What a difference from Turkey, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, which now holds over 18,000 political prisoners, most of them Islamists. By stressing Arab nationalism, using a light hand with Islamists, and resisting American policies, Bashar has bought Syriaa measure of domestic peace and solidarity enviable by any regional standard.

To get Bashar and his people to convert to some sort of Syrian Nationalist Party or Greek Orthodox notion of Syrianism would be a major conversion and mean dumping everything they and their fathers stood by for 50 years. (The SNP allied itself with the US in the 1950s before it was crushed by the Ba`th Party and the Hashemites were allied with Britain. It would mean joining the West and declaring all that “sumud wa tahadi” --steadfastness and confrontation, T. -- stuff wrongheaded.) No easy undertaking, especially as the Israeli issue is always there threatening and keeping the struggle alive. (If only those border issues could be settled!) Now, of course, there is the added irritant of Iraq, which has added fuel to anti-imperialist fire of the old Ba`th, which had died down to ember form. For Syrians to convert to a smaller Syrian nationalism – which is what they will have to convert to if logic has its way, and they ever want to join the “community of liberal nations,” will take a long time, but there are many Syrians who hope that will happen.

Just because one doesn’t like Arab nationalism, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or make people respond in a predictable way to events and others around them. That is why Syria does so much of what it does. That is why the Arab League is so messed up. Why Amer Mousa can always go on Al-Jazira and blather and get an audience. That is why Al-Jazira is so popular. It is a worldview that most every Arab subscribes to in part or in whole – and Syria has always seen itself as its beating heart. Its legacy in Syria is large and it has been at the heart of every Syrian constitution whether under the “urban notables” of the French Mandate, the early independence period, the Nasserist experiment with the United Arab Republic from 1958 to 1961, or under the Ba`th. Arab nationalism will not disappear with the Ba`th Party, as many believe. It predated it and will survive it.

It is instructive to recall that Shukri al-Quwwatli, the architect of Syrian independence whom many Syrians look back on today as the epitome of Syria’s liberal democratic experiment, was every bit as much an Arab nationalist as Hafiz al-Asad was. Syria does not celebrate an “Independence Day” because Quwwatli did not consider the withdrawal of French troops from Syrian soil in 1946 the equivalent of independence. He named it “Evacuation Day” instead, claiming Syria was only a region of the Arab nation and would not celebrate independence until all the Arab lands were free of foreign troops and presumably united. In the evacuation day speech he gave on April 17, 1946, President Quwwatli stated that he “would never raise the Syrian flag above that of the Arab nation.” It was the sound bite of the entire three-day proceedings and is still repeated with admiration by Syrians to this day.

The Ba`th Party is the spiritual heir of President Quwwatli’s Nationalist Party of the 1940s and 1950s. The two should not be seen as polar opposites, as they so often are. The Ba`thists, coming from the countryside, added socialism to Arab nationalism in order to push aside the urban notables, who they accused of being corrupt and feudalistic. Their success was guaranteed in part because they were able to steal the banner of Arabism from the older generation and make it their own, not because they were innovators when it came to nationalism. Of course they pumped it up with German and Sufi notions of the magical power of unity, but its basic tenets were already firmly in place before they came on the scene.

VP Khaddam’s recent interview about projected alterations to the Baath party, translated by MEMRI, went like this:

Question: "Will the socialist Arab Ba'th Party become a Syrian party?"

Khaddam: "Under no circumstances. Relinquishing the pan-Arab dimension of the party means relinquishing identity, history, and the future. What is to be discussed is the development of a pan-Arab work formula in the party, while adapting to the demands of the current stage in the pan-Arab area."


I think you have to take him at his word. He means it. Even if the Ba`th Party is demoted or fiddled with, Arab nationalism will remain at the heart of Syrian identity.

So then, if you accept this interpretation, how do you deal with it?

1. I would say, you live with it, all the while trying to diffuse its most virulent and fascistic aspects. What you don’t want to do is confront it with the Bush rhetoric. That only makes it stronger and validates its natural tendency to see the world in black and white. You definitely want to contain where you can – like in Lebanon. But at the same time you want to show a clear road forward for an alternative.

2. You want to make the “Syrian” option look good. You do this by settling the Golan issue – even if it means putting a gazillion American troops in place or paying the Israelis 20 billion dollars as they asked for last time around. A settlement of the border issues would defuse much of the confrontational and conspiratorial logic of Arabism. The Arabs have a right to feel screwed. They may not really understand why they keep getting screwed or what the best way to stop it is, but they do know they are getting screwed.

3. You let Syria build trading relationships with its neighbors so that it Lebanonizes and a class of good capitalists grows up to object to nasty talk and anything that may disturb the amassing of wealth. You let Syria join the Madrid process and trade with Europe on condition that it liberalizes. You encourage it to go the China route – if it is smart enough to do that. You help it expand financial services, build a postal service that can actually deliver a letter to a house, you help it spread the internet service, build a modern system of taxation, and develop a school system that teaches foreign languages competently.

You don’t try to throw every roadblock in the way of economic growth as we are now doing with sanctions and by pressuring Europe to do the same. Keeping Syria poor and ignorant will only reinforce Arabism, in its most blinkered and defensive form. Arabism is so much better that the many forms of radical Islamism abroad now. At least Arabism – in its best manifestation (secular – socialist) is west-oriented in ideology and intellectual borrowings.

Ultimately the xenophobia, paranoia, and confrontationalism that inspires what we don’t like about Arabism, has a cause. We may not see it as a sufficient cause or believe that the present form of Arabism is the correct response, but America must try to erase the cause. That is the only way illiberal Arabism will attenuate. I do not mean to suggest that Arabism was created by foreign forces or that America and the West is responsible for it. Arabism is primarily an attempt to unify the deeply fragmented people of Syria with a common identity. Nevertheless, like all nationalisms, it finds sustenance in resentment and a sense of victimization. The more America can do to reduce those feelings, the better off we will all be.

To get Sykes-Picot accepted as the best option and only realistic future for the Arab world means helping the existing states make something of themselves so they can see that smaller is better and accept their borders as they are and try to mold their national identities to them.

Arabism – the feeling of kinship – will never go away and may even find a form that we like and which can act as a positive, rather than as a negative force in the future – like Europeanism, which has produced peace in Europe, a free trade community, and a form of federalism that is founded on constitutions, law, and mutual respect and recognition. That is what most liberal Arabs want for themselves. They want to be like Europe and to exchange their Bismarkian or Cavourian Arabism that calls for immediate unification based on some mystical an organic notion of wholeness for a more federative Arabism based on liberal values and a gradual build up of trust and association. That kind of Arabist transformation can take place over time. It won’t happen quickly, probably not in our lifetime, but it needs economic growth, stability, and the sense that no monster is trying to eat them.

That is why I disagree with you and disagree with the neocons more generally. They think they can kill Arabism and MUST kill it because it is Hitler. Asad is not Hitler and never was. The neocon medicine is wrong – it will only sustain the xenophobes and promote the Us-Them think, which will fuel another vicious cycle of violence and extremism in the M.E.

Syria is also not Germany because it is not ready for democracy. Germany was at the heart of the enlightenment, liberal movement, nationalism and all the other good things of western development which let to democracy. Syria is only in the early phase of these. It is only beginning to deal with the religious question and getting a feel for secularism and positivism which were so central to promoting liberalism. The West could kill Hitler and destroy the fascist movement and Germany could revert to the developmental path it had been on for a long time. Its default mode was in the modern western trajectory. Destroy the Syrian state and you will get Iraq or Lebanon circa 1976 – a reversion to tribalism, sectarianism, fundamentalism, and caliphism. It will revert to a failed Ottoman situation. That is another reason kicking Middle East states to the breaking point is counterproductive and wrongheaded. There is a lot worse lurking under the Asad regime should it be destroyed.

State building in the Middle East has been a very tricky business. It is common for Westerners to regard the Asads and the politicians they surround themselves with as peasant bumblers, ophthalmologists who can’t see, and the like, but I dare say they read the pulse of their people quite carefully and accurately. They have patched together a system of balancing the various communities and interests of Syrians that could easily be destroyed and could be rebuilt only with the greatest difficulty.

The men in power in Syria today admire much about the West. I would wager that every one of them has sent or will send his kids to study in the West if they can. They want to be cultured like the Lebanese, whom they admire for their mastery of European culture and savoir vivre at one and the same time that they disdain them for their rejection of Arabism. They have zero interest in the Saudi or Iranian examples.

The Syrians have a lot to be proud of. By using Arabism as the central ideology of nation building and centralization, they have avoided civil war and internal collapse as experienced in Lebanon, yet at the same time they have avoided the excessive tyranny and repression of neighboring Iraq. They have kept Arabism’s worst elements in check. It is worth pointing out, once again, that the Syrian government has killed fewer of its own subjects over the last 50 years than any of its five neighbors, except little blessed Jordan. This is an achievement. If Bashar al-Asad can actual maneuver his country toward capitalism and economic growth in the next ten years so that it doesn’t get trapped in the Cuba syndrome, Syrians will be able to look back at the 20thcentury with an element of pride and sense of success. They have paid a high price for stability and state building with curtailed civil liberties and economic stagnation – and we shouldn’t forget Hama – but there has been a lot worse in the neighborhood. The West should assist Bashar in his effort to transform Syria from being an autocracy to becoming a liberal dictatorship, more on a par with Jordan or Egypt. That is his stated goal. He does not aim for democracy, nor does he intend to abandon the Arabism that has guided Syria from its earliest foundation. For America to expect Syria to embrace democracy and abandon Arabism any time soon is folly. To try to bring down the present Syrian state in the belief that something more liberal and pro-Western will naturally emerge is lunacy.