Across the Bay

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Authoritarian Idiotarian

A day after I wrote my critique of Cole's Arab nationalist discourse which echoes the speeches of the dictators of the region, he writes this:

In contrast, authoritarian governments like that of Iraq and Syria, while they might use terror for their own purposes from time to time, did not produce large-scale indepdendent terrorist organizations that struck itnernational targets. Authoritarian governments also proved adept at effectively crushing terrorist groups, as can be seen in Algeria and Egypt. It was only in failed states such as Afghanistan that they could flourish, not in authoritarian ones.

So it is the combination of Western occupation and weak states that produced the conditions for radical Muslim terrorism.

I'm not sure how else one can read this except as an endorsement of ME authoritarian dictators. Needless to say, this is precisely what all of them were saying before and since the Iraq war. They maintain stability, the US creates terrorism.

Then, to show that he's not only an authoritarian Arab nationalist at heart, but also an ignorant and disingenuous poseur he says this:

Moreover, if democracy means majority rule and the expression of the general will, then it won't always work to the advantage of the US. Bush administration spokesmen keep talking about Syrian withdrawal being the demand of the "Lebanese people." But 40% of the Lebanese are Shiites, and 15% are probably Sunnis, and it may well be that a majority of Lebanese want to keep at least some Syrian troops around. Hizbullah has sided with Syria and Shaikh Nasrallah has called for a big pro-Syrian demonstration by Shiites on Tuesday.

For true democracy to flourish in Lebanon, the artificial division of seats in parliament so that half go to the Christian minority would have to be ended. Religious Shiites would have, as in Iraq, a much bigger voice in national affairs. Will a Lebanon left to its own devices to negotiate a social compact between rightwing Christians and Shiite Hizbullah really be an island of stability?

Cole knows full well that democracy in plural societies does not have to (and in fact better not) mean majority rule. That's what you have in Iraq and that's what you have in Lebanon.

That's the first bit of disingenuous nonsense. But there's more. His dealing with Hizbullah is totally ridiculous (Besides, if this were somewhere else, and someone suggested a tactical alliance between a Baathist regime and an Islamist group, Cole would've unleashed his "expertise" and derision on them.). Leaving aside the secondary fact that the Shiites are actually less than 40% (Cole himself wrote elsewhere that they were around 35%, but now he needs to make a point so he ups it a bit, and lowers the Sunnis, whom he elsewhere put at around 20%), it's simply a distortion to say that Hizbullah represents all the Shiites (it's demonstrably false). Furthermore, there were supporters of Hizbullah who were actually marching independently with the protesters in downtown Beirut, as a report in As-Safir, which interviewed them, made clear. Moreoever, letters to newspapers, like An-Nahar, from Shiites, were calling on Hassan Nasrallah, as did Randa al-Khalil, to "place our Shiism under the Lebanese banner."

Finally, Cole did not read Nasrallah's careful statement well. Nasrallah is not calling for a pro-Syrian rally. He's calling for a march to reject foreign intervention. He's also said that he found the withdrawal, if part of the Taef, which he said should remain the basis of the Lebanese system, is a positive thing. Of course it was muzzled, but that's because Hizbullah is in an awkward situation. If they come out too strongly on Syria's side, they will alienate the Lebanese and appear as Syrian goons (so it was significant that he issued his statement in front of a Lebanese flag, not the yellow Hizballah flag, as customary.) On the other hand, going against Syria, whom they also need, will weaken their position vis à vis their rhetoric (and their ability to maintain their current privileges, that's why the entire statement was concerned with their retaining their arms and prestige) and turn them into nothing more than another Shiite party in Lebanon, and not, as Nick Blanford put it to me, "the Shiite Nasser" (referring to Nasrallah himself). Which is another thing. Cole not only says that Hizbullah equals 40% of Lebanon and all the Shi'a, he also thinks that Hizbullah doesn't have internal debates (that's the fingerprint of a poseur)! Hizbullah wants to have its cake and eat it too. So they will go on the streets, effectively giving the Syrians a break, but without saying so, thus leaving their hand extended to the Lebanese. The Lebanese have reacted calmly to this. Someone from Hariri's bloc said that this was a democracy and in a democracy anyone can march for whatever they like. I.e., they didn't take it as an affront. It's all part of the political maneuvering. Hizbullah's march is about their weapons and the clause in 1559, and everyone realizes that. Hizbullah will not be part of the Syrian instigators who have been going around shooting at people.

Then finally there's Cole's jab at the consociational system, and his stupid remark about the parliamentary 50-50 split. Obviously, he either knows nothing about the topic of consociational systems (which is being implemented in Iraq) or is being disingenuous, which would not be the first time either way. But the irony is that Nasrallah in his speech stressed the Taef accord and the Taef accord enshrines this parliamentary division as part of the Lebanese "social contract" (al-'aysh al-mushtarak formula.) So, Nasrallah (and another prominent Shiite cleric, the late Shamseddine, who wrote in his final book that the Lebanese formula should be safeguarded at all cost) are for the system, but it's not good enough for Cole. Therefore, Cole's remark about "true democracy" reflects nothing but his ignorance and his bias. So Cole is really grinding his own axe, and has no bearing whatsoever on the Shiites of Lebanon, Hizbullah, or the Lebanese system altogether.

Cole instead sounds like the dictator Bashar Asad. Compare Asad's speech to Cole's remarks. They converge remarkably. Cole not only uncritically swallows the rhetoric, he also regurgitates it. And in order to be fully a clone of the dictators, one has to be a master of double talk (like Bashar's speech). So after essentially endorsing dictators as agents of stability, under whom no terrorism exists (how they go about enforcing that matters little to Cole), he writes that he's all for democratization in the ME! Husni Mubarak would have been proud of this JuanColeogical hypocritical masterpiece. Then, to make Ward Churchill proud, he slips us the Third-Worldist credo: "Terrorism was a weapon of the weak wielded against what these radical Muslims saw as a menacing foreign occupation." Of course, considering that that included Israel (as Cole himself notes), the only way to ever stop Islamic terrorism is to dismantle Israel! That's of course the central doctrine of the Arab nationalist as well as the Islamist discourse, so it's logical that Cole's reasoning will finally lead to that end. Again, remarkable convergence with the discourse of the worst totalitarian ideologies of the region.

But make sure that Syria continues to occupy Lebanon, because unless the public uniformly says it should withdraw (cf. Bashar's speech to the word) it shouldn't. "But Israel needs to withdraw from the Golan Heights." I believe Bashar should send Cole a "thank you" note for acting as his water carrier. Bashar relies on people like that to get his "message" across (Leverett, Quandt, Indyk, Joe Klein, Seale, Cobban, and pretty much the entire ME studies enterprise.)

And finally, the central doctrine: "humiliation is what causes terrorism." That is, only if it's humiliation caused by the US, not the authoritarian regimes.

Cole's post is pseudo-moralistic, pseudo-historical, paradoxical, ignorant, and outright dumb. It's a surreal mixture of self-righteousness and illiberalism. In other words, it's authoritarian and idiotarian. Unfortunately, this bizarre mixture of Third-Worldism and Kissingerian politics has become characteristic of much of the Left's (and the democratic party's) rhetoric. That's why, as Michael Young recently noted, the foreign policy of a Kerry presidency looks scarier and scarier in retrospect.