April 23, 2002

Iraq unlikely to become democracy

Mark Steyn might be the best all-around pundit in the English language, since he understands the interactions among politics, popular culture, and what Camille Paglia calls sexual personae. But even Steyn has fallen for a direly silly new fad among conservatives with bad cases of war fever: lionizing the Iraqis. He writes, "The Iraqi people are secular, tolerant, literate, the antithesis of those wacky fundamentalists in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. ... Once you've got rid of the ruling gang, it's the West's best shot at incubating a reasonably non-insane polity."

I see this assertion more and more frequently, as the febrile logic takes ever greater hold of the once impressive intellects of the conservative press. With a straight face, we are assured that, while the rest of the Arabs are a bunch of savages, Iraq is the Germany of the Middle East. It just needs a U.S. imposed democratic government to resume its high rank among civilized nations. Iraq then will become a light unto the gentiles and lead the Arab world out of barbarism. You don't believe anybody could say that without giggling? The WSJ editorialized, "This is why we believe the best chance for peace in Palestine, and for stability throughout the entire Middle East, goes through Baghdad. Iraq is a serious country with a proud history ..."

Iraq? A proud history? What is the WSJ talking about - Sumer? Babylon? Haroun al-Rashid's Baghdad back in Charlemagne's time? Guatemala, with its Mayan ruins, had a prouder history in the last millennium than Iraq. Iraq has a proud history of backstabbing and cowardice.

Is there any evidence that the Iraqis are the most likely candidates in the Arab world for restrained self-rule or is this just a delusion to justify a war? I mean, if you are going to consider the "sophistication" level of the Arab populations, wouldn't Lebanon be at the top of the list? Wouldn't the Palestinians be up there too? At least before they launched their on-going "war of the cradle" that is swamping the sophisticated elites with hordes lower-class youngsters? Wasn't Egypt a be a beacon of culture and tolerance, with a Nobel Prize-winning writer, before the peasants outbred the sophisticates? Isn't Syria also secular? Doesn't Jordan at least have a sane monarchy? Isn't Morocco the favorite destination of French fashion designers looking for boys? Isn't the Sultan of Oman a huge Gilbert & Sullivan fan?

Maybe, I'm wrong about Iraq because I've been reading Bedouinphiles like T.E. Lawrence and Wilfred Thesiger who despised the Iraqis, but I don't have a good feeling about Iraq's future prospects. But are there any Iraqophiles? (At least among people who have been there?) If not, what does that say about Iraq? Am I missing something?

One measure of a country's capacity for self-rule is its warmaking capability. Paradoxically, nation-states that are good at killing their foreign enemies tend to be be cohesive and harmonious at home. So, how good is Iraq at fighting its enemies? According to Greg Cochran, war-gamers assign a man-for-man power rating to the armies of the world. Iraq has the lowest rating. In one war, a whole bunch of Iraqi soldiers surrendered to an Italian journalist.

This delusion could have disastrous consequences after an American invasion. Which Iraq are we talking about? We could easily shatter Iraq into three or more pieces, but if we invade with the notion of making Iraq into a model nation-state, we're going need more than all the king's horses and all the king's men to put Humpty-Dumpty together again. Do we want to fight the Kurds and the Shi'ites to keep Iraq whole, so it can be a good example to the rest of the Middle East?

I suppose the Kurds of northern Iraq could rule themselves (although they fought a civil war in 1995), except that an oil-rich Kurdish state would inevitably get into a war with Turkey by supporting Kurds inside Turkey. The Turkish army would invade and crush independent Kurdistan in order to preserve Turkish national unity. The slaughter, though, would undo much of Turkey's vaunted (and exaggerated) progress toward being an Islamic "normal country," and send Turkey reeling away from its European aspirations and into the Middle Eastern morass.

Maybe the Shi'ites of the south could rule themselves, but how clear-cut are the demographic borders between Shi'ites and Sunnis? If the two groups overlap, you are headed for trouble. A Shi'ite state on the Iranian border would tempt Iran - a country with much greater potential for becoming a "normal country" than Iraq - into foreign adventurism, which could be fatal to the chances for internal reform.

And how many tribes are there among the Sunnis?

It looks to me like the Axis of Evil speech was the direct cause of America now getting stuck waist deep in the Big Muddy River of the ever-lasting Israel-Palestine race war. By saying we were out to get Iraq, we made ourselves dependent on the acquiescence of the Arab countries that we need for bases from which to launch an invasion. That in turn made us hostage to Yasser Arafat, who has cranked up the violence in the Holy Land to get America to put more pressure on Israel.

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