December 26, 2003

BE NOT AFRAID (via Real Clear Politics):

Bush Should Cool Democracy Sell (James P. Pinkerton, December 26, 2003, Newsday)

[T]o the extent that Jordan's king counts as a dictator, I wonder if such a democratizing move would help Bush foreign policy objectives. The Jordan Times, an English-language daily, offered a sobering account of a recent parliamentary debate. One deputy, Nidal Abbadi, described as an "Islamist," derided the king's government as so Westernized that it was ignorant of the country it speaks for. "These ministers not only cannot recount the names of three villages in Jordan, they are also unfamiliar with Amman, especially the eastern part" - the poor section.

Abbadi added that government ministers don't know the prices of basic commodities, don't carry Jordanian currency and might even lack proficiency in Arabic.

The press here is free to report on Abbadi's diatribe. But, of course, Jordan is not so free that anti-government words can be followed up by anti-government deeds.

In normal democratic politics, leaders found to be that out of touch with popular concerns - the Times offered no rebuttal to Abbadi's allegations - would be voted out of power. Yet the Islamic Action Front holds just 17 seats in the 110-member parliament. However, few observers here, speaking in private, doubt that the Islamists - plus maybe other pro-Palestinian radicals - would win a solid nationwide majority in a truly free election.
And what would the Islamists do if they were in power? In his speech in parliament, Abbadi demanded the mandatory veiling of women - observation tells me that at least 80 percent of women here already wear at least a hejab, or scarf over their hair - as well as the closure of all night clubs, unisex swimming pools and male-run hair salons for women.

In other words, Islamist rule in Jordan would put the country well on the path toward an Iran-style government.

'Our Guy' for Iraq Leader May End Up Biting Us: When the British anointed a ruler in the 1920s, they got more than they bargained for. Read your history, Washington. (David Fromkin, 12/26/03, LA Times)
Believing that Faisal would be open-minded in considering Britain's objectives, and the values of the Western world, the British proceeded to stage-manage the nomination of Faisal as Iraq's monarch, in a process that concluded with a referendum and then the scheduling of the coronation.

U.S. policymakers today, to the extent that they push leadership claims of those whom they see as open-minded and reasonable about issues important to Washington, might well consider the case of Faisal.

No sooner had his coronation been scheduled — and the British more or less irrevocably committed to the cause of his monarchy — than he announced that he had changed his mind. He would not accept a League of Nations mandate. He would not be a puppet king. He wanted to negotiate a treaty, not a trusteeship agreement. Indeed, in the course of his 10-year reign he succeeded in winning not only full independence but membership in the League of Nations as a free and equal country.

The British were aghast. "Crooked and insincere," was one high official's view of Faisal. "Faisal is playing a very low and treacherous game with us," Churchill told Lloyd George.

What the episode suggests is that if and when the United States throws its weight behind a candidate for leadership in Iraq, believing that person to be favorable to Washington's agenda, there is a good chance that the candidate, in order to survive Iraqi domestic politics, will turn against us. Even so, the candidate might be preferable to any other. Churchill may have regarded Faisal as treacherous, but during his reign, and even those of his son and grandson, Britain was able to hold a privileged position in Iraq. For Britain, the Faisal candidacy was an essential step on the road out of the Iraqi quagmire.

Arab democracy must come from Arab states (Trudy Rubin, 12/26/03, Philadelphia Inquirer)
For "Most Important Book of the Year," I nominate the Arab Human Development Report 2003 issued by the United Nations Development Program.

Written by a group of 26 Arab scholars, this volume takes a candid look at why Arab countries have fallen so far behind in key areas of human development. This question is crucial, at a time when the United States is trying to remake Iraq into a democratic model for the region.

The authors of this book argue that the impetus for real Mideast change must come from inside their own society. "Such reform from within, based on rigorous self-criticism, is a far more proper and sustainable alternative," they write, "in contrast to efforts to restructure the region from outside." But "rigorous self-criticism" is rare in a region where leaders and publics tend to blame their troubles on outsiders, especially "the West."

The authors of the Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) are trying to provoke just such an internal Arab debate.

"The report looks at the issues we were reluctant to discuss in the past," says Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, the director of UNDP's regional bureau for Arab States, and the moving force behind the volume. Its aim, she says, is "to change the attitudes of people and governments."

The basic thesis: The Mideast's problems are due to regional "deficits" in three critical areas: freedom, knowledge, and the status of women.

All three of these raise, each in their own way, an interesting question: would it necessarily be a bad thing for Iraq to undergo its own Islamic Revolution, a la Iran?

The prospect obviously terrifies Mr. Pinkerton and most libertarian and Leftist opponents of the war on terror. For them a Shi'ite Republic would be an unconditional defeat.

Mr. Fromkin, a foreign policy "realist", recognizes the futility of our trying to dictate the final form of the Iraq we leave behind and the potentially helpful effect of a government that may even be outwardly hostile to us. Unfortunately, there's not likely to be a royal restoration, of the kind he's writing about, so what about an Islamic state?

Meanwhile, Ms Rubin, whatever her views on Iraq, suggests that the most important insight of 2003 was that the movement towards democracy will have to be internal and will require "rigorous self-criticism". Where, as we look around the Islamic world, is the most fearsome self-criticism going on and where is the most vibrant internal democracy movement? By no coincidence: Iran.

There's still some tough slogging ahead, but Iran looks very much like a nation where the people recognize that the Revolution has failed to produce the promised utopia and are now prepared to accept, even willing to demand, that their leaders accept some variation on the end of history. This kind of capacity to evolve politically in the Western direction may be peculiar to the Shi'ites--they at least seem to have certain doctrinal advantages in this regard--but since Iraq is predominantly Shi'ite there seems an opportunity here even in what might at first seem an unfavorable development: let the Shi'ites of Iraq undertake their own Islamic experiment, secure in the knowledge that it won't survive even a generation (as Iran's has not), and that they'll develop in the direction we want, even if not as quickly as we'd hope.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 26, 2003 10:12 AM

Wouldn't an Shi'ite-based Islamic Iraq be merely subsumed into Iran?

Posted by: Paul Cella at December 26, 2003 11:01 AM

Wouldn't one be Persian, the other Arab? But if they did become one large Shi'astan that would be even better, because Iran is at the tipping point already.

Posted by: oj at December 26, 2003 11:32 AM

For all your thought about religion, I think you underestimate its appeal, Orrin.

If the Iranians are dissatisfied with the current iteration of the Islamic Revolution, they are not likely to want to replace it with an unIslamic one but with a better Islamic one.

A great deal of the middle history of Christianity followed that pattern.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 26, 2003 2:13 PM


Well, I certainly hope so. It would be as foolish for them to dispose of the Islamic underpinnings as it has been of Europe to destroy its Christian ones.

Posted by: oj at December 26, 2003 2:29 PM

I should have been more precise. A better Islamic revolution from their point of view might be pretty awful from ours.

We could, I suppose, hope for neutrality.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 26, 2003 3:09 PM

If you believe in democracy, you follow it. If you believe in democracy, it means that you are ready to accept people who disagree with you. If you believe in democracy, you should allow Iraq to make its own choices, some of which you will agree with and some of which you will disagree with.

It would be easy for the U.S. to be the pupeteer. As a matter of fact, this is what it is doing now. But this approach will never bring democracy.

Posted by: Paul Siegel at December 26, 2003 6:07 PM

Why would an Iraqi Shiastan want to become part of Iran ?

Canada (except Quebec), and the US have a common language, border, culture, religion, and are each other's main trading partner, but they haven't merged, yet.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at December 26, 2003 7:06 PM


Well said, but how is the US acting like a puppeteer? Quite the opposite I would say.

Posted by: Peter B at December 26, 2003 8:28 PM

Paul, I'm kewl with them making decisions I might disagree with -- if they want their universities to teach flat earth geology, for example -- but I draw the line if their idea of democracy includes making war on us, as I think it would.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 26, 2003 8:47 PM

Even though I'm in support of the "convert Islam to Democracy" plan, I could see an argument for the other side. Since the casualty figures show that "Peacekeeping" is more dangerous than actively pursuing war and toppling a regime, it might be better to just leave and say, "do what you want, but if you threaten us, or harbor organizations that do, we'll be back". Sure fundamental Shi'ite's might be just as bad as Saddam, but they wouldn't be any harder to topple either. The downside to that is that it could take more than the 5 years Bush has left for that to happen, and there's no guarantee that after 5 years of no more attacks that the American electorate would get complacent again and again vote someone inept on foreign policy because they like his domestic policy better. Democracy works everywhere it's tried, making sure it takes root here would be the first step in finally solving the Middle East.

Posted by: MarkD at December 27, 2003 3:56 PM

Except Weimar, Mexico etc.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 29, 2003 1:33 AM