The Region: The Iraqi model: as good as it gets. (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By BARRY RUBIN 04/09/12)
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Iraq is in a mess. Violence continues.
Factionalism leads to endless bickering.
Corruption is at high levels. Christians live in fear or flee
altogether. Islamism is constantly creeping forward. Yet I would
suggest that with all these shortcomings the “Iraqi model” is the
best that can be expected for the Middle East.
What’s the worst-case scenario? Iran, Afghanistan, Gaza, Sudan, or
the permanent civil war situation in Syria, Yemen, and probably Libya.
It isn’t that democracy is theoretically impossible or incompatible
in principle with Islam or Arab society. The problem is that it just
isn’t going to happen at this particular point in history. What you
or I or small groups of moderate democratic Arabs, or naïve Western
journalists want isn’t relevant here.
The reporters can pal around with Muslim Brotherhood members every
day of the week and talk about how moderate they are but that won’t
make them moderate.
Tens of thousands of well-financed, fanatical, hard-working, and
tactically creative cadre are laboring long hours throughout the
region to bring revolutionary Islamist dictators in each country.
They are opposed by dozens of moderates who are concentrated in the
capital cities, have hardly any money, usually don’t know how to
relate to the masses, have no strategic sense, are more badly divided
than the Islamists and confuse writing an op-ed piece or holding a
demonstration with organizing a mass movement to seize state power.
Wishful thinking has no place in political analysis or statecraft or
journalism. The fact that the moderates are so much “like us” is not
an advantage for them–except in getting favorable media coverage–but
a fatal disadvantage in their own societies.
Personally, I would prefer that the moderates win, but then I grew up
watching the Washington Senators baseball team finish in last place
in the American League every year.
The model usually put forward, including by the Obama Administration,
is the Turkish regime. It is rare in history for a democratic state
to promote a foreign government that is so antithetical to its own
interests in almost every way. There are some positions in common but
far more that are different. Two put it as briefly as possible, there
are two problems.
The first problem is that the Turkish regime is boosting radical
Islamist movements and governments that are America’s biggest enemy.
These include Iran, the Gaza Strip (Hamas), and the current
government in Lebanon (Hizballah). The Turkish regime has tried to
back the Muslim Brotherhood but has been rebuffed, since the
Brotherhood has no interest in following non-Arab leadership. And in
Syria, the Turkish regime has been backing the Islamists in the
opposition, intending to produce an anti-American regime in Damascus.
The Turkish regime also loathes Israel and supports radical Islamist
forces against it. Only regarding Iraq do US and Turkish interests
The second problem is that the Turkish regime has systematically
reduced democracy at home. Hundreds of moderates have been arrested
on ridiculous charges. The armed forces, formerly the guardian of
secularism and the basic democratic system, have been broken. The
media is intimidated.
Radical Islamists have been infiltrated into all parts of the
government. This well-coordinated creeping tendency toward
dictatorship has barely been reported in the West.
What is the Turkish model in terms of the Arabic-speaking world? It
is a formula for radical Islamist groups to seize state power and
fundamentally transform their societies while appearing to be
It is a step by step process, the equivalent of the Russian
revolutionary movement graduating from anarchism to Bolshevism
precisely a century earlier.
The most surprising thing is not that the West has been taken in by
this trick but that it has happened so thoroughly.
At a time when even Lebanon is governed by a combination of Islamists
and radical clients of Tehran and Damascus, Tunisia has a mostly
Islamist government, and when the secular Turkish republic is being
transformed by Islamists there is not much of an alternative.
In Morocco and Jordan, as usual, the kings have brilliantly
maneuvered to provide the appearance of democratic pluralism and even
Islamist participation while he holds the reins. In Algeria, as
usual, the army is running things. In Saudi Arabia and the small
sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf (Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates,
Bahrain, and Oman), as usual, traditionalist regimes rule but they
are now not so much intimidated by radical Arab nationalist threats
as horrified by radical Islamist threats.
And at a moment when President Barack Obama has transformed America
from being leader of the Free World to reflecting the effect,
unrealistic elite from the Brie World, there’s not much hope from
So that brings us to Iraq. As I’ve outlined above, the situation
there is far from ideal.
Yet there are some significant advantages.
Internally, there are elections that mean something, a real element
of pluralism, space for freedom of speech, and some working
Of the greatest importance is the fact that Islamist elements have
been defeated (in the Sunni case) or held at bay (in the Shia case).
Things can certainly get worse but some stability seems to have been
achieved at this time.
Another key factor is that Iraq is acting more “normally” as a state
by minding its own business. It is not subverting neighbors or trying
to take over the Middle East.
Iraq also has decent relations with the West. This is a country that
is trying to deal with its own problems. And if there is factionalism
and corruption, at least it appears to be clear that no force can
monopolize power and establish a repressive dictatorship.
Call it chaotic pluralism as an alternative to Islamist dictatorship.
And, yes, that appears to be the best that can be expected in those
countries not still dominated by traditionalist monarchies. It is
certainly preferable to the “Turkish model.” Yet I don’t expect many
people in the West to appreciate that point.
Is my assessment too pessimistic? Well, you are free to be
optimistic. You can imagine an Israel-Palestinian peace based on a
comprehensive treaty ending the conflict and establishing a two-state
You can fantasize about moderate Muslim Brotherhood leaders
pragmatically getting down to solving Egypt’s problems by creating
jobs, building housing, and establishing new industries. You can
pretend that various forces will be grateful to America and President
Obama for demolishing several dictatorships.
But none of this is going to happen. It is vital to understand why
and to comprehend what must be done in the face of this situation.
By pretending to soar to the heights of democracy, the Islamists are
on the road to autocracy, and an anti-Western, regionally
destabilizing autocracy at that. By being so gullible, the West is
assisting at the domination of the region of a repressive, anti-
Western force that will set the region back 60 years (to the origin
of radical Arab nationalist hegemony) if not 600 years. (© 1995-2011,
The Jerusalem Post 04/09/12)
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