2002 December 23 Monday
Fouad Ajami on the Importance of the Next Iraq War

Fouad Ajami always has something interesting to say and his latest in the January/February 2003 issue of Foreign Affairs is no exception. He believes the coming war to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime will send the very powerful message that the US has shifted its long-term stance on the Middle East. Historically the US has restricted itself to maintaining the existing order and has intervened only to prevent or reverse a disturbance in the balance of power. This war represents a shift away from the historical pattern of US reticence about getting more deeply involved in Arab politics and is part of a larger effort to fundamentally change the trends in Arab political development. The old position has effectively been discredited by the attacks on 9/11 and the new position will be to support the Arab reformists. Ajami also examines the motives of the terrorists and sees terrorism against the US as motivated by frustrations in Arab society and politics.

The United States has been caught in the crossfire between the regimes in the saddle and the Islamic insurgents. These insurgents could not win in Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, or Syria, or on the Arabian Peninsula. So they took to the road and targeted the United States, and they were brutally candid about their motives. They did not strike at America because it was a patron of Israel; rather, they drew a distinction between the "near enemy" (their own rulers) and the "far enemy," the United States.

Those entrenched regimes could not be beaten at home. Their power, as well as their people's resigned acceptance that their rulers' sins would be dwarfed by the terrors that Islamists would unleash were they to prevail, had settled the fight in favor of the rulers. The targeting of America came out of this terrible political culture of Arab lands. If the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the physician Ayman al-Zawahiri, could not avenge himself against the military regime of Hosni Mubarak for the torture he endured at the hands of his country's security services, why not target Mubarak's U.S. patrons?

A similar motivation propelled the Saudi members of al Qaeda. These men could not sack the House of Saud. The dynasty's wealth, its political primacy, and the conservative religious establishment gave the rulers a decided edge in their struggle with the Islamists; the war against America was the next best thing. The great power was an easier target: it was more open, more trusting, and its liberties more easily subverted by a band of jihadists. The jihadists and their leader, bin Laden, aimed at the dynasty's carefully nurtured self-image. The children of Arabia who had boarded those planes on September 11 and the countless young men held at the Guantanamo Bay military base could not be disowned. Bin Laden got the crisis in Saudi-American relations he aimed for.

Ajami is by no means confident that after the military victory an American attempt to politically reconstruction Iraq will be successful.

Iraq may offer a contrast, a base in the Arab world free of the poison of anti-Americanism. The country is not hemmed in by the kind of religious prohibitions that stalk the U.S. presence in the Saudi realm. It may have a greater readiness for democracy than Egypt, if only because it is wealthier and is free of the weight of Egypt's demographic pressures and the steady menace of an Islamist movement.

Iraq should not be burdened, however, with the weight of great expectations. This is the Arab world, after all, and Americans do not know it with such intimacy. Iraq could disappoint its American liberators. There has been heartbreak in Iraq, and vengeance and retribution could sour Americans on this latest sphere of influence in the Muslim world.

Will America be willing to try to remold Iraq on the scale that is required to even have a chance of success? As Ajami points out, the United States no longer has the degree of cultural confidence that it had in 1945 when it set out to reshape the political culture and institutions of Japan. Iraq is in some ways a tougher challenge than Japan because Iraq's culture is linked to a religion and a larger regional culture that provide competing external influences that the United States didn't have to contend with when reshaping a culturally far more insular Japan. At the same time, the Middle East's political development is also held back by consanguineous marriage patterns. The United States therefore faces a tougher task with Iraqi reconstruction and less confidence with which to carry it out.

Ajami writes with far more insight and understanding of Middle Eastern politics and history than the vast bulk of pontificating commentators. A lot of Western commentators try to explain Arab motives by imagining what would drive a Westerner to do what they do. Attempts to categorize Arab movements and factions using Western political ideologies and Western culture war categories leads to an awful lot foolish nattering. Compounding this problem are Arabs who are knowledgeable enough in Western political thinking to try to cast their factions and movements in terms that will appeal to the sympathies of ignorant Westerners and so the misconceptions are reinforced. Ajami manages to stick to the basic motives of the groups, their histories, and their perceptions of each other. He cuts thru a lot of rhetoric to make the Middle East much more comprehensible. If you want to read an analysis of the Middle East that isn't some standard boilerplate stereotype such of breast-beating hawkery, Arab apologist blame-it-on-US/Israel, or idealistic kumbaya dreamer then Ajami's latest is worth your time.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 December 23 11:16 PM  Civilizations Clash Of


Comments
Hamid Bahadori said at February 22, 2003 1:14 AM:

Go for it
U.S. confronted Communism in Vietnam. It must now stand against Mediaeval Islam in Iraq

By Hamid Bahadori
February 21, 2003
The Iranian

As an Iran-Iraq war veteran still carrying an Iraqi bullet in my body, I can provide eyewitness testimony to Saddam Hussein's possession and use of weapons of mass destruction -- weapons that have remained in the Iraqi arsenal for more than 20 years. So why should we be concerned with them now?

Control of oil supplies is an important reason. But as much as 21st century Hippies want you to believe, it is not the main reason for going to war with Iraq. The U.S. can ensure the flow of oil by easier and more covert avenues -- as it has for decades. The war with Iraq, regardless of its outcome, will be one of those turning points in human history like the defeat of Persians at Marathon, the battle of Waterloo, the defeat of crusaders in the hands of Saladin, and the Mongol invasion.

Why such a high historical value on a relatively minor military campaign when for all practical purposes the Vietnam War was more complex and a lot costlier? This conflict is the biggest flash point between the modern Western civilization and the Islamic civilization that the West, and the U.S. in particular, has been hoping to avoid for a long time. But now, the time has come and we must act or pay the consequences, as did the great empires before us.

We will either stop the Vandals before they sac Rome, suffocate the barbaric Arabs before they destroy the Persian Empire, take the sword out of Genghis Khan's hand before he kills millions of people, or we will be remembered as of those who seemed invincible in their own times and failed to take action, when they could, to prevent their demise.

I am dramatizing, you may say, because there appears to be an imbalance of power between the parties. But is there really a significant imbalance? Not really! What has stopped modern Vandals and Mongols has been technology, fueled by oil, and Western civilization's supremacy maintained by nuclear weapons.

If you are a Muslim or of Middle Eastern descent, like myself, you might be furious as I compare the Iraqi regime to Vandals and Mongols, or that I refer to early Arab Muslims as barbarians. But, please, set aside your predisposition and let me explain.

Looking at history, Christians have not been any less barbaric than Muslims, but something happened in Europe that many Muslims still deny its need in the Islamic World, and that's the Age of Enlightenment and the Renaissance. These resulted in at least the theoretical proposition of emancipation of politics from religion by some great thinkers such as Machiavelli, and the eventual establishment of secular governments based on secular doctrines such as the U.S. and its Constitution. Needless to say, it was also the Renaissance made the soil fertile for the Industrial Revolution and not the other way around.

The West, through its technological superiority, started the process of colonialization in Asia and Africa. Meanwhile the Middle East has been cursed by "Black Gold", although freedom-loving people of the region -- inspired by the secular ideas of the West and the Renaissance -- have been desperately trying to overcome age-old superstitions that have enslaved the Muslim masses for the centuries.

This question may give you a flavor of the complexity of this issue: Should freedom-loving Iranians have supported Ayatollah Khomeini with his Medieval philosophy against the corrupt, yet modern government of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1979? We can debate this question for the rest of the century and still not reach an agreement. Nevertheless, with the 1979 Revolution, barbarians prevailed once again, and the U.S. made a huge historic mistake of accommodating them -- thanks to the wrong policies of Jimmy Carter who has now come out in opposition to stopping these barbarians.

Since 1979, there has been a clear shift against the West, culminating in the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- the straw that broke the camel's back. The U.S. must act now or it will not only lose the battle but an historical war as well.

Islamic fundamentalists -- modern-day barbarians and Vandals -- act on two distinct premises, that the U.S. is not invincible and that the Muslim masses can fight the "Great Satan". The whole purpose behind the 9/11 operations was to prove these two points. Young angry Muslims believe both.

And make no mistake. These zealots will never become friends of the U.S. -- no matter what the U.S. foreign policy might be towards Israel or any other country. It is only their degree of hatred that we must monitor and contain. We should keep them technologically inferior until Islam goes through its Renaissance -- just like the containment of Communism until it collapse under the weight of corruption, hypocrisy and immorality.

In Vietnam, the U.S. showed Communists that it means business. The cost was heavy, but the cost of inaction would have been far greater. In Iraq, the U.S. must again show Islamic fundamentalists that it means business. The cost, in my judgment, will be far less than Vietnam. But if the U.S. does not show resolve towards Iraq, the consequences would be far worse than if Communism had become the dominant power.

The battle line is clear, and I am glad that at this historic time adults are the control of the U.S. foreign policy.

J.Iurincich said at May 16, 2005 5:14 AM:

"Go for it, U.S. confronted Communism in Vietnam. It must now stand against Mediaeval Islam in Iraq."
May 16th 2005 1,612 Americans soldiers dead since invasion,38 000 injured, 10 000 iraqi civilians dead since start of war 500 Iraqs dead from car bombings in the last two weeks alone, 40 Iraqs found with silt throats today 16th May,stand against Medieval islam? we have unleashed the Dogs of War, and we will reap the whirlwind, what a mistake to invade Iraq, as an Australian I ask ultimately was it worth it? in the end No.


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