The Therapy Sessions
Friday, May 02, 2003
I think that Americans (and most people) underestimate the impact that the war in Iraq (and, more importantly, its aftermath) will have in the Middle East.
There are have already been little things, cracks in the armor, weaknesses in region’s immunity to change. Political reforms (modest, yes, but not insignificant) are underway in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Kuwait and Qatar have announced plans to give more power to their elected assemblies. The students of Iran, who hate the mullahs who lead them, plan a general strike for July 8th. Their goal is to shut down the country, and end their fundamentalist government. So far the government has no meaningful answer.
These are small steps, yes. But they are concessions to the power of the people. When totalitarian states make such moves, they are effectively admitting that the state doesn’t have all the answers. Reforms have a tendency to snowball to the point where people refuse to pretend they trust their government anymore, and it falls.
1989 was wonderful year to be alive.
Maybe 2006 will hold similar memories.
The problem, of course, is that the Arab world is deeply diseased.
They are among the proudest civilizations. Throughout history, the Arabs have made vital contributions to mathematics, literature, astronomy, navigation, shipping and commerce.
The problem with those contributions is that they ended a thousand years ago, as the Arabs turned a suspicious eye to the rest of the world, particularly, and understandably, Europe. (A similar tale of ancient achievement but modern stagnation can be told of China, but at least the Chinese are growing economically and have some hope for the future.)
The Arabs have an inferiority complex, and no way to relieve it.
Their combined economic output (as measured in GDP) is about the same as the state of Missouri. They make nothing except oil – and they can’t even get that out of the ground without Western engineers and equipment. Their children want to listen to American music, and they want to study in American universities. They produce no good science (their scientists immigrate to West), they get no Nobel prizes, their universities aren’t respected, nobody reads their literature or listens to their music. They never have good sports teams, no one travels there for fun, and their culture (particularly its treatment of women) is frowned upon.
There is recognition that while Western power is creative, the ONLY power that Arabs have is destructive power. They take outward pride in destroying things, but inwardly they are asking why they cannot even build the weapons they use.
It doesn't get any better when their economies are considered. They're barely creaking along: governments are in debt (to the West, no less), people are poor, unemployment is high and meaningful work is almost non-existent. The lack of work is particularly troubling, because the Middle East is very young demographically. Young people tend to be the most rebellious.
The cure for all of this is political and economic freedom, of course. But a totalitarian states can have none of that. The standard Arab formula has been to increase resentment of the West, calling it a war of cultures. The focal point of this is Israel. The Arab governments like to advertise their hard-line stands against Israel - in the same way Hitler used Germany’s anti-Semitism to seize power. They play to their disaffected (biased) youths and act as though they are with them.
Well, it’s not working as well now, because the governments are being increasingly exposed as irrelevant on the world stage. US actions in Iraq made this especially clear, and now many people in the Middle East are asking: well, what good is my government?
The horrid Arabs states better get answers quickly.
An associate of Prince Abdullah defended his government's recent (minor) reforms thusly: “We are fighting for our lives here.”
I think he’s right.
In Iraq, the coalition has destroyed another Arab holdout.
Each war that the US and its allies have fought in Arabia has destroyed a myth. And the fantasy-loving (in some case bug-shit crazy) Arabs cherish their myths and conspiracy theories.
The first Gulf War ended the myth that the US would do everything it could to avoid fighting in the Middle East. The US not only actively sought the war, it was winning it overwhelmingly until….it stopped.
That action led to the next myth: the West fears the dug-in Arab fighter.
Then came Afghanistan, when a few weeks of bombing ended the rule of the most entrenched and dedicated fighters of all: the Taliban, who thrashed the Soviets in the mountains of Afghanistan.
A new myth was created: the US will get others (i.e. The Northern Alliance) to do the hard fighting; it prefers to fight from the air to avoid casualties.
Thus, Arabs were shocked by the spearhead GROUND assault across the desert and into Baghdad.
There is now a palpable feeling of suspicion in the Arab world as people wonder what other "truths" might soon be exposed as myths.
It is great opportunity for the West, and it is exactly what Arab governments feared the most.
Like a computer trying to run two conflicting programs simultaneously, the Arabs are blinking, utterly confused, shuttling between two possibilities, one which is about to exposed as myth:
1) The US is the Great Satan, fighting a huge war against Islam. It wants to seize Arab oil and land, kill Arab children and evict the Arabs. And IT CAN EASILY DO THIS (after the Iraq war exposed the inherent weakness of one of the best armed Arab states), because the combined armed might of the Saudis, the Kuwaitis and the Emirates is a fraction of the Iraqi military, and no nation (or multilateral institution) on Earth can stop the American military. The US hates Arabs as much as Arabs hate Jews, and the Iraq War is the first step in its conquest of the region.
- OR -
2) The US is a good country that welcomes different cultures, but it sees governments that respect human liberty to be in its interest. It will fight tyranny (spending billions to kill as few people as possible), and it will take on the responsibility of building responsible governments even under the most difficult of circumstances.
Up until now, everything they’ve known (government propaganda, Arab understanding of power (use it or lose it), Al Jezeera, European media) has led them to believe number 1.
But those information sources have just been completely been discredited, and Arabs are thinking in new ways.
The future could be very interesting