Thursday, April 07, 2005

Winning friends in the Middle East

Rami G Khouri has a editorial in the LA Times a few days ago about how to win friends in the Middle East. With all due respect, that piece is mostly a crock of sh*t.

Here are some of the claims:

(1) Style is important. People in the Middle East do not like to be bullied, even for their own good.

This might have some truth to it, although operatively, the people in the Middle East are all now bullied, and it is rarely for their own good, it is for the good of their bullies. So I am pretty sure that our bullying is an improvement, though it is still not ideal. Moreover, it is always pathetic to see people who say yes, you are doing what we want, but not fast enough, not nice enough, not the way we would like it. . . We are doing the best we can. If you don't help out, we will do it the only way we know how.

(2) Credibility is important. The US backs Israel, and doesn't do much to help the Palestinians (read: does not militarily force Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands), so it looks hypocritical helping Iraq and Lebanon.

This is actually 100% true. The US Does help some countries in the Middle East and is not threatening to invade Israel. However here is a case where perceptions, however important, cannot be helped. The Arab world's failure to see reality for what it is cannot always be compensated for. The US has an interest in combating bizarre Arab perceptions of reality and the west. However, sometimes we naively hope that you are not as blind as your leaders know you are.

(3) Consistency in important.

This is just false. Arabs have no need for consistency. Any even cursory glance at Arab history will show that Arab allegiances change as often as preferred wives in a Persian harem. It is consistency that boggles the mind of most Arabs. They are asking themselves "Why does the US continues to support Israel even though now we seem to be more important?" This sticking with allies is bothersome, it is NOT the fact that we used to support a dictator and now we don't.

(For some historical examples: Jordan and Egypt made peace with Israel after invading them a few years before. Syria first supported the Christians in the Lebanon Civil War, then the Muslims. Jordan first helped the PLO then they massacred them. Arafat was allied with every group in Lebanon's civil war, until he stopped. The Saudis sit around and love the US for a million reasons, mostly to do with oil, and they sit around and promote anti-US terrorism. The Ba'ath regimes of Syria and Iraq were started together. (That's why they have the same name.) Then they hated each other. . .)

(4) Motive. We appear to have too many motives for being in Iraq. That is not good.

Here, I agree. We should just go in and say that the ousting of the Ba'ath regime is in the US interest, so we are doing it. The motives we give are for internal consumption. We need the motives to placate Americans, not Arabs. Sorry that you overheard.

(5) Context. Human rights and freedoms take second place to protection from foreign armies and stable statehood.

This is true. This is how the Arabs see the world. The US should change that. If your highest goal is stability, then you are about as sane as the woman who says a stable marriage where I get beaten daily is better than not being beaten daily but with the possibility of a new husband. I have too much sympathy for the woman and the countries who are beaten daily by their leaders to care if their relationships are stable.

Stability is the luxury, not freedom. The Arab world treats freedom as a luxury that you get after you have the necessity of stability of government. But here in the west we realize that government is not something anyone needs, except to the extent that it perpetuates individual freedoms. Somehow in the Arab world Government is seen as a necessity, that is so important that it overrides freedoms. Our goal is to change this, not to see it your way.

(6) Legitimacy. The US does not have the international legitimacy to go ahead with what it is doing.

Since when did anyone in the Arab world care about international legitimacy unless it was to suit their own interests? Since when does anyone? The Arabs are NOT the people in the world who sit around worrying about how to implement UN resolutions, unless the resolutions are in their interest. How many Arab states recognize the State of Israel? The UN CREATED Israel in 1948. Of course the Same Arabs recognize that the state of Israel that they do not recognize and the same UN who they couldn't care less about have recognized Israel have a vital resolution about Israel resolving the Palestinian Issue.

Please, Mr. Khouri, don't feed us this crap about Arabs worrying about international legitimacy. They are worried about their interests.

(7) Militarism. Only Washington and Neocons (read: Jews) do things using military force.

I laughed as I read this. I cant believe that in the Arab world there is no understanding of militarism's ability to get things done. The Arab world INVENTED a hundred new methods of violence to get things done. Both ancient and modern terrorism was invented by the Arab world. Car bombs still resolve all sorts of political feuds. Honor killings still resolve family issues in most of the Arab world. No Arab country is immune from force as a way of life. What kind of false picture are you trying pass off to us gullible Americans?

(8) Relevance. People care more about their asabiyeh, their tribe, or their family or group then they do about individual freedoms.

I couldn't agree more. So? How is what we are doing counter to this? Parliaments allow for this sort of thing, and we knew that setting up a US style democracy would not take your particular tribalisms in to account, but setting up this sort of confessionalist government in Iraq, like they have in Lebanon, we are attempting to accomplish both ideals. Remember, that just because you Arabs prioritize the tribe over the individual, does not imply that you do not value individual freedoms, it just says that where you can't have both you'd sacrifice one for the other. I know, but no Arab in his or her right mind will tell you that he would rather have ONLY freedom for his group when offered freedom for his group and his person.

(Hat Tip: FOM.)

1 comment:

Amir said...

Excellent counterpoint.