In the new Middle East where people talk a lot behind the scenes using the new
high-technology communications, we have far more frequent interactions with
people who live in countries ostensibly at war with Israel. Such conversations
are always interesting and useful for analysts.
Sometimes the exchanges
are even happening in public. I’ve been interviewed a number of times, for
example, by Iraqi journalists. But this time there was a different kind of
question at the end of the interview. In the last query, the journalist
asked what message I had for Iraq’s people.
For a moment, I was
speechless. I’ve been waiting more than 30 years for that kind of
opportunity. What should I say that wasn’t just special pleading or an
obvious exercise in hasbara (public diplomacy)?
BUT LET me start at the
beginning. Not long ago I wrote that Iraq might be the best model
realistically available right now for the Arabic- speaking world. Iraq dropped
out of the seemingly endless and futile race by countries to conquer the region;
moved away from radical and disastrous ideology; developed a measure of
democracy, pluralism and federalism; defeated an internal terrorist insurgency
that was being helped by its neighbors; and seemed to be pursuing a pragmatic
Unfortunately, though, there has been steady deterioration. Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki is grabbing for supreme power; Vice President Tariq
al-Hashimi has fled, pursued by Maliki’s charges of terrorism.
Jalal Talabani was thrust into the middle. What’s important to keep in mind is
that the first man is a Shia Arab, the second is a Sunni Arab and the third is a
So while these are personal rivalries – not everyone lines up
neatly along sectarian or ethnic lines – such disputes also represent communal
rifts and could reignite a bloody civil war in Iraq. This is risky.
there’s the perennial question of how much influence does Iran have in Iraq?
Less than one might expect on the national level, I’d say, but still some real
behind- the- scenes power in southern Iraq.
Iran can interfere in the
country with relative ease.
Tehran has apparently instructed its Shia
Iraqi assets to support the current government and not make trouble. So the
threat is not high at this point. Still, the Baghdad government is going to be
careful to stay on good terms with Tehran. At the same time, though, Iraq’s
leaders have no desire to be Iran’s clients, despite some of them having such
close ties during the Saddam Hussein era. And so the whole sad tragedy may be
As Michael Corleoni said, “Just when I thought I was
out... they pull me back in.”
WHAT ARE the diseases of the Middle East
that refuse to go away? • The belief that certain countries – nowadays mainly
Egypt, Iran, and Turkey – think they can dominate the whole region and are
willing to sacrifice blood and treasure to do so.
• Instead of fixing
problems, hate is focused on scapegoats.
• The assumption that one
ideology – formerly Arab nationalism, now Islamism – can conquer everyone and
• The conclusion that one can only be a leader by being a
• The rejection of pluralism, freedom, pragmatism and the
emphasis on political power maneuvers over socio-economic
Whatever its shortcomings, Europe overcame these
maladies. Many in Asia are doing so, as are some leaders and countries
elsewhere. In the Middle East, though, while there are hints of
enlightenment, outside of Israel it cannot really be found enthroned
Turkey, which long seemed immunized to the Middle East malady,
has leaped back into the swamp. Lebanon has long since done so. Morocco and
Jordan linger on the brink. The Iraqi Kurds are – temporarily? – on dry
And so that was the theme of my message to Iraqis: Does it make
sense to plunge back into conflict at a moment when the region is descending
toward an international struggle between Sunni and Shia blocs that will last
decades? No country can suffer more from that battle than Iraq.
At a time
when revolutionary Islamism is adding additional bloodshed and misery for
millions, is this the direction Iraq wants to go? After sacrificing so much of
its wealth to no less than three avoidable wars – Iran-Iraq (1980-1988), Kuwait
(1990-1991), a war provoked by Saddam Hussein’s breaking sanctions (2003) –
followed by a horrible civil war, isn’t that enough? Are Iraq and the Middle
East really doomed to plunge into another 60 years of horror? Who is going to
try to remain outside this fray?
UNFORTUNATELY, THE West is not going to save
you from this and America, at least under its current leadership, won’t help
you. On the contrary, the Obama administration is rewarding the radicals,
pushing the Islamists, and neglecting its friends. People in the region are well
aware of this reality; Western “experts” and governments are not.
people lately have asked me what I think of Israel’s future.
My answer is
that I’m extremely optimistic. But as for everything else for a thousand miles
or so in every direction, things look grim.
Please wake up and don’t do
it all over again.
This is your chance to escape from the waterboarding
of history, from the grim cycle of war, hatred and death. Choose life,
democracy, moderation, pragmatism and prosperity.
But I know that plea
probably won’t work. I feel a grim sense that the watchword of the day is: Here
we go again.
The writer is the director of Global Research in
International Affairs (GLORIA) Center. He also publishes the Rubin Report blog
and is the author of Israel: An Introduction.