Iraq is in a mess. Violence continues.
Factionalism leads to endless
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 that quarter.
So that brings us to
Iraq. As I’ve outlined above, the situation there is far from ideal.
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 decentralization.
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
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
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
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.The writer is the Director of Global Research in
International Affairs (GLORIA) Center http://www.gloria-center.org