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How Not to Save Iraq

Subject:        How Not to Save Iraq
Date:   Sat, 8 Apr 2006 13:21:41 EDT
From:   Ray
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To:      Ambassador Richard W. Murphy, Council on Foreign Relations
         Dr. Rachel Bronson, Council on Foreign Relations
         Dr. Steven A. Cook, Council on Foreign Relations



Princeton, 08 April 2006

Enclosed herewith is a very important (and very disturbing) paper by
Steven Cook of the_ Council on Foreign Relations_.

    First, my own comments:   In my opinion, Steven Cook’s viewpoint
will increasingly become the standard argument employed by members of
the "Bernard Lewis school of Arab studies" to discredit every potential
policy initiative that might come out of Washington aimed at enlisting
the support of our Arab friends (and we still have a few, by some
miracle) in finding a comprehensive solution to the fast-approaching
disintegration of the Arab Middle East.
    Cook presents arguments that sound reasonable to those who do not
understand the political, social and emotional foundations of what he
contemptuously dismisses as "Arabism".   I think this point of view is
potentially disastrous for the interests of all concerned ---
especially Arabs and Americans, but also including Israelis, if one
looks far enough ahead.
    Putting American interests first, our hope should be that the Arabs
themselves find inspiration (in_ their own_ self-interest, free of
dictation and coercion from Washington) to work together for common
purposes while tolerating differences amongst themselves with regard to
systems of political governance or ethnic and religious affiliation.  To
base our policy planning, as Cook does here, and as other
neo-conservative acolytes of Bernard Lewis have done before him, on the
premise that the Arabs cannot be trusted to act rationally until they
all uniformly adopt an American value system, is dangerously arrogant,
ignorant and shortsighted. Most importantly, it is deeply offensive to
the people and to the culture that Cook (and Lewis) profess to believe
is ripe for conversion to America’s (i.e. George W. Bush’s) shining path
toward freedom, enlightenment and progress.  It is not the way to win
friends and influence others anywhere, and most certainly not in the
Arab World.
    Specifically, in addressing the immediate crisis, the United States
will be making a tragic mistake, and engaging in a futile and
counterproductive exercise, if we attempt to exclude all the Arab
neighbors of Iraq from a participatory role in any diplomatic (or
military) effort to create a new Middle East political environment.  Our
only partners in such an endeavor would then be a threesome of non-Arab
countries none of which has ultimate objectives (with respect to the
Arab World, at least) that are compatible with the national strategic
interests of the United States:  Iran, Turkey and Israel.
    Please note:  An effort by the Bush Administration at this late
date to enlist positive and constructive assistance from any Arab
leaders, or from them all collectively (the Arab League), poses enormous
difficulties.  I entertain no rosy expectations of success for
cooperation between our government and those of any member of the Arab
community today.  My fifty-plus years of participation in and
observation of American foreign policy in the region has left me deeply
pessimistic about that possibility, and more so today than at any time
in the past. The credibility of the present Bush foreign policy team is
at rock bottom, and it would be hard to find any Arab leaders today who
would risk their own credibility and legitimacy on American diplomatic
leadership under present conditions.  But the Arab states and the US_
do_ share very important mutual interests, and encouraging the Arabs to
recognize and to share common objectives with us and amongst themselves,
difficult as that might be to achieve under our leadership, is the only
course that does justice to American ideals and national interests.
Furthermore, it is not a hopeless ambition.  We_ do_ have strong and
influential Arab friends.  Most importantly, adopting a positive
attitude is far more promising than dismissing all Arab leaders and
governments as useless and untrustworthy --- a posture and a frame of
mind that would certainly lead to total failure, and would leave the
next generation of American policy makers with an even more dismal
legacy than the one Bush has already, tragically, created for them.


Ray Close
*
HOW NOT TO SAVE IRAQ*
From_ The National Interest_
by Steven A. Cook
[Only at TNR Online]
Post date: 04.05.06
[Steven A. Cook is the Douglas Dillon Fellow at the Council on Foreign
Relations.]

With the body count climbing and Iraqis edging toward all-out civil
conflict,
politicians and  pundits are groping for answers to the thorny question
of how to stabilize Iraq.
Thus far the solutions proposed are hardly inspiring, ranging from the
banal (redouble our efforts) to the  implausible (send more troops) to
the downright irresponsible (withdraw the troops).   Recently, in an
appearance on "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," former National Security
Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski offered a third way of sorts:  He suggested
that the Iraqi government convene "a conference of neighbors, Muslim
neighbors, who are interested in continued stability in Iraq and helping
to prevent a civil war from exploding."

Brzezinski's suggestion in some ways echoed what Middle East pundit
Milton Viorst proposed in a November 2005 New York Times op-ed in which
he advocated a central role for the Arab League in stabilizing Iraq.
Viorst's template for a solution in Iraq was the Arab League-sponsored
Taif accord of 1989, which brought security (and Syrian occupation) to
Lebanon after 15 years of sectarian conflict. A week after Viorst
appeared in the Times, the Arab League convened the Preparatory Meeting
for the Iraqi National Accord Conference at the League's headquarters in
Cairo.  The purpose of the gathering was to lay the groundwork for a
national reconciliation conference to be held at a future date in Iraq.
The conference's final communiqué declared support for the "will of the
Iraqi people and their democratic choices within a framework of
pluralism and federalism."  This sounds nice, but the statement was
little more than the usual double-talk from an organization renowned for
its absurdities.

Very few in the West or even the Arab world see the Arab League as
possessing much credibility, but as Iraq slides toward chaos, the idea
of involving the country's neighbors --- as Washington is now doing with
Iran --- may yet gain a respectable hearing in Washington.  This would
be a grave mistake. Of Iraq's neighbors, only non-Arab Turkey seems to
be interested in a unified, federal Iraq, and only as a means to snuff
out Kurdish independence in the northern part of the country.  The idea
that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Kuwait, and more distant countries
like Egypt would be willing to assist Washington is divorced from the
prism through which Arab leaders see the conflict in Iraq.  Arab leaders
do not want success in Iraq --- at least the way the Bush administration
and many Iraqis
define it.  A democratic, pluralistic, federal Iraq would actually be a
disaster for the Arab world.  What the Arab regimes want --- as a senior
Bahraini defense official quipped to me at the outset of the war --- is
"not Saddam, but another son of a bitch to hold that country together."

The most obvious explanation for Arab reluctance to see democracy emerge
in Iraq is based on geopolitics.  According to this line of reasoning,
the Saudis are concerned that a Shia-dominated Iraq will come under the
influence of Iran.  The subsequent Iraqi-Iranian axis --- held together
by the holy alliance of Qom and Najaf --- would thus pose an intolerable
threat to both Saudi and Persian Gulf security.  The emerging "Shia
crescent" sweeping from Iran and Iraq into the northern Gulf and across
the northern Levant could disrupt the status quo in Saudi Arabia,
Bahrain, Kuwait, and Lebanon, countries where Shia are either the
overwhelming majority or constitute a significant minority.

In Cairo the specific concern revolves around the potential reemergence of
a regional rival.  While Egypt and Saudi Arabia are often thought the two
most influential --- and thus rival --- heavyweights in the Arab world,
this is a
relatively new phenomenon.  Throughout history Cairo and Baghdad have vied
for political, cultural, and economic influence in the region.  This was
particularly the case when Egypt and Iraq occupied similar pan-Arab
nationalist political terrain from the late 1950s to the early '70s.
The rivalry only intensified when, after Egypt made peace with Israel
and was summarily stripped of its membership in the Arab League, Saddam
Hussein's Iraq immediately sought to fill the leadership vacuum.

But beyond geostrategic considerations, there is a deeper reason Arab
leaders cannot play a constructive role in Iraq.  The very concept of
building a federal democracy in the Middle East threatens to undermine a
worldview that has held sway in Arab intellectual and political circles
for the better part of the last 60 years: Arab nationalism.  The days
when Cairo's Voice of the Arabs radio electrified the masses across the
Middle East with Arab nationalist appeals are long gone, but the basic
principles of what can loosely be described as Arabism are alive and
well in various forms on Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, and in the pan-Arab
print media.

The first of these is based on the idea that only an elite group with
certain skills can forge a modern society.  To involve the great mass of
uneducated Arabs in politics would mean losing yet further ground to the
West and continued weakness.  Thus, from the perspective of Arab
leaders, authoritarianism has always been the best means to achieve
progress and national glory.  An ongoing manifestation of this worldview
is the suggestion, popular among some Middle Eastern leaders and their
court intellectuals, that Arabs are not ready for democracy.  The
sentiment was brought into sharp relief when, in May 2005, Egyptian
Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif suggested that political reform in his
country would have to be undertaken slowly because Egyptian society had
not demonstrated the requisite "maturity."  This subtle racism would be
striking if it were not so common among Arab leaders and intellectuals.

A second core Arab-nationalist belief emphasizes the ostensible ethnic
homogeneity of Arab society.  In the 1950s and '60s, charismatic
post-colonial leaders like Algeria's Houari Boumediène, Egypt's Gamal
Abdel Nasser, and Iraq's Abd Al Karim Qasim relied on myths about
national unity and social cohesion to consolidate their rule.  To
recognize the ethnic distinction of Berbers in Algeria and Kurds in
Iraq, or to allow Copts in Egypt to practice their religion, risked the
emergence of autonomous centers of power that could challenge the
hegemony of the state.  Although more recently Arab leaders have
demonstrated a measure of flexibility towards ethnic and religious
minorities, these groups remain at a distinct economic and political
disadvantage.

Finally, there is often a tendency in the West to regard Arab nationalism
as a distinctly secular worldview.  This is not entirely accurate given the
importance of Islam as both a cultural and political touchstone in the
Middle East.  Indeed, one of the core principles of Arabism is as much a
religious as political matter:  Sunni supremacy.  For Arab leaders,
accepting
Shia political power, especially in an influential country such as Iraq,
would mean ceding ground to Islamic heterodoxy.  Shia power not only
upsets the natural order of Sunni political dominance, but also
represents a violation of widely held beliefs about the religious
superiority of the Sunni sect.  Because Shia power is anathema
throughout the Arab world, and because Iraqi democracy means Shia power,
Middle Eastern leaders cannot possibly be expected to help the United
States realize its goals in Iraq.

In this context, it is not at all surprising that the Arab world has
been manifestly reluctant to assist the United States during the last
few years. Middle Eastern leaders must find it more than a little
jarring that a Kurd is the president of one of the historically most
important and influential Arab countries --- not to mention the fact
that Shia now dominate Iraq's politics and Sunnis are an essentially
politically powerless minority.  It is therefore difficult to believe
that a re-energized Arab League or Iraq's Arab neighbors can play a
constructive role in the country's political process.  The establishment
of a new political order in Iraq would quite simply shatter everything
that Arab leaders stand for and place their own political systems in
jeopardy.  To ask for their help would be pointless at
best --- and probably a lot worse.

Steven A. Cook, Ph.D.
Douglas Dillon Fellow
Council on Foreign Relations
58 East 68th Street
New York, NY 10021



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