Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Tuesday, June 25, 2002
So to follow up on my last few posts: what would it take to put Bush's policies into action, really?

The war part is the easy part. Hezbollah must be annihilated. The Syrian state must be destroyed, along with the Iraqi, and a provisional government in each locale installed under Western military auspices. I don't actually think this would take many troops, and ideally they would mostly not be American (otherwise I'd be calling for a draft, wouldn't I?) but it will take a lot of money and time. Arafat should, ideally, be tried and executed for crimes against humanity; failing that, he should be killed; failing that he should be neutralized in some fashion, though it's not obvious to me that there's a good way to do that without killing him.

That's the war part. If we did the above, I firmly believe that the Iranians would overthrow their mullahocracy and that both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia would be effectively cowed. War won. Now what? How do we win the peace?

Post-WWII, the United States succeeded in installing healthy democracies in Germany, Italy and Japan. But in Germany and Italy we were dealing with Western societies who could with relative ease be integrated back into the Western world, and in Japan's case the United States had an awesome position as the only power ever to conquer the islands. Moreover, in all cases we were in complete control of societies that were utterly defeated - total war had resulted in total victory. None of this will be true in an occupied Iraq or Syria or in the Palestinian areas.

Building pro-Western societies will take a long time. But I believe it can be done. Here's how, in ten basic steps.

(1) Start with real countries. There are only four real nations in the Middle East, and only one of them is Arab. They are: Turkey, Israel, Iran and Egypt. Everything else - from Morocco to Pakistan - is a dubious construct. In each of these four countries, nationalism is a legitimate force. In all the other states of the region, some other force - class, clan, tribe, religion, color, language, party, ideology, whatever - decisively trumps patriotism. The basis of American policy in the region should be to make these four states into American friends, tie their interests to ours and help them to succeed. Iran is the most dangerous enemy America has in the region because it is the only real country that opposes us; it is the only one that could, if it chose, fight a long war with us, outlast us. It won't, because its people are pro-American, but if they were anti-American they could. The same is not true of Syria, Iraq or, for that matter, Saudi Arabia. We do not want any of these four states as enemies, if we can help it.

(2) Start with civil society. We tend to make a fetish of elections, as if they were the keys to democracy and freedom. They aren't. Elections are pathetically easy to rig, and even when they aren't rigged, without the proper structure in which to hold them, elections are just a means to mob rule. We should be smarter this time, and start with institutions that are independent of the state: with private business, local government, voluntary associations. I'm not saying it will be easy to get these things to develop, but if they don't develop there's no point in talking about democracy. Relatedly, it is probably a good idea for us to make use of monarchs where they are willing to govern with significant power-sharing with a legislature. Monarchy will at least provide a focal-point of popular patriotism unlikely to accrue to a maximum leader or to a prime minister of an unstable government.

(3) Keep out Saudi "charity." We have got to start thinking of the Saudi clerical diaspora as the equivalent of the Moscow-trained Communist cadres in Stalin's time. They are not legitimate clerics. They are agents of a foreign government sent to infiltrate and take over the legitimate religious institutions of other countries, and turn them into war machines to be used against the government and against the U.S.A., much as the Communist cadres were sent out to take over legitimate labor unions and political groups for the same purpose. The people of these areas should have freedom of religion. And the occupying authorities should be aggressive about making sure that religion is really free - of foreign influence, not just of government interference.

(4) Broadcast the truth. One reason why Nasser decided to go to war with Israel in 1967 (leading to the Israeli preemptive strike and the 6-day war) was that he was bluffed into re-occupying the Sinai. Once there, his officers found out that Israel had had free access to the Straits of Tiran for the past ten years, contrary to what they had heard from official propaganda all that time. This revelation effectively forced Nasser to close the straits for real, leading inexorably to war. The Arab world is subject to an unceasing torrent of lies, so many lies that it is impossible to find the truth. Simply receiving truthful information would do an enormous amount to explode the myths that dominate popular thinking in these countries. I would not be surprised to learn, for instance, that most Palestinians are unaware of any of the salient terms offered by Ehud Barak in 1999 - something to bear in mind when you hear opinion polls saying that the Palestinians overwhelmingly support armed resistance to Israel.

(5) Teach girls to read. Don't worry about what they wear on their heads or how long their skirts are, and don't focus on teaching them about contraception. Teach them to read and they won't settle for being chattel, and half your battle for a free society is won. Even if few of them work outside the home, their exposure to ideas and to the outside world will change the way they raise their sons, and the next generation will suffer from far fewer of the social pathologies of contemporary Arab society.

(6) Favor the brave, not the strong. This is a tough one. The tendency of any colonial or quasi-colonial power is to prefer to work with strong, corrupt elements - "our thug" types - because these appear to be the most easily tractable. But working with these people ultimately destroys civil society and assures the anger and resentment of the general population. But working with the brave, with those willing to stand up as patriots, is not easy. Historically, they have either turned into or turn out to have always been mere corrupt dictators in the making. Examples abound of up-and-coming charismatic leaders the U.S. supported in the belief that they would be friendly, only to have them turn not only on us but on their own people. Nasser is a prime example. But we have to find these people, and make friends of them, rather than rely on the thugs, if we are to have a hope of building stable, friendly societies in the region.

(7) Keep out the U.N. and the World Bank, and don't lend the government lots of money. Let's face it: these organizations are not dedicated to the propositions that we want to take root in these societies, and they have a history of driving countries into bankruptcy, not helping them build prosperity. Keep 'em out. If we're going to bring in NGOs to build things - like the education system - vet them carefully and monitor them afterwards. And lending the government money should be avoided if at all possible. Loans are like crack. If we want to give them a bridge, bring in the Army Corps of Engineers to teach them how to build bridges, and eat the cost of doing so.

(8) Open the trade spigot. Arabs seem to do fine founding and running businesses in the West. But Arab countries themselves produce almost nothing of value. It's been speculated that this is because of some cultural failure, but I strongly doubt it. Traditional Chinese culture frowns on commerce and glorifies the scholar. Meanwhile, Chinese are known around the world as the consummate traders, while Chinese scholarship has stagnated for centuries. The United States can't correct everything. But we can at least open our markets to friendly states in the region, particularly in industries - like textiles - where they have a natural comparative advantage.

(9) Bring in non-Arab Muslims. This is a little complicated. Most of the horrifically failed societies we're talking about are Arab. (Iran and Turkey are in vastly better shape culturally, economically, socially - you name it). The ideologies of Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism are compensations for the massive failure of these societies. If we want to show these people that Islam is not the problem, and friendship with the West is not the problem, we need to present them with counter-examples. Like loyal Indian Muslims, or moderate Indonesian Muslims, or relatively secular Turks and Kazakhs and Bosnacs, and so forth. The message to deliver is: the West doesn't have some secret sauce it's trying to hide, and it has no problem with Muslim countries or Islam. Success flows from friendship with the West, and plenty of Muslims have made that choice. What's your reason for choosing failure? When I say "bring them in" I mean we should encourage cultural, economic, and political interchange, to take place within the Arab world, and on terms that serve American interests. We want the common people to see: there goes a well-dressed and successful Central Asian Muslim. Why is he doing so well? Because he is on good terms with the West.

(10) Keep the bar high for proper behavior. Want to kill a few Jews or Copts to blow off steam? I'm sorry, civilized countries don't behave that way. Contempt for the infidel an old tradition in your country? Well, contempt for bigotry is an old tradition in ours. In this spirit, the United States should demand that any country that wants relations with the United States recognize Israel. Normal, peaceful relations can follow the redress of any outstanding grievances; recognition is not negotiable. The Palestinians need some kind of home rule, once we can be assured that that rule will be lawful and peaceful, and whether it gets called a state or something else is really secondary. Nothing about Israel's relations with the rest of the region should wait on that accomplishment. Any ideology that declares that Israel must be wiped off the map is practically and effectively an ideology of hatred, and that hatred accrues to the United States as well as to Israel. States that espouse such an ideology are our enemies. You don't want to be our enemy. Similarly, states that permit terrorist groups to operate from their territory: not acceptable. Period. You need help wiping them out? Troops are available. There's a war on. Don't want our help? Better deal with it yourselves, or we'll deal with it without your permission. We have to change a culture that thrives on criminality and plausible deniability into one that depends on lawfulness and accountability. That's partly a matter of education, money and time. But it's partly a matter of the right incentives. Including negative ones.

Some of the above would require practical control of a country, as would be the case in a post-war Iraq. Other parts can be accomplished through friendly cooperation, such as we currently have with Turkey, or Jordan. Other parts would require pressure but could still be accomplished short of warfare. But the start is recognizing that the goal is transformation of these societies. I believe this can be accomplished without a WWII-style total war and occupation. I sure hope so, because I do not believe we have the desire or the international support for the latter, and because such an effort would exact a far higher cost in blood and treasure - and still might not work. The CATO-oids wouldn't like an agenda that so smacks of imperialism. But really, what we're talking about is merely structuring interventions that already happen all the time - the U.N. and IMF and World Bank have their tentacles all over the world - but doing so in a way that serves American interests and values. And what's wrong with that?