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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Wednesday, October 16, 2002
Stanley Kurtz has another excellent piece on NRO, this time about Bali and Pakistan and what they show about the likely future of democratization in the Muslim world. Needless to say, he's a pessimist.

I think most of his argument is right on. I am a skeptic generally of the idea of imposing democracy from above. I do not think Iraq will be like Japan, for a host of reasons. Here are three big ones that have nothing to do with Islam. First, when we conquer the country, the nation will not have been defeated but only the regime, because the nation will not have been committed to the fight. For that reason, there will be no national soul-searching of the sort that happened after World War II. Second, there is no nation. There are no Iraqis, only a variety of ethnic and religious groups, some broadly Arabic and some not at all (Kurds, Turkomans, etc.) thrown together. Without a national consciousness, you can't have a functioning democracy. Third, Japan had had considerable experience with Westernization and Parliamentary government prior to the American conquest. Iraq has had none. These are all reasons why you hear talk of breaking up the country or installing the Hashemites: because just keeping Iraq together and functioning after a war will be horribly difficult, to say nothing of trying to make it a democracy.

But that doesn't mean that no Islamic country is a good candidate for democracy and a solid pro-Western orientation. I think Indonesia is one of these candidates, more so now after Bali than before. I think Iran is another, once the mullahs have been deposed. I even think Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria all have considerable potential over a longer term. And I think Kurtz sells Turkey very short in his assessment.

Let's talk a bit about Turkey. Secularism has been important to Turkey because that was the way that modernism found its expression, and modernism was part and parcel of the effort to create a real Turkish national consciousness. And that national consciousness, and the seriousness of the Turkish military's patriotism, are the reasons why Turkey is a relatively successful state where so many Muslim countries are failures. Turkey would be no different if it had a moderate and modern religious establishment such as exists in, say, Britain or Italy. Kurtz is absolutely correct that secularism has not penetrated the Turkish hinterland, and that Islamism has posed challenges to the regime. But the regime has decisively defeated these challenges every time they were posed. The real question is not whether the Turkish state can withstand the internal pressures but whether the Turkish military continues to feel it can rely on the West as a friend. Turkey, far more than Pakistan, is the country we need to be wooing with economic and political connections as well as military ties.

Let's talk about Indonesia. As Kurtz correctly states, the deposed dictator and his clan have tried, with indifferent success, to use Islamism to distract the populace from their gross incompetance and win back some share of power. I think it is far more notable, however, that Indonesia is still in one piece and basically pro-Western than that it has flirted occasionally with Islamism. Indonesia went through two humiliations in the past decade that can be easily blamed on the West: the currency crisis that wrecked the economy and the intervention in East Timor that resulted in that area's independence. Of course, Indonesia's crony capitalism was ultimately to blame for the currency crisis, but the proximate cause was the action of Western investors and the intervention of Western economic institutions in ways that favored Western banks and left locals high and dry. And the annexation of East Timor was a cruel act of violence by a nasty regime, followed by decades of repression and violence that fully justified Western intervention. Nonetheless, it is easy to see how Indonesians could interpret that intervention differently, as a sign that the West felt that Christian minorities should be allowed their own countries rather than live under majority Muslim rule. In any event, four years ago I would have predicted that Indonesia would not exist as a state in 25 years. Now, I am more optimistic. The country has been through terrible turmoil, but it has not gone off the deep end. And the Bali bombing seems more likely to rally Indonesians to support the West and oppose the Islamists than the opposite. There's a long road ahead, but nothing in Bali makes me more pessimistic about Indonesia than I was before, and much makes me more optimistic.

Enough has been said in this space and elsehwere about Iran. Let's talk instead about Pakistan, where I agree completely with Kurtz's analysis. Pakistan is an impossible situation for the United States, and one that seems likely to get worse rather than better. We have invaded a neighbor and an ally, removed its government and replaced it with one that is more likely to be a friend to Pakistan's enemies - Russia, India and Iran - than to Pakistan. Pakistan itself has a very weak national consciousness that is founded, ultimately, on the idea of a Muslim ethnic group, a concept that is foreign to Islam and foreign to the Pashtuns, Sindhis, Baluchis, Kashmiris and other actual ethnic groups that populate Pakistan. The United States had an overriding interest in fostering good relations with India, because we share enemies in the Muslim world and in China. India's overriding foreign policy goal is the elimination of Pakistan as a serious power. Pakistan's elite, both military and civilian, is notoriously corrupt. Moreover, Pakistan is the home country of one of the original Islamist movements of modern times, the Deobandis, who have had enormous influence around the Muslim world and have grown increasingly radical with time, moving from quietism and rejection of the infidel state to an engagement that often results in terrorism. Finally, Islamism has had a strong presence in the Pakistani military and intelligence since the days of Zia ul-Haq's dictatorship. The odds of "losing" Pakistan have been very good for some time now. And it is not clear what we can do to alter the situation. To the extent that we need Pakistan's help, we become hostage to its corrupt elites, and our mutual collaboration further alienates the Pakistani people. To the extent that we pressure Pakistan to clean up its act and democratize, we encourage a nationalistic and anti-Western reaction. It's a bad case. We could well be at war there a few years after Iraq - and Pakistan already has nuclear weapons.

What I guess I'm stressing is that each country is different. Will the "Arab street" (or Muslim street - I haven't talked about any Arab countries here) explode when we conquer Iraq? Maybe, but I'm skeptical. I think that the invasion will make vulnerable regimes more vulnerable. That means preeminently Pakistan, Saudia Arabia and Iran. Instability in the first two could mean the advent of radically anti-Western regimes; instability in the last could mean the end of a radically anti-Western regime. But an invasion of Iraq will also give the United States the opportunity to deepen its ties with genuinely friendly Muslim regimes, which will be heavily involved in the effort to police and reconstruct Iraq. Countries like Turkey and Indonesia, Morocco and Jordan and maybe even Egypt (not to mention a post-revolutionary Iran), have the opportunity to establish themselves as leaders of a Muslim world oriented towards self-betterment rather than fruitless war against the West. We'll see which if any of them take the opportunity, but we should make sure the opportunity is there. Those that take it, and act in their national interests rather than in the service of a corrupt clique or a revolutionary ideology, will be in a position to lead the Muslim world towards modernity and democracy.