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February 11, 2005

Bush Gets it Right

I know this question is becoming trite, but what the hell is Friedman talking about?

There will be a lot of trial and error in the months ahead. But this is a hugely important horizontal dialogue because if Iraqis can't forge a social contract, it would suggest that no other Arab country can - since virtually all of them are similar mixtures of tribes, ethnicities and religions. That would mean that they can be ruled only by iron-fisted kings or dictators, with all the negatives that flow from that.

Excuse me? First of all, George W. Bush has repeatedly stated that he disagrees with folks who think the brown people can't have democracies, and you are not going to question the single thing that unites us. But more to the point, if the Iraqi attempt at reform falls through, that'll mean nothing more than that they didn't succeed. Maybe the killing factor wasn't color, but American occupation and the divisions we caused. Maybe it was Saddam's legacy. Maybe it was corruption in Kurdistan. Maybe it was -- gasp! -- multicausal and not necessarily pregnant with meaning for future generations.

Stable, democratic states are weird things that no one's quite been able to blueprint. They don't always work where we think they will, they don't always fail when they should, and we're not quite sure how to move them from one column to the other. Suggesting that their success may be intrinsic to the ethnicities of the groups involved is absurd and, truly, the first time I've ever seen anyone erect the straw man Bush knocked down. Many of us mocked him when he said that, turns out we were wrong. It was a preemptive strike on Tom Friedman.

February 11, 2005 in Iraq | Permalink

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» Saudi Elections from Liberals Against Terrorism

Here's a wacky idea: what if it's actually easier for democratic change to take place in Saudi Arabia than it is in, say, Egypt?

Sounds pretty wacky, right?

This Amir T [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 11, 2005 1:58:54 PM

Comments

More likely Friedman is just the pointman for the administration. Bush's earlier statements are just cover for when he reluctantly changes his mind. It looks like Brown people can't govern themselves at all.

A few months ago there was a big todo about Bush vs. the Reality Based Community. The problem is that Bush is right. So much of modern reality in complex civilization, especially the reality of power, is determined by perception. It's more important what people think of Saddam, then who he really is. It's more important what people think of Muslims or Arabs or Persian, then who they really are, and so on.

What this means is that most of what we think of as reality can be completely altered merely by changing the way people think. Unless they are in power, the small percentage of people interested in the truth matter only a slightly.

We've been lucky to have presidents that were in this group, but now our luck has run out. The problem is, for the low purposes of this administration, the new way *works*.

Posted by: Boronx | Feb 11, 2005 12:25:21 PM

Good catch, Ezra. A few other terrible strawmen in this column were knocked around on this thread.

Posted by: Haggai | Feb 11, 2005 1:45:10 PM

"virtually all of them are similar mixtures of tribes, ethnicities and religions" is, of course, not even true, and if T. Friedman didn't learn that while covering the region for, what, twenty years, then he's denser than I thought.

Posted by: praktike | Feb 11, 2005 2:01:49 PM

Hate to bust on you praktike, but there's not a country in the Middle East that's ethnically and religiously homogeneous. Turkey has Kurds and Armenians, Lebanon is governed on the basis of ethnic and religious factionalism, Syria has Kurds, Druze, and Allawites, Jordan is half Palestinian and half Bedouin, Saudi Arabia has a substantial repressed Shiite minority, Oman has a sect of non-Muslims I can't remember the name of, Yemen is really pre-national--basically just tribes, Egypt has Copts, the other North African states have Berbers and desert nomads, and the Gulf States are about 50% foreign "guest workers" at this point--none of whom can vote.

Tom Friedman can be pretty ridiculous sometimes, and always stretches to make his points "cute," but I think he has a point here. Successful multiethnic democracies are few and far between, and a breakdown of democracy in Iraq, coupled with the experience of Lebanon, could really turn Arabs off to the whole idea. To say nothing of the fact that Bush constantly repeating "freedom" makes it sound like a dirty word.

Posted by: Serx | Feb 11, 2005 2:42:22 PM

Friedman (and Serx) are right about the demographics. So while Ezra's right to point out that the demographics aren't the only possible reason democracy could fail in Iraq, it's not like Friedman is chalking it up to color. He's pointing out that ethnolinguistic divisions exist around this area of the world, and if it turns out it's tough to create an ethnolinguistically pluralist democracy where only dictatorship and tribalism existed beforehand it wouldn't be surprising.

That said, it could work, too, and should be made to, and there are democratic movements around the Arab world. It's hardly hopeless. Just tough, and tough for reasons that will recur in the area.

Posted by: Arthur | Feb 11, 2005 5:45:32 PM

Sorry, I'm a lot more interested in what the people in Iraq and the Middle East do by way of analysis than any amount of navel-gazing about the U.S.

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