Bush Country

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Fouad Ajami has an article out today that is a must read. Especially since all you get out of the MSM is the same old stories meant to dismantle our military. Here are a few excerpts: (h/t Roger Simon)

“George W. Bush has unleashed a tsunami on this region,” a shrewd Kuwaiti merchant who knows the way of his world said to me. The man had no patience with the standard refrain that Arab reform had to come from within, that a foreign power cannot alter the age-old ways of the Arabs. “Everything here–the borders of these states, the oil explorations that remade the life of this world, the political outcomes that favored the elites now in the saddle–came from the outside. This moment of possibility for the Arabs is no exception.” A Jordanian of deep political experience at the highest reaches of Arab political life had no doubt as to why history suddenly broke in Lebanon, and could conceivably change in Syria itself before long. “The people in the streets of Beirut knew that no second Hama is possible; they knew that the rulers were under the gaze of American power, and knew that Bush would not permit a massive crackdown by the men in Damascus.”

To venture into the Arab world, as I did recently over four weeks in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq, is to travel into Bush Country. I was to encounter people from practically all Arab lands, to listen in on a great debate about the possibility of freedom and liberty. I met Lebanese giddy with the Cedar Revolution that liberated their country from the Syrian prison that had seemed an unalterable curse. They were under no illusions about the change that had come their way. They knew that this new history was the gift of an American president who had put the Syrian rulers on notice. The speed with which Syria quit Lebanon was astonishing, a race to the border to forestall an American strike that the regime could not discount. I met Syrians in the know who admitted that the fear of American power, and the example of American forces flushing Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, now drive Syrian policy. They hang on George Bush’s words in Damascus, I was told: the rulers wondering if Iraq was a crystal ball in which they could glimpse their future.

The children of Islam, and of the Arabs in particular, had taken to the road, and to terror. There were many liberal, secular Arabs now clamoring for American intervention. The claims of sovereignty were no longer adequate; a malignant political culture had to be “rehabilitated and placed in receivership,” a wise Jordanian observer conceded. Mr. Bush may not be given to excessive philosophical sophistication, but his break with “the soft bigotry of low expectations” in the Arab-Islamic world has found eager converts among Muslims and Arabs keen to repair their world, to wean it from a culture of scapegoating and self-pity. Pick up the Arabic papers today: They are curiously, and suddenly, readable. They describe the objective world; they give voice to recognition that the world has bypassed the Arabs. The doors have been thrown wide open, and the truth of that world laid bare. Grant Mr. Bush his due: The revolutionary message he brought forth was the simple belief that there was no Arab and Muslim “exceptionalism” to the appeal of liberty. For a people mired in historical pessimism, the message of this outsider was a powerful antidote to the culture of tyranny. Hitherto, no one had bothered to tell the Palestinians that they can’t have terror and statehood at the same time, that the patronage of the world is contingent on a renunciation of old ways. This was the condition Mr. Bush attached to his support for the Palestinians. It is too early to tell whether the new restraint in the Palestinian world will hold. But it was proper that Mr. Bush put Arafat beyond the pale.

It was Iraq of course that gave impetus to this new Arab history. And it is in Iraq that the nobility of this American quest comes into focus. This was my fourth trip to Iraq since the fall of the despotism, and my most hopeful yet. I traveled to Baghdad, Kirkuk, Erbil and Suleimaniyah. A close colleague–Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations–and I were there to lecture and to “show the flag.” We met with parliamentarians and journalists, provincial legislators, clerics and secularists alike, Sunni and Shia Arabs and Kurds. One memory I shall treasure: a visit to the National Assembly. From afar, there are reports of the “acrimony” of Iraq, of the long interlude between Iraq’s elections, on Jan. 30, and the formation of a cabinet. But that day, in the assembly, these concerns seemed like a quibble with history. There was the spectacle of democracy: men and women doing democracy’s work, women cloaked in Islamic attire right alongside more emancipated women, the technocrats and the tribal sheikhs, and the infectious awareness among these people of the precious tradition bequeathed them after a terrible history. One of the principal leaders of the Supreme Islamic Council for Revolution in Iraq, Sheikh Hamam Hammoudi, an elegant, thoughtful cleric in his early 50s, brushed aside the talk of a Shia theocracy. This Shia man, who knew a smattering of English, offered his own assurance that the example and the power of Iran shall be kept at bay: “My English is better than my Farsi, even though I spent 20 years in Iran.” He was proud of his Iraqi identity, proud of being “an Arab.” He was sure that the Najaf school of Shia jurisprudence would offer its own alternative to the world view of Qom, across the border. He wanted no theocratic state in Iraq: Islam, he said, would be “a source” of legislation, but the content of politics would be largely secular. The model, he added, with a touch of irony, would be closer to the American mix of religion and politics than to the uncompromising secularism of France.

Women are getting the vote in Kuwait, the Lebanese clamor for the truth about the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, and about the dark Syrian interlude in their history. Egyptians don’t seem frightened of the scarecrows with which the Mubarak regime secured their submission. Everywhere, the order is under attack, and men and women are willing to question the prevailing truths. There is to this moment of Arab history the feel of a re-enactment of Europe’s Revolution of 1848–the springtime of peoples: That revolution broke out in France, then spread to the Italian states, to the German principalities, to the remotest corners of the Austrian empire. There must have been 50 of these revolts–rebellions of despair and of contempt. History was swift: The revolutions spread with velocity and were turned back with equal speed. The fear of chaos dampened these rebellions.

As I made my way on this Arab journey, I picked up a meditation that Massimo d’Azeglio, a Piedmontese aristocrat who embraced that “springtime” in Europe, offered about his time, which speaks so directly to this Arab time: “The gift of liberty is like that of a horse, handsome, strong, and high-spirited. In some it arouses a wish to ride; in many others, on the contrary, it increases the desire to walk.” It would be fair to say that there are many Arabs today keen to walk–frightened as they are by the prospect of the Islamists coming to power and curtailing personal liberties, snuffing out freedoms gained at such great effort and pain. But more Arabs, I hazard to guess, now have the wish to ride. It is a powerful temptation that George W. Bush has brought to their doorstep.

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