Monday, December 17, 2007


Marc Ruel Gerecht, in an AEI short publication entitled Why the Worst Is Probably Over in Iraq, argues that:

Iraq may finally be beyond demolition, and if it is, then the odds are pretty good that Bush will finish his presidency with a viable democratic government in Mesopotamia that has the support of an overwhelming number of Iraqis. Iraqi democracy may come too late for many American liberals and conservatives who think either representative government cannot happen on Middle Eastern Muslim soil or, if it does happen in Iraq, it will not be sufficiently liberal to have been worth the effort.

Iraq's democratic government certainly is not what the Bush administration or many of its supporters expected in 2003, but the Middle East's first fully Muslim experiment in representative government could well prove more durable precisely because it is not at all what the Bush administration expected. It has been a violent birth whose survival depends upon the backing of the country's working-class, staunchly religious Shiites, who have been the principal targets of al Qaeda's suicide bombers.

A Shiite-based democracy. Gerecht was one of the few analysts who argued that Americans might have less to fear from an Iraqi Shi'ite-based democracy than did Teheran -- and the other strongmen in the Middle East. Although he does not repeat the same point in the AEI article, it's worthwhile to recall what Gerecht said at the time of Iraq's January 30, 2005 elections in the Weekly Standard.

All right. Let us make an analytical bet of high probability and enormous returns: The January 30 elections in Iraq will easily be the most consequential event in modern Arab history since Israel's six-day defeat of Gamal Abdel Nasser's alliance in 1967. ... The January 30 elections will do for the people of Iraq, and after them, in all likelihood, the rest of the Arab world, what the end of the European imperial period did not: show the way to sovereignty without tyranny.

Gerecht saw unfolding events in Iraq not only as taking a wrecker-ball to the dictatorships of the region, but also to many of American "allies", who were often one and the same. "But our Muslim 'allies' in the Middle East are much less likely to get over it. They saw on television what their subjects saw: The American toppling of Saddam Hussein has allowed the common man to become the agent of change." In other words, the price of victory in Iraq is the end of the system of client-patron relations between outside powers and a local dictator. Time alone will tell whether Gerecht will be be right. In his recent AEI article he describes the differences between the old and the new centers of Shi'a power in the Middle East:

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the revolutionary mullahs were able to humble and meld with the traditional clergy, which had originally been skeptical about Ruhollah Khomeini and his revolution. The clergy became both the most effective force for revolutionary change and the most effective brake against long-term revolutionary excess. (Iran's revolution, although terrifying, was far less bloody than either the French or Russian revolutions.) In Iraq, the Shiite clergy, a more conservative institution than its Iranian counterpart, has thrown itself solidly behind the democratic experiment, and it has worked hard to ensure that the Shiite community does not collapse into self-destructive internecine conflict. And unless the Sunnis do something extremely stupid--like declare war on the Shia--it now seems unlikely that this consensus could be broken by any armed Shiite force. (If the Shia are forced to begin the conquest of western Iraq, then one could imagine a Shiite general arising who would not owe his political strength to the Shiite center backed by the hawza.) Although this progress might be reversed if the Americans again repeat the mistakes of premature "Iraqification" and rapidly drew down their forces, the surge has likely made lasting success the more probable scenario. It is by no means clear that the Bush administration understands the dynamic working here--it is the collapse of Sunni hubris, not the triumph of Sunni-Shiite "reconciliation," that is the key to long-term success. But it appears now that Iraqis grasp this reality, and, in the end, that is what matters.

Those differences might be a mainspring that will drive the clock of Middle Eastern history forward. In the past I often mused that America went into Iraq looking for the key to Iran. In retrospect, I doubt the policymakers were that deliberate; but in any event they may have -- in pursuing the most ancient impulse of the Republic to bring freedom to the enslaved -- have accidentally slid aside a panel that has opened an avenue to so much more.


Blogger Whiskey said...

Wretchard -- Iraq is unlikely to have any significant transformative effect.

Iraq like, if we are honest, ALL Muslim regimes will remain mired in the muck of tribalism and stasis. There will be no scientific, technical, cultural, economic, or any other advances. Merely luck in extracting oil (by others) until it is all gone. Then Iraq will resemble Mali, or say Indonesia. Certainly "stable" and with less violence and political oppression than Saddam or Ahmadinejad's regimes. But in no way a modern state where people live independent and decent lives.

The key to Muslim failure, all across any measurable part of society, is the subjugation of women by aggressive but tribally cooperative men. Where the few Big Men cooperate enough to have all/most of the women. And the rest of the men are left to sit out in the bush/desert until they conquer the old lions.

Muslims have kept this pattern alive for 1500 years and it is unlikely to change ... unless or until most of the men are wiped out.

Nearly all the developmental flaws of Muslim societies can be traced back to the "hoarding" of women by the few Big Men and the stable but stasis-oriented society it produces.

12/17/2007 04:14:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Two thoughts:
1. The “normal” – or perhaps it should be called “conventional” - view of an insurgency is that they try to force the government to crack down on the populace in such a manner so to cause the majority of the population to reject the government and accept a new one. But in the case of Islamic insurgencies, it is the insurgents who are trying to “crack down” on the general populace. To some extent, the roles are reversed.

2. The root of the Shia/Sunni rift is that the Shia believe that the religious leader should be a descendant of Mohammed and the Sunni believe that the leader can be “selected by the people.” In Iraq we have a Shia majority that have elected a leader with the aid of Sunnis. From the purely religious standpoint this would seem to be significant if only that the Shia have agreed in concept with the idea of a popular election and the Sunni have agreed that such a leader can be a Shia. Whether this will translate into new viewpoints in regards to the source of the original rift is unknown – but the religious implications could prove to be more important than the political ones. You could envision a new Iraq-based Sunni/Shia political/religious movement roiling the rest of the Islamic world.

12/17/2007 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger Brian H said...

Per your thesis, monogamy is the key to civilization beyond the medieval tribal level. Many questions arise; like, how did it ever arise in the first place? After all, polygamy is better for the women, too, since they get to live well in wealthy harems, and are "bothered" less often. The reason for monogamy is not religious; the Bible is replete with multiple-wived patriarchs and heroes. Maybe it's the reverse: progress permits monogamy because more men can afford marriage.

Also, one wonders whether education and de-hijabification sabotage polygamy; I don't recall any instances of them being compatible.

Iraq has long had a conflict, gradually being resolved in favor of the former, between city and rural cultures. The rejuvination of the "sheikh" culture is likely to be just a temporary deflection of this pattern; but it depends, as you indicate, on Iraq becoming more than another oil-profit distribution economy. It is noteworthy that the per capita GDP of oil consumer nations exceeds producers almost everywhere. If Iraq can combine them, it may escape the curse of the Devil's Excrement.

12/17/2007 06:11:00 PM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

BrianFH --

Monogamy was the product of the Catholic Church and a relative surplus of women relative to men due to climate and warfare patterns. With as you point out, relative bounty for even peasant men. I.E. even a tenant farmer could afford marriage.

With relatively more women than men, there was no incentive to "hoard" but rather cooperate within Catholic doctrine in monogamy. A reproductive strategy that gives local optimums.

Only NE Asia seems to have adopted that pattern of monogamy and therefore resource mobilization at the lower end rather than say, Ghengis Khan's strategy (about 8% of all Mongolian-ruled area men are descended from Khan).

12/17/2007 08:42:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster said...

whiskey_199: Iraq like, if we are honest, ALL Muslim regimes will remain mired in the muck of tribalism and stasis. There will be no scientific, technical, cultural, economic, or any other advances. Merely luck in extracting oil (by others) until it is all gone.

End of story. Modern Muslim culture—like that of colonial Spain's—is a looting mentality that cannot innovate or industrialize. In testimony to this is the fact that the industrial output of all Islamic nations combined is around $5 Billion. That is the equivalent of Finland's Nokia electronics company alone. Were it not for oil reserves, the entire MME (Muslim Middle East) would still be a barren wasteland populated by illiterate nomads.

That Iraq elected to retain shari'a law is a firm indicator of how they have no intention of joining the modern world. Far better would be to wipe the slate clean, depose their sitting government, install a military dictatorship and rule Iraq with an iron fist until it is dragged—kicking screaming—into the 21st century. Otherwise, all we can look forward to is—absent American military presence—Iraq reverting to another Islamic terrorist manufactory.

brianfh: After all, polygamy is better for the women, too, since they get to live well in wealthy harems, and are "bothered" less often.

Pure horseradish. Women in a harem are far less likely to see their children succeed and inherit any substantial wealth as it is diluted by an increased number of legatees or thwarted by primogeniture tradition.

Let's try to ignore how women who are treated as chattel do not enjoy the emotional satisfaction of a partner's undivided devotion. Nor does any member of a harem have much in the way of self-determination.

Harems might be just fine for ornamental and unambitious sperm receptacles but any woman worth her salt—much less desirable to any decent man—wouldn't put up with being a harem broodmare for a New York Minute.

12/17/2007 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger Tamquam Leo Rugiens said...

Monogamy the result of the rules of the Catholic Church? What a howler! I guess Jewish monogamy was just a kind of prophetic anticipation of what the Catholics would be doing centuries hence. Temporal discontinuities, they'll trip you up every time.

12/17/2007 11:13:00 PM  
Blogger LarryD said...

Yes, time to reread the Old Testament. Polygamy was permitted, but Monogamy was the ideal.

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
Genesis 2:24

12/18/2007 06:45:00 AM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

Tamquan: Jews were not monogamous until quite recently. In the tenth century Rabbi Gershom b' Judah, "the Light of the Exile" decreed that European Jews must be monogamous for 1000 years. The decree seems to have expired, but the expiration has had little effect. The vast majority of Jews live in countries that have banned polygamy, including Israel.

Rabbi Gershom's ban did not affect Jews in Islamic Countries who continued to engage in polygamy until more recently, as they emigrated to countries where it was forbidden.

12/18/2007 05:20:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

"In the past I often mused that America went into Iraq looking for the key to Iran."

I think the underlying, but unspoken, reason for picking Iraq as the second target after 9/11, is that it occupies the center of the board between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria.

That triangle is the source of most terrorism in the ME.

Iraq also has significant oil resources that would mitigate the economic disaster waiting to happen if Arabia or Iran is engulfed in revolutionary violence.

12/18/2007 05:29:00 PM  

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