The Middle East

April 3, 2003

1) Palestinians Found to Admire Israeli Democracy. 2) Israel: A Democratic State with a Rule of Law, Unique in the Middle East. 3) Why Israel Is a Rich Advanced Country and the Arab Countries Aren't.

The New York Times has carried a fascinating story about the growth of democratic institutions, however imperfect, in the areas of the Palestinian Authority . . . where an elected legislature, elected president (corrupt through and through), and a constitution have been in existence for four years, with the Palestinians themselves responding to the pressures exerted on the PA by the Bush administration, forcing Arafat, among other things, to select a powerful Prime Minister. How is this possible, given the despotism of the PA and throughout the Arab world, with two or three small Gulf states making some progress in some degrees of media freedom and elections that aren't totally manipulated and gerrymandered?

The answer: the Palestinians have learned from the Israelis even as they had been under Israeli occupation and 25% of West Bank men worked inside Israel. In particular,

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 8:13 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

April 13, 2003


JFM left this comment a couple of days ago at the end of the buggy prof's April 6th commentary that dealt with the backwardness --- political, economic, intellectual --- of the 22 Arab countries. In particular, he disageed with some of buggy's historical analysis.

First JFM's Comment:

A few remarks. First the "leadership of the Arab world in 12th century" is largely a myth or more exactly it does not account for the reason. During all ancient history until the Roman empire included, the eastern half of the Mediterranean and the Middle East were more advanced culturally and technically than the West. And while the Western Roman Empire succumbed to the Barbarians, its Eastern half (Byzantius) survived and was spared several centuries of anarchy. This increased the gap between West Europe ad East Mediterranean/Middle East. The Arabs inherited this adavance over the West. While they made some advances of their own, Ibn Warrak tells that a good part of the was made by non=Muslims or first generation Mulisms (educated in a non-Muslim way and who generally had converted to avoid trouble), with most of the reaminder creative work done by Christian and Jewish minorities. After the 12th century that changed. Everywhere in the Muslim-Arab world, fundamentalist know-nothing doctrines held sway, and the technological, medical, financial, and architectural -- and literary --- creativity of the Arabs soon disappeared.

My other remark is about women in Arab world. It is generally acknowledged that the first four years in life are crucial for the intellectuual development of children. During those years they are mostly cared by women and since in Arab world they are kept in ignorance they cannot make a good job of educating their children.

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 12:34 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

April 15, 2003


In part 5, published here on April 13th, three kinds of power in international relations were set out and briefly explained . . . all too briefly: potential power, mobilized power, and activated power. Our ultimate aim here, one part after another, recall, is to clarify the huge lead in power-potential the US has over other states, something the world has never seen before . . . not in the modern era (roughly the 17th century on), nor in the ancient world either. Even Rome, which had a huge sprawling empire from Britain across Europe through the Balkans and on both sides of the Mediterranean and on into the Middle East, was limited in its expansion by two great empires to the east: the Persian, and the Chinese, and by the limits imposed by the technologies of transportation and communications in those days. (See the table below.)

And yet, the key point here, all these comparisons ignore the actual status of the US in the global arena. The US isn't an imperial state as we'll see --- with formal colonies and the ability to determine their domestic politics and foreign policies; it isn't even a hegemon in any robust sense if that means the ability to shape or reshape a global institutional and rule-based international order; in fact, as the recent tussels with France and Russia and Germany in the UN Security Council over Iraq --- a pivotal, even existentially charged security issue of paramount importance for the Bush administration and American people --- it couldn't even prevail upon the governments of two Latin American members of the Security Council, Chile and Mexico, to support its position on a second resolution to authorize war with Iraq. And yet the US is far and away the most important market for Chile's and Mexico's exports and the most important source of investment in those countries.

How is that possible if the US is supposed to be so powerful --- a hyper-hegemon without parallel in the French jargon for describing its global role?

To answer, once again we begin with an effort

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 5:6 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

September 29, 2003

FINAL: The Strange Case and Harmful Influence of Edward Said, the Guru of Politically Correct Cultural Studies

If the title line allowed for a longer description, it would be followed by something like this to flesh it out and more accurately describe what this commentary is about : "The Strange Case and Harmful Influence of Edward Said . . . The Guru of Politically Correct Cultural Studies, with their built-in intellectual animosities --- a mental kink, it seems, of self-loathing and outwardly projected personal identity-crises --- toward Western civilization in all its varieties, including the liberal democratic version that prevails in West Europe and the US."


The intellectual harm wrought by Said, who died last week, wasn't confined to cultural studies alone. He also had a deplorable, long-lasting impact on Middle East studies in this country and more specifically on its failures, fatuities, and dogmas since the late 1970s on --- at any rate, down to 9/11's terrorist attacks, which were totally unpredicted, or even suspected, in Middle East Studies establishment circles . . . busy with their hobbyhorse obsessions.

Four Harmful Results Stand Out

(i) One result of this scholarly abdication and drift into politically correct ideology of a simpleminded sort has been a plethora of systematic apologetics coming out of US universities, including Middle East Studies Centers created and funded by lavish Saudi Wahhabi oil-money, for extremist Islamo-fundamentalism and at times even terrorism . . . all the generous donations, of course, made for no other reason than unqualified love of scholarship. (On Wahhbi extremism and hatreds, see Stephen Schwartz article, Schwartz himself a convert to Suffi Islam. More generally, on the root of Islamist extremism

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 8:9 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

November 2, 2003


This is the last of a four article mini-series on Arab and wider Islamic Jew-Hatred: its nature, its variation across Islam, and the multiple causes of its fairly recent emergence and rapid spread . . . especially in the Arab world. The four articles are closely connected. They form a tightly knitted coherent argument, and to grasp its overall thrust and conclusions, you should read the articles in sequence.

What follows is a number of summing up observations, systematically set out in each sub-section, without any attempt to unfold a new argument. If you want, regard these observations as mainly a series of clarifying points and new sources of evidence for the main themes stressed in the previous three articles.



Taken together, the three previous articles showed . . .

* How anti-Semitism has become rife in the Arab countries and to an extent in the wider Muslim world, part of popular culture in a taken-for-granted way.

* How this vicious Jew-hating racism has to be understood against the background of blocked or retarded modernization and the tenacious resistances to it in especially the Arab world, and for a host of reasons: political despotism, corruption, and nepotism; winner-take-all politics; economic backwardness; dysfunctional education and widespread illiteracy; pervasive crony clientele networks that channel social advancement into mutual back-scratching services and block such advancement for almost everyone else, however qualified; and a shame-honor culture, particularly prone to a sense of rage and humiliation with the weakness and power of Islam in the world --- and more specifically, repeated defeat at the hands of tiny Israel in several wars. Nor is that all. Simultaneously, a population explosion over the last

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 9:7 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

November 1, 2003


This is the third of a three article mini-series on Arab and wider Islamic Jew-Hatred: its nature, its variation across Islam, and the multiple causes of its fairly recent emergence and rapid spread . . . especially in the Arab world. The three articles are closely connected. They form a tightly knitted coherent argument, and to grasp its overall thrust and conclusions, you should read the articles in sequence.

PART I. Enter Vicious and Demented Anti-Semitism at the Islamic Summit Conference, Jubilantly Applauded

Small wonder, against the background of surging anti-Semitism in the Arab countries, and more recently in the wider Islamic world laid out and analyzed in the previous two articles here, that Mahathir Mohamad's wildly conspiratorial yak-yak on display at the Summit Meeting two weeks ago of 57 Islamic Countries in Malaysia--- in which the demagogue spoke menacingly of wicked Jews master-minding the entire world and, if need be, sending out others to fight their battles and die for them --- elicited such a resounding echo of applause and nod-heading from the leaders of those countries. Did Australia, the EU countries, and the US immediately protest? Did there follow condemnations in the Western press? Did President Bush personally rebuke Mahathir a few days later at an APEC meeting in Thailand? No matter. For the defiant truth-telling Mahathir, these criticisms and rebukes only underscored how arrogant and powerful world Jewry happens to be. What otherwise would explain the storm of protests from most of the West, save France as we'll see, simply because he uttered some unassailably true and honest remarks?

That's the hallmark of crackling paranoia, unzipped and laid out bare. Those scapegoated and viciously assaulted as menacing and full of malice protest the lunatic charges. Others, almost all the Western demo

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 6:22 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

November 1, 2003


This is the second of a three article mini-series on Arab and wider Islamic Jew-Hatred: its nature, its variation across Islam, and the multiple causes of its fairly recent emergence and rapid spread . . . especially in the Arab world. The three articles are closely connected. They form a tightly knitted coherent argument, and to grasp its overall thrust and conclusions, you should read the articles in sequence.

PART I: Why The Extremist Message of Radical Islam and Its Conspiratorial Symbolism of Anti-Semitism as the Causes of Arab Misery and Backwardness Have Proved Increasingly Seductive

It's against this background of backwardness, failure to modernize, corrupt despotism, and constant humiliation and related mental dislocations set out and explained in the first article that the fast spread of radical Islam since 1970 in Pakistan, Iran, and the 22 Arab countries --- both as an ideology and in various concrete social movements --- has to be understood. In turn, understand its appeal here and you simultaneously understand the specific scapegoats who are singled out as behind the mountainous troubles and failures in Arab life: Jews, Israel, the US.


The Double-Whammy Behind The Spread of Fundamentalist Extremism

More concretely, the magnetic attraction for the masses and out-of-work university students and graduates with no future of fundamentalist extremism has been propelled in a double manner within Arab countries.

1. There's first and foremost a simpleminded harping on an imaginary, fully purified Islam as a solution to all the troubles that beset the Arab and wider Islamic worlds: economic troubles, political failures, pervasive sin and corruption, and Arab or Islamic weakness on the world scene: a return, in effect, to t

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 6:9 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

October 28, 2003


Part I. Why The Surprise At The Wild Nazi-Like Ramblings of Mahathir Mohamad, At The Recent Islamic Conferences Of 57 Countries?

Those who know little about the brittle flaws and full-blown failures of Arab political and economic life --- the 280 million Arab people living in 21 despotic, backward states, only post-Saddam Iraq the exception, all full of corruption and nepotism and winner-take-all politics and all ruled ultimately by the secret police --- were no doubt surprised at the venom and repeated self-righteous attacks on Jews that appeared in the speech given to the Islamic Conference of 57 countries recently in Malaysia by the demagogic prime minister of that country, Mahathir Mohamad, whose hold on power extends back over two decades now. They shouldn't have been surprised. Though the jolting failures are hardly confined to the 22 Arab countries in the Islamic world --- they are rife among all the remaining Muslim countries save secular Turkey and Malaysia itself --- they're generally worse among the Arab peoples, and so we'll deal with them only.

For some quickly clued-in background, note that there are about 1.2 billion Muslims in the world --- roughly half the number of Christians. About a quarter of the Muslim peoples are Arabs, 280 million. As for Malaysia economic progress, it's largely due to a big Chinese minority population, roughly 25% of the total 24 million Malaysians; another 10% of the population are from India. Malay and other indigenous peoples, 60% or so of the population, are far more poorly educated and far less prominent in the professions or corporate business, despite systematic discrimination practiced by Mahathir's government against the Chinese and Indian minorities. Its per capita income in purchasing power is around $9300. At th

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 6:19 PM CST [continue]

November 22, 2003

A Highly Gifted Journalist on The Preachers of Hate and Anti-Semitism in the Middle East.

Readers of the buggy prof's recent series on the New Anti-Semitism in the Arab Countries and in the Wider Islamic World --- four articles in all, starting in late October 2003 --- might find the following interview highly informative and full of insight. It appeared in the NRO today, and the fellow being interviewed, Kenneth Timmerman, is an American journalist who has been traveling and reporting on the Middle East for two decades now. The author of a widely noted book, Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America, Timmerman is careful to distinguish between the hate-mongers in the Islamic world and those who strive and thirst for change, modernity, democracy, and openness to the rest of the earth.

Note that his analysis of the rampant anti-Semitism in the Arab world --- the preachers of hate winning so far, not least thanks to the collusion with them of the despotic rulers: anxious to divert the frustration and resentments of the masses outward, onto Jewish scapegoats --- is in line with the arguments uncoiled in those earlier buggy articles. Always gratifying for a non-specialist to find that someone with decades of cumulative knowledge and first-hand experience in a region of the world has views that bolster your own, more derivative views . . . and particularly, as in Timmerman's case, when he knows how to make crucial distinctions and find those on the side of progress at work in the Middle East. They may not be winning right now, he rightly notes: but they exist, and their impact will depend on what ensues in Iraq in the next few years.

Right now, as he says, the hate-mongers have the upper hand. Timmerman didn't mention in this interview, it's worth noting, that a Gallup poll administered in 10 Arab countries in early 2002 --- months after the 9/11 attacks --- found that 60% of the Arab respondents denied that Muslims had perpetrated the attacks or even been involved. Equally dispiriting results were f

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 8:30 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

January 23, 2004

A Remarkably Astute and Readable Account of Life in Saudi Arabia: A New Yorker Article

The article in question, Kingdom of Silence, appeared in The New Yorker on January 4th and is now available online at the journalist's own website: Lawrence Wright.

The kingdom? Saudi Arabia, 20 million in number, a country governed by 4000 royals . . . especially an inner mobster-gang now falling out in a frazzle of backbiting ways, a few dozen privileged silk-stocking types at most, to see who will replace the ailing king while killing off the less fortunate rivals. A bomb here, a bomb there: then blame it on the terrorists, who, come to think of it, are active there anyway. So much for buying off the suicidal Ker-boomers with protection moola. To prepare the article, Wright spent several months last year in the kingdom as a journalistic consultant for a Saudi newspaper, itself something unique . . . particularly in what is one of the most secretive, rabidly censored societies in the world, full of pervasive secret-police and paranoid Wahhabi extremists, including the dreaded Vice-and-Virtue-Promoting police-thugs, many of them former criminals, out to flog women and heretics while living on lavish corruption.

Some Introductory Background:

An ultra-fundamentalist offshoot of Sunni mainstream Islam, Wahhabism --- for those of you who know little or nothing about it --- harks back to the 18th century and became the official state-religion when the Saudi state was created arbitrarily by the British after WWI. It is full of hostility to the modern world; treats women essentially as the property of men; is full of Jew-hating propaganda; and persecutes other Islamic sects, especially Shiites. Antagonistic to an open society, to the West, and to democratic conceptions of religious tolerance, secularism, and individual rights, it has been used by the Mafioso-clique running Saudi Arabia --- which has squandered trillions of dollars worth of oil-revenue on their lu

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 9:54 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

February 24, 2004

THE BUSH REVOLUTION: A Firm Commitment to Arab Democracy: #1 of 2 Articles

The title of this mini-series, two articles in all, will no doubt surprise most of you. Many will guffaw; others rub their eyes in disbelief. The US supporting democratic changes in the 22 Arab dictatorships, vigorously and in concrete ways easy to trace even now? Come on, is it possible?

Yes, quite possible; and what's more, it happens to be the current reality. Not that skepticism here is unwarranted. Until recently, American foreign policy in the Middle East --- like that of all the industrial democratic countries --- courted all but the most brutal of Arab dictatorships (the Baathist regimes in Syria and Iraq); was primarily concerned with their stability and friendliness irrespective of their systematic human rights violations; and was equally concerned, at times with edgy intensity, to continue tapping the vast oil resources of the Arab countries in North Africa and the Persian Gulf arena. The motive forces here mixed diplomacy, security concerns, and economics. Democratic reform was never mentioned, whether by a Republican or Democratic administration . . . any more than it was by the EU countries, Japan, or the other English-speaking countries.


Yes, to repeat, changed . . . explicitly and probably once-and-for-all. The previous policy was wrong and proved harmful to US interests, as 9/11's murderous attacks by alienated and fanatical Arab terrorists showed, and no on less than President Bush himself has acknowledged this. In a pathbreaking speech at the National Endowment for Freedom last November, he said clearly, with no reservations, that . . .

"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe --- and in the long run, stability cannot

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 6:20 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

March 5, 2004

Pakistan under Musharraf: One of the Two or Three Most Important Countries for the US

The following article is prompted by a very good survey of Pakistani developments in the period since 9/11 under President Musharraf --- who came to power in a military coup in the late 1990s, just about when Pakistan tested its first nuclear bomb, and who since then has reoriented his country's policies in ways that are generally commendable, especially in foreign policy. The article appeared in today's Los Angeles Times (March 5, 2004).

That the journalist isn't trained in foreign policy analysis or IR theory isn't surprising: hence the need for some contextual background and analytical commentary here. Read it, and by the end you should have a much better appreciation of Pakistan's pivotal importance to the US in the war on terrorism . . . as well as what Musharraf has accomplished in 30 months even if, in domestic politics --- full of ethnic and religious conflicts, with the clash of civilizations graphically being played out between regressive, racist fundamentalist and kill-crazy terrorist forces on one side and modernizers and liberals on the other --- his record has been more checkered. No doubt, to be frank, inevitably so . . . and for reasons set out later.



Something else you should come away with from the article: a much better sense of the inescapable trade-offs in American foreign policy between security, economic, and human rights concerns.

Only ideologues think all good things go together, whether at home of abroad. That's not the way a complex world works. Far from it, there are always trade-offs in pursuing policies to deal with problems or challenges --- some very acute and a sour

Posted by gordongordomr @ 2:1 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

March 29, 2004

Bush Initiative to Promote Democratic Change in the Middle East: #1 of an 8-articles

As buggy visitors might recall, this article made its full-dress appearance for the first time a good month ago . . . part of a new mini-series on the US initiative, adopted explicitly last fall, to promote liberalizing changes of a democratic nature in the Arab world and elsewhere in Muslim countries. Unfortunately, several other themes intruded before the mini-series could progress beyond the initial article: an article on Pakistan and its new, more pro-Western policies under Musharraf; the Madrid bombings, and what they portended for US-EU relations; and a lengthy series on the media and public opinion trends in West Europea nd the US. The series on the radical shift in US policies toward the Middle East now resumes. To refresh your memory, the original article is reprinted here in full again.

Four other articles will complete the series.

The title of this mini-series, four articles in all, will no doubt surprise most of you. Many will guffaw; others rub their eyes in disbelief. The US supporting democratic changes in the 22 Arab dictatorships, vigorously and in concrete ways easy to trace even now? Come on, is it possible?

Yes, quite possible; and what's more, it happens to be the current reality. Not that skepticism here is unwarranted. Until recently, American foreign policy in the Middle East --- like that of all the industrial democratic countries --- courted all but the most brutal of Arab dictatorships (the Baathist regimes in Syria and Iraq); was primarily concerned with their stability and friendliness irrespective of their systematic human rights violations; and was equally concerned, at times with edgy intensity, to continue tapping the vast oil resources of the Arab countries in North Africa and the Persian Gulf arena. The motive forces here mixed diplomacy, security concerns, and economics. Democratic reform was never mentioned, whether by a Republican or Democ

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 4:30 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

March 29, 2004

The Acute Need for the New US Policy in the Arab World: #2 of an 8 article series.

This is the second in a five-article series on the radical shift in US foreign policy toward the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world --- an explicit commitment, vented twice by President Bush in two major speeches last November, then followed by several concrete criticisms of nominally Arab allies like Egypt, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia, to push for liberalization and democratic reforms of the existing Arab dictatorships. The final touches on the policy, after some initial consultation with NATO allies and almost all Arab governments, are being worked out by the State Department. When they are through, the new detailed policy statement is scheduled to be made public at the next G-8 meeting in the state of Georgia early this June.


Good-Bye Dictators

Recall the key points from the first article in the series, all summarized essentially in President Bush's policy declaration last November:

"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe --- and in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty . . . As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish," the President added, "it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export.

"And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo."

The President then went on to criticize, you'll remember, traditional US allies in the region, starting with the dictatorial regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. His criticisms have continued, right through last week, when another traditional US ally in the region, Tunsia, c

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 5:21 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

April 8, 2004


The series on the prospects of democratic change in the Middle East --- promoting which is now an official US policy, outlined in the State of the Union address this January and in other presidential speeches --- resumes its overall argument here. So far, two articles on the topic have been published; their main points are summarized in Part One just below, along with some new substantive comments. A fourth and fifth article will complete the series.

Note that this is final version of the current article, preceded by two earlier and shorter ones.


The Radical Shift in US Policies Toward the Arab States

The first article in this mini-series set out and documented the radical changes in US policy toward the Arab dictators, 22 in all as late as late year, just before the fall of Saddamite Iraq's cruel totalitarian rule. Twenty-two, as it happens, is also the number of Arab states . . . each and every one, before April 2003, autocratic, dependent ultimately on secret-police rule; and each and every one corrupt, nepotistic, and repressive of human and civil rights, with some variation; nothing else. Each and every one, come to that, a failure in economic development too . . . with the total non-oil exports of the 22 Arab states adding up to 300 million people less than that of tiny Finland, whose population is 4 million. Nor is it accidental, amid an eruptive demographic rate, that illiteracy is higher in the Arab countries than anywhere else on the globe, including poorer Tropical Africa. Unemployment among men alone seems to average somewhere between 20-30%. Even in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, the per capita income is now one-third of what it was 20 years ago.

Small wonder, amid these circumstances, that there is widespread admiration for bin Laden and other terrorist leaders . . .

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 4:42 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

April 19, 2004

Reply to a Visitor on the Prospects of Iraq for Democratic Government

 Even as the 5th and last article on the democratic prospects of the Arab Middle East --- specifically, starting with post-Saddamite Iraq --- is close to being in the pipeline, a visitor left us a set of comments that deserve to be replied to. They deal less with Iraq than with the Arab peoples as a whole. When you've finished reading the comments and the buggy reply, you should be able to grasp better a couple of key points in this mini-series on the Middle East's democratic prospects:

1) What the differences are between a solid, effective liberal democracy on one side and, on the other, transitional democracies of a post-authoritarian character, marked mainly by free elections but deficient in many of the key characteristics that underpin liberal democratic practices . . . political, legal, and social.

2) What seems more realistic, and still very significant should it materialize, about Iraq's prospects for emerging as the first clearly electoral democracy with some clear prospects for further democratic development . . . and all that this would likely mean by way of spillovers, deliberate or otherwise, for the 280 million Arabs still living in 21 dictatorial regimes, never mind 70 million Iranians just next door to Iraq.

Don't forget: those spillovers if they occur are part and parcel of the war on terrorism.

That war isn't just military or matters of intelligence and legal punishment, nor of improved homeland security. It is also a clash of ideas and ideals. In particular, some way has to be found to dampen the enthusiasm that now exists on the grass roots level throughout the Arab world for radical Islamist movements and terrorist heroes, seen as champions of Islam under assault.

On this score, democratic development would be the best cure. As the survey evidence cited in the second and fourth articles in this mini-series showed, there's a clear correlation between democratic government and the population's condemni

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 8:15 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

April 14, 2004

DEMOCRATIC PROSPECTS IN IRAQ AND THE MIDDLE EAST (Final Version): #4 of an 8-article series

This, the 4th article in the series, looks directly at the compelling need for the US and its allies to promote democratic and economic changes in the Arab status-quo . . . dominated by 21 dictatorial regimes and failed economies save for the tiny, oil-rich Persian Gulf States, with the despotisms and their winner-take-all politics (not to mention the rampant corruption and nepotism) varying only in the degree of repression and use of brutal force, as well as their foreign policy alignment with or against the US and the West. Clerical-fascist Iran, a country of 70 million where a diehard group of militant Shiite leaders rules in a repressive manner despite the elected president and parliament --- despite, for that matter, a survey carried out in 2002 that showed nearly 90% of the population critical of the clerical regime --- is another major problem country for the US. Two of these states, Iran and Syria, are pursuing WMD programs with vigor. Libya's wacky leader, Khadaffi --- whose pronoucements often remind you of Daffy Duck's in the Loony Tunes cartoons (even the same half-hysterical sputterings) --- has recently renounced his programs and opened up to international inspections.

Meanwhile, both Syria and Iran seem to be supporting a variety of terrorist movements . . . no doubt some inside Iraq itself right now.

Post-Saddamite Iraq, now in transition --- experiencing a turbulent period that has to be expected to persist the closer the June 30th deadline of transferring sovereignty to a care-taking transitional government there, itself to run the first democratic elections next January --- is the pivot here. If a consensual, constitutional government can be created there with growing security and economic prospects, then the spillovers onto the rest of the Middle East will be of great momentum, something Tony Blair agrees as much with as George Bush. As the British Prime Minister noted in an article published earlier this week in London,

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 4:40 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

April 27, 2004

Final Version: DEMOCRATIC PROSPECTS AND THE MIDDLE EAST: #5 of an 9 Article Series

This is the fifth article in the ongoing series, started about three weeks ago --- interrupted now and then by some other buggy commentaries --- about the prospects of democracy in Iraq and the Arab world . . . particularly in the light of the new Bush administration's initiative to push for liberalizing changes in the Arab world. Announced with fanfare last autumn and just about to emerge through the bureaucratic pipeline into a clear doctrine to be presented at the G-8 Summit meeting in June, that new initiative sparked off this series . . . along with buggy comments then and in subsequent articles why democratic changes in the 22 Arab countries and elsewhere in Islam are in the US national interest. Remember here, the war on terrorism is only partly military. It is partly also a matter of intelligence, police work, and improved homeland security.

At bottom, though, it remains an ideological struggle to combat and isolate radical Islamist fundamentalists and their terrorist followers, by above all promoting change in the failed autocratic states: democratic, cultural, and economic. As it happens, the current article is now finished. As it also happens, a sixth and final article will be needed to deepen the analysis of Iraq's democratic prospects and those of other Arab countries.


The Crux Issue

The question just posed is pivotal to all our inquiries in this series on the new Bush initiative to promote liberalizing democratic changes in the Arab world --- some 22 countries, with a total of 300 million people.

As late as April 2003, all were autocratic and relied ultimately for their survival on the secret police. In strict political terms, they differed mainly in the extent to which the use of coercion was at the forefront of political and so

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 6:47 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

April 30, 2004


This is the 6th article in the series on the new shift in US foreign policy toward the Arab despots --- to pressure them in a variety of ways to liberalize and open up to democratic trends, the best way in the long run to combat radical Islamist fundamentalisms and their support for Islamo-fascist terrorism of the Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas sort. President Bush announced the new policy last fall, part of the wider ideological war on terrorism that was a major motive for toppling Saddamite Iraq; and he has subsequently criticized three traditional Arab allies of the US --- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Tunisia --- for their authoritarian practices. As the previous article noted, some of the 22 Arab dictatorships have more encouraging democratic prospects than others --- roughly a handful of them. What follows in the commentary is lots of data singling out those more favorably situated countries, based on a variety of measures.

One More Article To Come

A 7th and an 8th article will deal directly with Iraq's transforming prospects, much of which now hinge perilously on the ability of the US occupying forces to quell the existing terrorism and limited insurrection, either by the direct use of force or --- an encouraging sign in itself --- the use of local Iraqi forces as in Fallujah to take over at least a large share of responsibility for maintaining security. Will those Iraqi forces, led by a former Baathist general, do what the general and the local leaders in Fallujah promised to do: disarm the insurrectionists, isolate and turn over the terrorists, and maintain law and order?

Right now, nobody can say.

What is pretty clear by now --- a point we'll hammer home in the 7th article --- is that there aren't many Iraqis to develop a democratic Iraq: rather, religious and ethnic sects, plus tribal divisions within them: Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite. When we get around to clarifying this point, we'll draw on what we've learned about d

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 7:51 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

May 7, 2004


This, the 7th article in our series on the new Bush initiative to promote democratic changes in the Arab world --- all 22 Arab countries at the start of 2003 despotic and ultimately dependent on the secret police for their survival, but with differing prospects for democratic development --- almost completes the series, focusing mainly on the overall democratic prospects of the 22 Arab countries. It's not new, this focus. At the end of the 6th article --- which ranked the Arab despotisms according to their democratic prospects --- the argument about their political future was left hanging fire. We still want to predict whether those better-situated Arab countries --- five or six, remember, with the most promising prospects --- will evolve into more solid electoral democracies in the near future.


Two-thirds of those promising countries are, it's true, pretty tiny: the small Gulf states and Jordan, the latter about 5 million in population. Even so, two of them --- Morocco and Algeria --- are the third and fourth largest of the 22 Arab countries: Egypt tops the slate with about 75 million people, followed by Sudan's 38 million, with Morocco and Algeria next in line. . . each around 32 million in population. The fate of Iraq --- with 25 million people the fifth largest of the 22 Arab countries --- is still shrouded by lots of uncertainty. For its worth, though --- as the 8th and final article in the series will show --- the buggy professor continues to believe that a transitional government, under UN auspices, will emerge on July 1st this year and prepare the country effectively for its first universal elections next January.

That belief, you might note, is in line with the views just vented in an interview by Bernard Lewis, the greatest scholar of Islam and th

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 7:20 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

May 8, 2004


This is the 8th article in the series on the democratic prospects of the Arab countries, at a time American foreign policy in the Bush era is actively seeking to promote liberalizing reforms in all 22 of them . . . the ultimate aim to try nudging them in a solid democratic direction.

That aim is a central part of the wider war on terrorism, an ideological struggle unfolding everywhere in the Muslim world between modernizers and fundamentalist forces of various sorts. Not all the modernizers are democratic, though most probably are to one degree or another. One thing for sure, scarcely any of the fundamentalist movements are democratic in any meaningful way, the line between so-called moderate and radical Islamists very fuzzy at best . . . save in Turkey, a point we'll return to in a few seconds. As for the masses of Arab populations --- what can we say about them? Where do they stand in this ideological tug-of-war?

Well, in the absence of ongoing systematic survey data in their despotic countries --- a big drawback for scholarly work --- the best we can do is speculate. Most likely, the Arab populations are largely concerned with jobs, income, and law-and-order, plus better social services, and will support any government that helps provide them adequately . . . any whatever its political nature.

Back to Islamist fundamentalists.

With a tiny handful of exceptions --- Turkey the stand-out here --- they and their mass followers and sympathizers actively support Islamist terrorism, including bin Ladenism. That claim isn't speculative. As we'll see in a moment or two, a 2004 Pew Global Attitudes survey provides hard evidence here. Simultaneously, though, the fundamentalist leaders and spokesmen in each of the Arab dictatorships have to be wary of actively promoting any challenge, direct or indirect, to the existing despotic governments themselves. Any such challenge will be ruthlessly quashed by the secret police and other

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 6:51 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

May 14, 2004


Why the split into two articles on Turkey? Well, simply this. As it turned out, the original article on Turkey and its achievements compared to the Arab countries --- especially its secular democracy, its pro-western orientation, its tolerance and immunity to bin Ladenism and radical Islamist appeals, even in the ranks of the moderate fundamentalist political party now in power --- ran on a long, long time . . . maybe, so the buggy prof would like to think, in a kind of gliding, half-graceful manner; but very long all the same, no? No, or rather yes; clearly it did . . . or so it seemed finally to the buggy mind after a flash or two of freewheeling insight when, with effort, the prof's bug-eyed vision tried zipping across its vast length a moment or two ago and nearly got woozy in the process.

Much better then to cleave the argument into two, particularly since there was a natural break in the initial exposition near the mid-point. And since, too, come to think of it, the final few sections had just been expanded with a few added points. Some of these points sharpened the comparative analysis; others tossed in a few more nuggets of back-up evidence.

The outcome? The first article now sets out Turkey's political and cultural differences with the Arab countries, a model that, we hope, might be emulated in time by some of the more promising Arab regimes --- the handful that consists of the small Gulf states, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, and (we further hope) transitional Iraq.


What ensues in this second article is a natural follow-up.

As its initial task, the argument seeks to explain the long decline of the Ottoman empire, at first slow in the making --- the Ottomans an aggressive militarized people still expanding into the heart of Christian Europe as late as the end of the 17th century, only to begin losing the periphery of their empire in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, first in Europe and then in

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 6:7 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]

May 18, 2004

Ottoman and Arab Developmental Failures and Ongoing Problems: Some Comparisons: 3rd of a 3-Article Series

Contrary to what the previous article initially claimed, this mini-series on the Turkish model of development --- its secular constitution, tolerance, and democratic institutions making the Turks resistant to bin Ladenism and other violent Islamist appeals that are widespread in the Arab world and in Pakistan --- hasn't drawn to an end with just two articles, a brief interlude in the wider series on the democratic prospects of the 22 Arab countries. Still fairly brief, that interlude continues with this, a third article dealing with the Turkish model. The chief reason? Simply this: the more the buggy professor went through some buzzing cogitations about that model --- particularly whether it could be emulated by Turkey's Arab neighbors in the Middle East or in North Africa --- the more his adrenaline-pumping brain led him to delve more thoroughly into the historical causes of Ottoman backwardness, economic, technological, and military: above all, compared to its European great power rivals from the late 18th century on.

Our Present Aims

What follows in this third article is an effort to systematically capture and throw light on those causes of Ottoman backwardness, particularly where they have parallels with those that also explain Arab economic and technological backwardness . . . at any rate down toward roughly the middle of the 20th century.

Since then, of course, Turkish democratic development --- with lots of ups and downs --- has become institutionally stable and more liberal, with more manufacturing industry implanted in the country than is the case in any of the Arab countries. Of the non-oil rich Arab countries, remember, only Tunisia with its tiny population of 10 million matches Turkey's living standard, the two countries each having a per capita income in purchasing power parity terms of around $7000. Turkey's achievement, by contrast, stands out if you also remember that it has 70

Posted by Michael Gordon @ 6:38 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]