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Thursday, 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 . . . the survey evidence here brought out in the previous buggy article.

So far, President Bush's rhetoric and that of other members in the administration in announcing a full-tilt change in US policies toward the dictators have been matched by concrete behavior: above all, clear public criticism of traditional US allies like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Tunisia, never mind brutal police-states like Syria. At the same time, the State Department --- after consultations with NATO allies and some Arab governments --- is putting the finishing touches on an important formal policy statement that is scheduled to be made public this coming June at the G-8 meeting in the state of Georgia.

So far, so good.


Iraq The Key

What remains pivotal in the democratic prospects of the Arab world is Iraq, and the outcome of its current political and economic changes. Will it complete the transformation, under Coalition authority, into a hoped-for consensual government with a free media and relatively honest democratic elections?

If it does, then the spillover effects --- mostly turbulent, washing over the Arab dictatorships in the region, and having little to do per se with US diplomacy --- are likely to be powerful and sustained, lasting for decades. Remember, decades. And mainly benign, at any rate in the long run.

For the time being, or the near future --- say the next decade or two --- little else can be expected to occur in Iraq beyond laying the foundations for a consensual government, with relatively honest elections and, over time, the emergence of a rule of law and a bottom-up form of civil society. That's at best. Anyone expecting Danish or New Zealand or Polish democracy is slated to be disappointed for the first decade, maybe longer. But will it actually materialize, this planned sovereign Iraq --- unified, with a federal constitution, shared power, and relatively honest elections?


Right Now, The Outcome Isn't Clear

In truth, it never has been. But if we crush the insurgents and terrorists now --- decisively --- then Iraq's future will look fairly bright.

At present, the main challenges are to deal effectively with Sunni malcontents (aided by foreign terrorists) and a disaffected Shiite warlord and his militia. No surprise really. As the June 30th deadline approaches --- a formal transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government, itself transitional and obligated to draw up a formal constitution to be submitted to the Iraqi people --- we have to expect even more desperate eruptions from terrorists and other warlord and tribal-clan leaders maneuvering in typical Arab fashion for power like those of Muqtada al-Sadr, the self-anointed demagogic leader of a small faction and heavily armed militia that should never have been allowed to grow.

A showdown is in the offing, and probably with all the armed militias of a radical violent nature . . . starting with Sadr's rag-tag of terrorists and hopped-up wannabe martyrs, at least in their incendiary rhetoric --- a toxic mix, according to an academic adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, "of Islamist and nationalist slogans in a bid to conquer power." A showdown is also unfolding in Fallujah in the Sunni triangle, with determined Marines, along with armor and helicopter support, going in for a climatic battle with Saddamite die-hards and foreign terrorists. About time. These militias should never have been tolerated. They should have been put down with decisive force months ago.



Power Struggles in Iraq: Sunni Insurgents, Foreign Terrorists, Shiite Militias

In not dealing effectively in the past with these militias and their firebrand demagogic leaders --- and especially Sadr's brutal murder of 4 Americans last week in Fallujah --- we looked weak and timid, always a bad thing to do in the Arab world. That world is pervaded by notions of honor, shame, and revenge --- plus a lengthy tradition, 1400 years old, of winner-take-all-politics . . . no power sharing; period. Do you remember the scene in Black Hawk Dawn when an associate henchman of the warlord Addid tells the captured American helicopter pilot,

"In Somalia, killing is negotiating. Without total victory, there can be no peace. There will always be killing. That is how things are done here"?

Well, consider it a moment or two, this little bit of folk-wisdom. Change Somalia to the Arab states --- Somalia itself Muslim but not Arab --- and you'll have a good idea nonetheless of the political beliefs and practices widely understood everywhere in the Arab world.

Fourteen centuries stand behind those beliefs and practices, part of inherited cultural life.

To clarify briefly: over those 1400 years --- above the tribal level anyway --- power hasn't been shared. It's either absolute --- whether Arab, Ottoman imperial, or European colonial, or again Arab after 1918 --- or been fragmented into various competing territorial units below the level of contemporary states: armed tribal-clans, distinct and armed cities under one ruler, and so on. Either way, no traditions of legal opposition ever emerged. In such conditions, all opposition has invariably been conspiratorial: either it's crushed, the usual fate, or it manages now and then to succeed --- but only by means of assassination or a coup. Violence is endemic here. So is conspiracy. And so are efforts to pounce on the slightest sign of weakness.

Most of the time, the strong-arm despot dies peacefully in bed no matter how wretched or brutal his rule: power then passes to a son, but note: the succession for papa's autocratic power has frequently set off a series of bloody palace intrigues between competing sons, only one of whom will emerge victorious. The others will have either submitted, be killed off, or gone into exile. Alternatively, one of the conspiratorial groups manages to bump off the sitting despot --- whether Arab, Mameluke, Ottoman, or European (think of the Algerian revolution) --- and, if need be, defeats his henchmen, seizing power for itself. What happens then? Nothing; anyway, as far as the nature of power and rule go. Only the names of the victors and the new autocrat change. Otherwise, the same winner-take-all politics and spoils persist; corruption, tribal-clan networks, and a wider clientelism of a few privileged elites invariably endure. "In Somalia [and the nearby Arab world], killing is negotiating. Without total victory, there can be no peace. There will always be killing. That is how things are done here."

Until now anyway, with a prospect of rupture in these traditions now unfolding in Iraq.  


The Moral For Us

That moral is simple and straightforward: in the face of violent challenges in the Arab world, the slightest concessions can be taken as a sign of fear, leading to more assaults. [For a very good article on this, see Ralph Peters, a military specialist now in the Middle East.

Fortunately, it's not too late. The violent uprising of these militias --- in Sadr's case, probably no more than a few hundred thugs, foreign terrorists, and some fervent martyr-types --- have to be put down and crushed once and for all. If they are, then the changes under way in Iraq --- a new constitution, a new free media, political parties organizing on the ground, an improved infrastructure, and a transition of sovereignty to a constituent government of some sort this summer --- will work out. If not, well . . .

Sidebar Clarification: Showing the appearance of weakness is what happened to Israel when the Labour Party ruled under Prime Minister Barak in May 2000: preparing for the conclusion of the Oslo Peace Process, the Israeli government hastily withdrew from Southern Lebanon. The results were disastrous.

Hezbollah, which Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage dubbed an even worse threat two years ago than Al Qaeda, immediately claimed a victory. That scent of Israeli weakness then encouraged the Arafat PA to stage the new Palestinian uprising starting four months later in September 2000 . . . all this even as the Israeli Cabinet continued, blithely, to negotiate seriously and eventually sign the US-mediated final Accord, a follow-up to the Camp David Accords, after Camp David, in December 2000 that was remarkably generous. To the dismay of our chief envoy and main mediator, Dennis Ross, though Barak signed the Accord setting up a new Palestinian state --- with 95-97% of the West Bank, all of Gaza, a connecting corridor created from inside Israeli boundaries to both --- plus shared rule over Jerusalem, the dismantling of all Israeli settlements save those next to Jerusalem itself, and $30 billion or more for Palestinian refugees --- Arafat ignored the advice of many of the PA negotiators, rejected the Accord, and never explained its terms to his people

That brings us to a key question:


Is The Yugoslav Example Relevant to Iraq?

In many ways, a split of Iraq, a patched together state by the British after WWI, into four countries --- Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite, with Baghdad a four city-state --- would be much easier to deal with. The prospects of a democratic transformation would be solider too. That was what happened, a definitive and benign split into 5 countries, to the age-old problem of ethnic conflict, hatred, and warfare in Yugoslavia, now apparently resolved --- once and for all. This, mind you, after the same doom-saying types who think Iraq has no chance to be transformed successfully were telling us in the period of the Bosnian and later Kosovo military interventions by the US and its allies that Yugoslavia --- another patched together state after WWI --- could never be pacified and lead to democratic rule. The Ottomans had failed; the Austro-Hungarians had failed; the Communist had failed; so why should the US and its allies succeed?

What hubris to think that!

We'll return to the Yugoslav example and its relevance to Iraq in a few moments. First, however, consider what the second article in this series sought to do.



Essential Reference Points

The second article in this mini-series, published last week, moved on to lay out a theoretical framework for analyzing the democratic prospects of the Arab world. It divided various political systems into democratic and non-democratic, then further subdivided these with examples and clarifying remarks into

  • Solid and effective democracies, with a rule of law and a vigorous civil society. These latter criteria help make sense of what, say, Brazil and Argentina have in common with New Zealand or Germany, but also what distinguishes the latter as higher-quality democracies from lower-quality ones.

In some respects, Chile comes close to dealing effectively with corruption in the ways West European or English-speaking democracies or Israel does, all to Chile's credit; it still lags in fostering as firmly rooted a civil society as these richer, long-established democratic states, despite lots of promising developments under way there. In the EU, Italy and Greece lag North Europe in dealing effectively with corruption. (See Tranparency International's Corruption Index, p. 4 in the PDF file.) France is in between.

Note that the though the US itself can do little to deal with the rampant corruption in almost all of Latin America, the Bush administration has taken a far tougher line the last two years in dealing with Latin American politicians and bureaucrats who have fled their countries and taken refuge here. In particular, the huge financial assets of some of these scoundrels have been seized after a court directive; at the same time the Department of Homeland Security has begun revoking or denying their visas, forcing them out of the country. See The Economist article here.

  • Transitional democracies, a catch-all category --- fairly vague in inescapable ways --- for former authoritarian or totalitarian countries that had rejected such dictatorial rule and were at a minimum electoral democracies.

  • Soft Authoritarian systems, which depend ultimately on the secret-police and the continued suppression of political and civil rights, but have some legitimacy above and beyond the use or threat of force.

  • Hard Authoritarian Systems, which are far more coercive and brutal. Baathist Syria is a clear example. Even more so is the existing Arab military government in the Sudan.

Most Arab states, though, span the two kinds of authoritarian systems: Morocco, Jordan, and the tiny Gulf States clearly more in the soft category, with Egypt and Saudi Arabia mixing both but more hard in the pervasive use of secret police rule. In the hard category, Libya is in transition, possibly, to the soft category; right now, hard to be sure. Tunisia wavers in the balance between the two authoritarian systems. Clerical-fascist Iran spans both systems too.

  • Quasi- or Post-Totalitarian Systems, like those in post-Stalinist Russia or post-Maoist China, where ideology is ritualized, terror moves more into the background, and political conformity is required as in authoritarian systems (no constant mobilization of the masses by the party heads) --- but the CP continues to monopolize all political power and represses human and civil rights. Probably Communist Vietnam now fits this category, opening up to globalization and more privatizing of its economy, with less use of fear and party control over the population.

  • Totalitarian Systems of the Nazi, Fascist, or Stalinist-Maoist Communist sort, which are totally administered systems with no independence of party-state rule for any group or association . . . more so in the Communist than the Fascist systems. They utilize terror and the secret police as a constant, rely on a disciplined mass party for constant surveillance and monitoring, mobilize the citizenry again and again for allegedly heroic ideological causes, and constantly evoke foreign and domestic enemies to justify their mass-murdering, mass-enslavement systems of rule. Baathist-run Iraq under Saddam Hussein is a clear example. So is North Korea today.


The Table Again

It will no doubt help if the table setting out all this info is set out here again:

Untitled Document
Solid Tested Democracy Transitional Democracy Soft Authoritarianism Hard Authoritarianism Quasi- or Post- Totalitarianism Totalitarianism
Old, Established     US, West Europe, Japan , Israel Australia have been democracies for decades. Costa Rica too.   New Democracies, India Spanning the two groups (old or new), given its authoritarian rule in the mid-1970s Chile , Argentina , Brazil , Uruguay , Philippines , South Korea , Taiwan are newer, fairly solid democracies that have had several elections, changes of opposition, and have weathered big economic or security challenges.   Electoral Democracies:     Varying Liberal Constitutional Prospects Russia , East Europe, most of Latin America, Thailand , A tiny group of African states Earlier: Weimar Republic and Japan im the 1920s.  Mexico Many in Latin America and some in Asia , eg. Thailand , may become solid democracies.  Others like Russia are more a question-mark.             Gulf States , Much of SE Asia , African States   Indonesia moves into the transitional column after its forthcoming election this year.                               Syria , Some former USSR republics, Some African states, Sudan , Saudi Arabia   Syria's Baathist regime , though brutal, lacked the total hold over society and the economy that Saddamite Iraq had. And its brutality compared to Saddam's was limited. Secret police pervasive.   Most Arab states probably span the soft-hard authoritarian grouping.               Post-Stalin Russia , Post-Mao China :     Probably Shiite Iran (hard to classify: official Shia ideology and administration of the Sharia, but an elected wing that contests the power and secret police rule of the hard-line Mullahs. Probably it could overlap with soft-authoritarianism) China actually looks more like a mix of Post-Totalitarianism and Soft Authoritarianism: its dilemma is how to maintain a CP power monopoly and become fully modern and advanced.           Maoism, Nazism, Stalinism, Pol Pot, Taliban Afghanistan , Saddamite Iraq                                    
Traits Systems have been tested; and at least two or more times, opposition has taken power peacefully. A rule of law has emerged or is emerging.   Note : There may be higher quality and lower quality democracies here  (eg, Italy with its extensive corruption and clientelism vs. Scandinavia). In Latin America, only Chile does well in limiting corruption. Traits These are systems in transition from authoritarian or quasi-authoritarian regimes. Several dozen countries have emerged into this category the last 25 years or so, not least after the cold war. Some will become solid democracies; others not; yet others will revert to authoritarianism. In many of these countries --- not all, mind you --- there are dominant coalitions, usually a ruling party, that limit the scope of electoral opposition and power-sharing. In many others, power oscillates between competing but fairly corrupt and ineffectual elites, and changes in office-holders don't lead to more effective governmental policies. Traits Though these sys-stems restrict democratic competition for office and restrict or repress basic civic and political liberties, they may enjoy different degrees of legitimacy. Coercion is then limited for the most part. Still, most rule depends on the secret police and various forms of bribing or crushing potential opponents. A rule of law is absent or barely exists. No legal political opposition is recognized in any real sense either. Traits Lacking legitimacy, these systems use a high degree of threat and coercion to maintain power (though efforts may be made, not least in foreign policy, to gain legitimacy: e.g. standing up to America or the West or for true Islam). Civil society is largely barren. Any claims to a rule of law are a cruel joke. Traits Single party dictatorship and an official ideology prevail, but widespread use of terror is limited; and ideology is itself gradually diluted and ritualistic. Little or no social mobilization of the masses for big ideological causes. State-controlled capitalism usually prevails, though as in China today limited free markets can emerge. Traits Single party monopoly, official ideology, constant social mobilization, extensive terror, usually a charismatic leader Totally administered societies, with no free markets or civil society (no autonomous groups, voluntary associations or professional groups or trade unions or free churches permitted) A widespread use of terror and scapegoated internal and external enemies are pervasive.




(i.) Yes, But Not Likely For Political Reasons

In many ways, as we said earlier about Iraq today, a split into four countries --- Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite, with Baghdad a four city-state --- would be much easier to deal with.

Consider the peace brought to Yugoslavia, and more particularly the end of a lengthy line of bloody ethnic wars in the Balkans, by the end of the 1990s. Those ethnic hatreds and violent flare-ups were centuries old. The only peace that prevailed, as with Saddam's brutal dictatorship in Iraq for decades, was under the iron-fist of imperial rule, plus some effective manipulation (as with Saddam's government) of ethnic leaders. The Ottomans and Austro-Hungarians ruled for centuries that way in what would become Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. More to the point, Yugoslavia --- a patched-together state only after WWI --- maintained a precarious internal peace thanks only to a monarchical dictatorship of a militarist sort until the Nazi and Italian Fascist invasions in 1940, then under Communist dictatorship, Marshall Tito's rule, for the next three and a half decades until the cold war ended. Even then, in WWII, horrible mass-murder committed by Nazi-supported Croats and Bosnian Muslims against Serbs was then matched by similar mass-murder toward the end of the war by certain Serbian royalists.

Once Tito died in the late 1980s --- a benign ruler, it's true, compared to Saddam's ruthless cruelty --- the Yugoslav system fell quickly apart. Out of its ruins, with sustained violence, massacres, and ethnic cleansings --- the Milosevic government in Belgrade the main instigator in the ethnic warfare that flared for almost a decade --- has emerged five states, all generally stable with solid democratic prospects: Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Macedonia, and a truncated Yugoslavia, with the prospect of home-rule for tiny Montenegro and Kosovo (where tensions between Albanians and Serbs are kept under wraps by peacekeeping forces). Even Yugoslavia underwent a rapid collapse of the Milosevic electoral dictatorship into a more solid democratic system after its defeat in the Kosovo war during the spring of 1999.


(ii.) The Impressive Political Outcomes in Former Yugoslavia?

The official name of the truncated Yugoslavia is now Serbia and Montenegro, about 11 million in population . . . compared to unified Yugoslavia's 22 million at the start of the 1990s. Montenegro is small, only three hundred thousand or so; and it has considerable powers of home-rule in the remaining federation. A referendum on complete independence for each of the two member federal-states is scheduled for 2006. As for Kosovo in the south of Serbia, it remains until the control of the UN and peace-keeping forces there. The other four states formerly under Belgrade rule are Croatia (4 million); Bosnia (4 million) where peacekeeping forces are still stationed; Macedonia (2 million); and Slovenia (2 million) --- the latter joining both NATO and the EU this year.

Except for Slovenia --- ranked 19th in democratic performance by Freedom House in its World Audit Democracy for 2003, a remarkable status --- the other states are now in the transitional democratic category. Croatia is ranked 48th; Serbia 63, Macedonia 67, and Bosnia . . . well, it's not ranked, not yet considered a full sovereign state. Serbia, of course, still faces problems in Kosovo. A firm rule of law and vigorous civil society need to be cultivated more effectively there, as well as in Bosnia, Macedonia, and Croatia. Still, compared to the outset of the 1990s when Yugoslavia broke up into feuding states with large-scale warfare, civil and international, enveloping all of it at times save tiny Slovenia in the north, the outcomes so far in the once turbulent Balkans, full of ethnic hatred and blood-letting, could be a model for what might happen. Even Bosnia, to widespread surprise, has sustained unity in a loose federation among Muslims, Serbs, and Croats, each group mainly territorially based.


(iii.) An Interlude: Some Clarification in Using Freedom House's World Democracy Audit

The specific ranking in the World Democracy Audit, it should be added, isn't free of ambiguity or challenge. What counts generally is a rough range: 1-15 or so; 15-30; 30-50 etc.

For instance, Chile ranks unusually high in political rights and freedom and in civil rights (1st and 2nd in the world!) --- and also unusually high in restraining corruption for a developing country, 17th. But note. Ranked relatively low in press-freedom (27th), for some strange reason the World Audit ends up placing Chile in overall democratic ranking even lower than its score for press-freedom, 39th . . . none of which makes sense.

Take the US too. The US, which ranks 1st in political rights and civil rights, ends up with an overall rank of 14 behind the UK and Germany In the past, it ranked higher than those two . . . though small Northern European states and the small English-speaking democracies were ranked higher. The explanation for the US demotion? Three things: first and foremost, the corruption scandals in the corporate area that broke out in 2001 and the next year. Fair enough . . . except that tough legislation, plus ongoing legal cases pushed by the Federal government and by state Attorney Generals, have gone a long way toward correcting those auditing abuses behind the corruption. Second: media conglomerates, which it's said threaten the diversity of the news --- something most of us haven't in the least detected. And third the Patriot Act, something surprising considering that almost all the EU countries, Britain included, have passed anti-terrorist legislation more restrictive than the US's.

In particular, back in late September 2001, Jeffrey Rosen --- a constitutional law professor at George Washington University and the legal editor and commentator for the New Republic --- carried out an extensive comparative study of US and West European anti-terrorist legislation. He found that the combined influence of Congress, the Courts, and the media in restricting the original proposals of the Bush administration --- which sought, he said, to emulate European practices. See Rosen's article in the Washington Post

Have things got worse in the 2.5 years since Rosen wrote that analysis? No. In a lengthy interview that appeared last month in the Atlantic Monthly, Rosen insisted that the Patriot Act added mainly some technical refinements to already existing US legislation --- and what's more, that those refinements had actually been proposed two years before 9/11 by the Clinton administration. Only in one area has he been left uneasy by the Act: the government can, under its provisions, search an individual's private records without notifying him. For Rosen, that could be abusive, and he urges that this be the only major part of the Patriot Act that should be revised. Those who want can find Rosen's arguments elaborated in his new book, The Naked Crowd: Reclaiming Security and Freedom in an Anxious Age



Yes and No . . .

To explain, we need to move the argument now directly back to the Yugoslav example and its bearing on the future of Iraq --- not to forget the spillover effects of what happens there onto the wider Arab world. It's a challenging undertaking. The argument will entail a fair number of complexities; lots of ramifying points will need to be tidied up and related. And so? And so, assuming that your patience is possibly frazzled already, the buggy prof --- decked out in an imaginary Hollywood director's outfit: boots, baggy pants, megaphone, plus of course a nifty John-Ford cap --- has decided to yell "cut" and shoot the remaining scenes in this mini-series tomorrow in a separate and climatic episode.