Wednesday, May 25, 2005


The Arab Spring

Chrenkoff reviews the latest commentary from Fouad Ajami in The Daily Star, We have George W. Bush to thank for the Arab democratic spring.

Ajami opens his commentary with a startling admission from a Kuwaiti merchant:
"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."
For those who would make the facile argument that democracy cannot be imposed from the outside, reality in the Middle East has always belied that prediction, and those who know the Middle East best know this well.

[Start Digression] I came across a reminder today (blogosphere somewhere, my apologies) of a bit of wisdom from The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence, I paraphrase, "better that the Arab do something tolerably than (British, U.S.) do something perfectly." The Great Lawrence himself saw the limits of what the outsider can do, but then, he was the ultimate outsider, wasn't he? And wasn't one of his greatest internal contradictions (among many), that he could see clearly what he could not briong himself to do? His own history starts in support of, but in the end, confounds his assertion.

The Middle East has a long history of imposed solutions, but never before has anyone imposed freedom. And this will end the end suggest a tolerably Iraqi solution, rather than some perfect American construction.[End Digression]

Ajami reports a Syrian view of the tumultuous events that led to the liberation of Lebanon:
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 W. Bush's words in Damascus, I was told: the rulers wondering if Iraq was a crystal ball in which they could glimpse their future.
Is this the devastation to American prestige and credibility abroad I hear so mcuh about from the left side of the aisle? Sounds like the threat was very credible.

Ajami notes something else from his visit:
Unmistakably, there is in the air of the Arab world a new contest about the possibility and the meaning of freedom.
Americans should not underestimate the tremendous significance of these ideas among Arab intelligentsia and society as a whole. Of course there is and will be resistance, but perhaps as futile as trying to turn back the clock or undo the march of progress.

Ajami finds his metaphor in an ancient Arab symbol, the horse:
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.
Chrenkoff concludes:
I couldn't help but to chuckle, recalling the words spoken by Osama bin Laden in December 2001, reflecting his belief about the decline of the West and the rise and the appeal of his style of militancy: "when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse." Well, the "weak" American horse has bucked first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, and now, as Ajami writes, America is presenting the people of the Middle East with "the horse of democracy". People might hate the fact that it's not an Arab thoroughbred but an Arab-American stallion hybrid high on neo-con steroids, but in the end a horse is a horse. You don't look the gift one in the teeth, and who cares what sort of a horse it is as long as it ultimately takes you where you want to go?
And is it so suprising that where they want to go starts with freedom from dictatorship and oppression?

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