Thursday, December 16, 2004

On Arab Reform: Nothing for the Palestinians!

Responding to Thomas Friedman's article Nicolson04 at The Diplomad asks How do you press Arab governments for reform, short of invasion?

Stop. There are several assumptions and limitations built into this question that need to be addressed:

1) Why is it Arab governments that need to be addressed? 9-11 was not sponsored by any Arab government. It is therefore illogical to assume that changes in government are sufficient to prevent more mass-terror attacks (though such changes may be necessary).

2) Why not mention the threat of invasion when pressing Arab governments to reform? Most of them are artificial entities created by the collapse of the Ottomans and the rivalry between European powers at the end of World War I -- and they know this. Why rule out such fears?

3) Why should diplomacy limit oneself to only dealing with governments? Is it not Arab society that the West wishes to change?

4) The remaining items in Nicolson04's list all deal with government-to-government activity. Do we not wish to engage Arab citizenry as well? And not just the jihadis who attack us, either.

A further question: Not long ago, Western governments used to consist of absolute monarchies or robber-baron statelets -- what changed this? Lots of things, yes, but they almost all relate to political rearrangements created by the friction between the rulers and the ruled. Foreign invasions helped create or re-create democratic régimes, but the ideas had to be there first: Napoleon realized his "democratic" revolution could not succeed in Russia when the peasants asked who would feed them now that the nobility was gone.

My point: Representative Democracy was the fruit of the Enlightenment and economic development (rising bourgeoisie, organized proletariat) of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And it mostly happened because the rulers needed money, and Democracy was the way to get it.

Ancient Greece and Rome had their philosophers but labor was cheap. Successful looting of surrounding countries temporarily relieved ancient citizens of tax burdens and the dole permanently relieved the proletariat of a sense of responsibility. Democracy did not succeed in societies when this stage was reached.

Nor does Democracy succeed today in countries where an unelected minority succeeds in gaining control over windfall revenue - like oil. In those countries, hardly any of the citizens pay taxes.

Parliamentary supremacy was achieved in England because the Parliament had the final say over financing armies. The Thirteen Colonies gained their independence over the issue of tax collections to pay off debts from a previous war. Bourbon France collapsed because its debts forced the King to ask the people for more taxes...

I put it to you that these old régimes were not replaced by simply swapping absolute rulers because the ideas of democracy had greater legitimacy among the people, for everyone knew they had to pay taxes whatever else happened, and democracy was seen as the best way for the rulers or ruled to direct this.

I paint history with a broad brush, but why should the Democratization in the Arab World not include this process? So:

1) Cut off all economic aid to truly undemocratic regimes, entities, and organizations. None for Egypt. Nothing for the UNHCR. Nothing for the Palestinians. If it hasn't worked in fifty years, why should it work now? (Poverty does not cause terrorism, though lack of jobs makes it cheaper to fuel and fund terrorists.) No debt relief.

2) Encourage the organization of the proletariat, dissidents, and the middle classes, all protected by the rule of law. Easier said than done, of course, but consider the role the Helsinki Accords played in ripping down the Iron Curtain. No big economic aid to make their growth easier, though micro-loans may be deemed useful: people may then realize that it's their government, not the West or their own lack of skills, that holds them back from further economic gains.

3) Diplomats have to prove themselves braver than the Arab street by walking it themselves and engaging the masses. I'm not kidding. The West has a lot on its side if it would only advertise -- in person, not the media. Next time an anti-Western interlocutor starts talking about oppression and double standards, why not start talking about Locke and Montesquieu? To him, not just to the TV camera. Throw them on the defensive; they have a lot to be defensive about.

And yes, we will lose some diplomats to angry mobs, terrorists, and individuals protecting their "pride" and "honor." Holing up isn't much safer. Did your colleagues who were bombed in their embassies die for nothing? Did you care about them? (I suggest marrying, having kids, and good life insurance for those trying this policy.)

4) Openly question the legitimacy of current governments and question what one should put faith in a political ideology most strongly advocated by those with despicable qualities. Why should anyone have anything to do with such people? Are you serving the cause such despicables espouse, or are you just serving them? Remember the captured video of Bin Laden eating dinner and laughing at his fools who crashed the airplanes? Force your interlocutors on the defensive, in public, and as noisily as possible.

All these three things assume that pro-democracy diplomats give up an important habit: (5) Stop trying to be liked, regardless of your interlocutor. It is a great weakness, always wanting to be liked, and not caring just who you are liking, and who likes you. Give it up, and you rob oppressive régimes of a weapon they can use against you. (Don't give up good manners, but assertive qualities are essential.)

I suggest that to combat the creation of an "ugly American" image, use strange weapons: (6) truth and humility. Point out that the West doesn't know everything, and quote Churchill: "Democracy is the worst form of government, save for all the rest." Point out that the terrorists could strike and damage America again. Point out that America may not be able to succeed alone. And point out that the world economy and polity would probably collapse if another mass attack succeeded, and be sure to identify how your interlocutor would be personally affected. Finally, tell your interlocutor the qualities you value in him and ask (beg) for help.

In this fashion, perhaps one can break through the angry wall and successfully engage the personal warmth, curiousity, and even the sympathy of one's interlocutor.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Snowblower Diplomacy

Solomon, Solomon, there's hope for peace in the middle east after all!

Because Arafat is now dead and buried?

No, not that. I just went to Sears to buy a snowblower --

What can THAT possibly have to do with mideast peace? Did you think you could use it to move sand off a diplomat's front porch?

Shut up and listen to me! I had just signed the contract and was examining my purchase when another shopper, totally unknown to me, walked over and said, "You don't want to buy that snowblower; it's garbage! Look at those handles, and the plastic blades! I got one for free from one of my customers and it wasn't worth the price! I'm telling you, as a Palestinian to a Jew, don't buy that machine! For thirteen dollars more you can buy a much better one at Home Depot!"


Yes! I checked out everything he said was wrong with the machine, and, sure enough, he was right! What he was trying to tell me, I think, was that no matter how much he hated me as a Jew, he hated that Sears Craftsman snowblower even more!

Yes, but he couldn't quite put it into those words now, could he? What happened next?

I did just what he said: I cancelled my purchase and went to Home Depot to buy the snowblower he suggested --- a much more sturdy model.

You blew it. You should have bought the first machine after all.

Why would I do that? Out of spite for the man?

Not at all. So you could discover just how bad a Sears Craftsman snowblower has to be to make a Palestinian hate a mere machine more than he hates a Jew.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

I encourage everyone to read Michele Castano's excellent post-election commentary at A Small Victory [excerpt]:

I voted for George Bush.
I am not a redneck.
I do not spend my days watching cars race around a track, drinking cheap beer and slapping my woman on the ass.
I am not a bible thumper. In fact, I am an atheist.
I am not a homophobe.I am educated beyond the fifth grade. In fact, I am college educated.
I am not stupid. Not by any stretch of facts.
I do not bomb abortion clinics.

You will not be thrown in jail for the sole reason of being a liberal.
Your child's public school will not suddenly turn into a center for Christian brainwashing.
Your favorite bookstore will not turn into puritan central.
This is not Nazi Germany in any way...

Sunday, June 13, 2004


When civil dudgeon first grew high,
And men fell out, they knew not why;
When hard words, jealousies, and fears
Set folks together by the ears,
And made them fight, like mad or drunk,
For Dame Religion as for punk;…
When Gospel-trumpeter, surrounded
With long-eared rout, to battle sounded,
And pulpit, drum ecclesiastic,
Was beat with fist instead of stick:
Then did Sir Knight abandon dwelling,
And out he rode a-colonelling….
For ‘t has been held by many that
As Montaigne, playing with his cat,
Complains she thought him but an ass,
Much more she would Sir Hudirbras…
We grant, although he had much wit,
H’was very shy of using it,
As being loath to wear it out,
And therefore bore it not about
Unless on holidays or so,
As men their best apparel do….

For his religion, it was fit
To match his learning and his wit;
Twas Presbyterian true blue,
For he was of that stubborn crew
Of errant saints, whom all men grant
To be the true Church Militant:
Such as do build their faith upon
The holy text of pike and gun,
Decide all controversies by
Infallible artillery,
And prove their doctrine orthodox
By Apostolic blows and knocks;
A sect whose chief devotion lies
In odd perverse antipathies;…
That with more care keep holiday
The wrong than others the right way;
Compound for sins they are inclined to
By damning those they have no mind to...

[Hudibras verses 3-9, author Samuel Butler, 1678]]

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

President Ronald Reagan's Last Trip to the Capitol

- You know, we had a scare on Capitol Hill earlier today.

So I heard! What happened?

- All of a sudden the police told us to evacuate -- they pointed the way and said just keep running! And we did, though everyone was eerily calm, like we were expecting it. Then, when the all-clear sounded, people nearly panicked as they ran back -- nobody wanted to lose their place on the sidewalk or in viewing line! By then I was very thirsty, so I left; the weather is terribly hot and humid

Really? On the radio they said a plane had nipped into the restricted airspace. Since we didn't hear anything about the pilot being arrested, everyone figures it must have been some dignitary with diplomatic immunity.

- I hope he chokes! Probably just wanted to get a kick out of seeing us panic.

You are unforgiving and self-centered. Not like you at all.

- I'm the one who had to do the running! It meant I had to watch Reagan's procession on television today, with Dan Rather giving the commentary. He war rattling off funerals of presidents left and right! I never thought that he knew so much history.

Maybe he's paying more attention to his research assistants. He has one or two new ones.

- How do you know that?

One of them got "anthraxed" after opening a letter post-9/11. It was in the news. I think she died, taking the hit meant for him.

- Whoa! Did that turn Rather into a Republican? You know, originally only CBS was going to carry the full, uninterrupted, procession from four to eight pm. The other networks planned to stick pretty much to their normal programming. They changed their minds fast as the number of viewers dropped close to zero, so they joined the bandwagon. Do we have Dan to thank for that?

I don't know. I gave up on most network TV news long ago, when I started attending the same events they did and saw how bad a job they did. Their reporters were so proud, judgmental, and self-centered that they couldn't believe their own judgment might ever be at fault -- and Fox had better-quality pics anyway.

- I heard the planes from the flyover, too! That was cool!

It was more than that. I saw from the TV which way some of the planes were heading after they turned near the Washington Monument. My house is just about due north of there so I went to the windows; less than a minute later seven fighter jets come roaring over my house. They were fully equipped - missiles plus external fuel tanks. I never saw that on military flyovers before; the jets are usually stripped for that sleek, elegant look.

- So they're still worried about airliners.

Yes. Those jets had the range and armament to shoot down anything in the skies from Boston to Key Biscayne.

- Four years ago, the liberals would have had conniptions at the sight of "armed" military jets flying over a parade. Now, nobody even thinks of objecting. We're a different people now, aren't we?

Tuesday, June 08, 2004


Bush got everything he wanted from the U.N. -- even the strings he wanted attached:

"The compromise gives Iraqi leaders control over the activities of their own fledgling security forces and a say on "sensitive offensive operations" by the U.S.-led multinational force — such as the controversial siege of Fallujah. But the measure stops short of granting the Iraqis a veto over major U.S.-led military operations as France and Germany wanted."

In other words, Iraqis are obliged to be responsible for LOCAL security matters, but not regional issues. If law-and-order continues to deteriorate, it isn't the fault of the coalition. Conversely, if the security situation improves, Iraqis need not feel bitter towards the coalition for "repressing" them, but can take pride in their ability to govern themselves. At this stage, what could be better?

"U.N. Endorses Iraq Sovereignty Transfer"

- If western reporters and their news organizations could take a more fair and balanced approach. That could only be positive.

Won't happen anytime soon. They're too scared.

- Scared of what?

Monday, June 07, 2004

Thought of the moment:

A single picture can create thousands of worthless words, and thousands of worthless words can create a single picture.

This is usually the sort of lying sort of propaganda that fuels hatred in too many parts of the world.

Sometimes, however, a thousand words will evoke such wonder as to inspire a greater understanding, a truer picture of the world. Sometimes, a single picture will alter how we perceive the facts in our awareness.

That is literature, the sort that portrays truth. I think I know the difference between them from the emotions each is meant to produce within me. Am I wrong?

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Why is the U.S. in Iraq?

As part of the War on Terror.

How does that help?

Our military can battle them there rather than have them blow up our citizenry at home.

Why would the terrorists do that? Wouldn't they just attack elsewhere if the U.S. invaded in force and took over the country?

Not if we kept our occupation force to a bare minimum and made our goal the construction of an Arab Muslim democracy.

Why would the terrorists battle the creation of an Arab Muslim democracy?

The terrorists fear democracy, for it is politically enables far more people than terrorism does, thus it is more attractive to the population as a whole, and the desire for terror would be vastly reduced. It's called "draining the swamp." The terrorists must battle us to stop the democratic ideal from being realized.

How does keeping our occupying forces to a bare minimum help?

Aside from suicide attacks, terrorists are not especially brave. If our forces appeared too strong, they would flee Iraq and attack elsewhere -- the Zarqawi letter of February 2004 confirms this. Our very weakness on the ground in Iraq is what will tempt the terrorists to attack us. Then we can destroy them in an attrition war very much to our advantage -- as long as we have the willpower to sustain it.

Why Iraq and not concentrate on Afghanistan? Or even the West Bank?

Afghanistan is too remote. Iraq is a nearly landlocked country, surrounded by other Arab dictatorships. In Jenin, Palestinian terrorists fled to the hills at the first appearance of superior troops and relied on booby traps to attrit the Israeli army. (The fake massacre story was to cover the fact that the terrorists fled and left their undefended - and unharmed - women and children behind.) These terrorists are thus hard to catch, have a home-ground advantage, and a totally sympathetic media not expected to be present in Iraq. Most of the Iraqi populace welcomes the absence of Saddam's heavy hand and looks forward to the prospect of becoming a Westernized democracy.

The deal for Iraqis, then, is that they have a chance -- only a chance -- to become a democracy, in exchange for us using their country as a shooting gallery?


Why would the Iraqis accept this?

I think they would only accept this if they are determined not to have any more Saddams. But if they don't accept this, we'll just kill as many terrorists as we can for a while, and then move on, elsewhere. The Iraqis will have had their chance.

When does this War on Terror end?

When it's over.

What do you mean, "The Iraqis will have had their chance"? The U.S. and its allies governed postwar Germany and Japan for years before we released the reigns.

We won't just lecture about democracy to Iraqis and assume responsibility for five or ten years; they are not the enemy, and we want to maintain momentum in the fight against terrorism. Iraqis must be self-motivated. We can visit them and talk to them, ask them questions about their thoughts, inform them of the transitional arrangements, but we can't really tell them why Western democracy succeeds unless they ask.

And if Iraqis did ask, what would you reply?

I would say that the creation of Western democracy has spanned nearly five hundred years, beginning with the horrible strife of the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which bloodied or impoverished all Western Europe and fractured Germany. England mostly ended its religious war early on by permitting private Catholic worship and The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 permitted each kingdom, big or small, to impose their own version of the Christian religion by force. France massacred or expelled the Huguenots and the Holy Roman Empire instituted "faith according to the prince." Louis XIV's wars of conquest afterward were essentially secular. Then shattered Europe was occupied with rebuilding and security and put off religious strife for the future. Gradually or suddenly, toleration of non-dominant religions became the norm. The establishment of the English colony of Pennsylvania and Frederick the Great's reign in Prussia elevated religious toleration to a high principle: Any religion was permissible without favor, as long as public peace was maintained; armed religious strife would not be tolerated and would be suppressed by the state. Religious strife was therefore limited to speech and print; freedom of the press was thus a necessary part of this process.

That doesn't quite explain the success of Western democracy, especially the United States.

England's Glorious Revolution entrenched a corrupt upper-class parliamentary supremacy that feared a resumption of the religious wars. England's Colonies served as a captive market and a kind of safety valve for England's religious dissenters, impoverished souls, prisoners, delinquents, and politically oppressed. The King was a very distant dictator whose authority was loosely administered through governors whose power the king checked with local assemblies. Every colonist now lived on a comparatively empty continent with the freedom to pursue his own happiness as best he saw fit, with almost no government regulation. The American Revolution essentially consisted of the Colonies reasserting powers the King had tried to take away from them, and delegating the minimum amount of remaining authority to a limited federal government. The success of American democracy has inspired and challenged other nations ever since.


Rulers of many other nations see the United States as a challenge because it attracts their own populace. Why should a subject or citizen remain in Jiddah or Marseille or Sverdlovsk or Xi'an rather than chuck it all for the United States? Such a drain -- usually, the most productive part of the populace -- diminishes the power of the entire nation. Either rulers must offer the populace a better deal, or sharpen nationalism, or throw in their lot with America, or do something to make staying in the country more attractive than leaving it – or they risk a revolution that will remove them from power.

Won't this just increase Iraqis' feelings of Arab inferiority? You haven't mentioned Islam or the Arabs even once!

(Sigh.) We should try to make clear that Americans were very lucky: George III had all the authority of a Sunday school teacher compared to Saddam! And we had help from a France eager to diminish British power, yet too weak to impose its will upon us. Americans could never have thrown off the yoke of any King otherwise, and would never have attempted it had they remained in their home country. We Americans should realize and even acknowledge that, in this sense, our forefathers were not brave men. Consequently, Iraqis have little to be ashamed or guilty of for having been oppressed for so many generations.

You mean for having been subjects. Shame and guilt are instruments of oppression as well as religion. Frank Herbert wrote in one of his novels, "dictators create good, obedient subjects by making them feel guilty [and worthless]. The shame of failure [or even the desire to hide it] creates this guilt. Consequently, the effective oppressor creates many chances for failure in the populace."

Yes! For Arabs, these feelings are complicated by centuries of suppressed pride, suddenly released by lifting of the Ottoman yoke in the twentieth century.

What are you getting at?

Establishing - or re-establishing - a democracy is hard work. It was the right thing to do during the Cold War, when we had to provide an alternative in Europe to Soviet Russia. We should be more modest and humble here...

What??? Why? (And you yourself are anything but modest and humble!)

(Just because I'm less ignorant than some doesn't mean I know enough not to be modest and humble! Quite the reverse.) This is a War on Terror, a war on the idea of terror as a worthy pursuit, not a war against States. And unlike the Axis states, the Arab world seems to be more a collection of tribes and family groups presided by a local dictator than a "real" nation. We lack key local knowledge and even linguistic skills. So we must rely, to some extent, upon Arab states as allies. They won't cooperate unless we accommodate some of their demands as well.

I hadn't heard of this.

You have, but probably forgot. Don't you remember, our Jewish soldiers had to hide their faith in Saudi Arabia? That the President couldn't even have a Thanksgiving dinner and prayer with the troops on Saudi soil?

Oh. Yes.

It goes beyond that. The cooperation extends even to the investigative level in the U.S. For example, not just Israelis, but no native Arabic-speaking Jewish or Christian Americans have been recruited as FBI translators for the War on Terror. That is another price we must pay.

That's just a rumor -- though one that hasn't yet been refuted, I admit. But what does that have to do with allied Arab states?

They are all dictatorships to one extent or another. Some are more favorably inclined to democracy than others, but all of these value Arab "pride" most. Don't you remember, during the Iran-Iraq war, how Arab students always used to tell us, "We are glad we don't live under Saddam, but we are glad the Arabs have such a "strong man" as our champion?"

I remember. What does "Arab pride" have to do with matters right now?

Our Arab allies tell us - and some of our own analysts agree - that most Iraqis will eventually reject a democracy "imposed" on them; they must generate their democracy themselves...

Didn't we hear the same thing before we invaded Iraq?

You did, but with Saddam in power, Iraqis had no chance...

You mean the Iraqis will have to fight for democracy? Violently? In the streets?

I'm sure it will come to that, but in an organized way. Otherwise, we would not be buying weapons off the streets of Baghdad.

And you think you'll earn Iraqis' gratitude this way?

We Americans put too much faith in gratitude. The fond feeling the French had for us twice saving them faded in the 1960's. The Germans want to forget their debts to us for freedom and unification... Both want - desperately - to believe the U.S. today is just as bad as they were in their imperial days -- to lessen their collective feelings of guilt and moral inferiority, and to justify their refusal to stand side-by-side with the United States...

Don't change the subject again! We're talking about Iraq!

So am I. Gratitude goes even less far in the Arab world. Arabs today have, at best, selective memories; at worst, they believe their own lies, and, by the noise of repetition, impress it into others. Who today remembers that a hundred years ago the Ottomans offered to let the Zionists purchase Mesopotamia -- all of it? Do you think the Arabs would have considered it "moderate" if the Zionists had only purchased half, and thus treat the Zionists with gratitude?

No, of course not! But aren't all the Arab states artificial creations of the British, anyway? What's your point?

That the Iraqis must feel that they created their own democracy, not one imposed by an "empire". That they feel pride in the truth. In the end, they may feel angry with us, but if they succeed, they will be a real, confident, country, one that will stand up for democratic values, like El Salvador is today -- not wilted lettuces like France and Germany. We want an Iraq that won't tolerate terrorists in its midst.

El Salvador?

You've forgotten about El Salvador, haven't you? All you remember is that, in the 1980's, they had a nasty civil war, right?

Yes. I don't know what's happened there since.

Well, with U.S. help the Salvadoran Army wiped out the Communists and the government suppressed the right-wing death squads, while enforcing democratic elections -- it was actually illegal not to vote! And today, they are our most devoted allies in Iraq, the best fighters, with the highest fighting spirit. Their soldiers, when they run out of ammunition, charge into battle wielding nothing but knives -- and win! They appreciate best what is at stake.

I see. France and Germany became free-riding junkies. But this means Iraq could fail!

That's right. The State Department does not want to create the impression that democracy in Iraq is certain to win.


Because the State Department deals with everyone and wants everyone to be happy, or at least have hope. The Saudis, the Syrians, the Iranians, the Baathists, even the Islamists all see an opportunity to achieve power in postwar Iraq. So we have something to offer everyone, even our enemies.

And turn Iraq into a huge, multi-national battleground? This is crazy!

If each party has hope that their plans will succeed in Iraq, they will be less motivated to attempt extreme measures aimed at the U.S. itself. We still don't know what happened to Saddam's WMDs, let alone those of the Iranians and Al Qaeda.

The U.S. could still be attacked.

But with Iraq in flux, the enemy won't be desperate. And if the Iraqis win out and do become a full democracy, it's checkmate for all the dictatorships and autocrats. No Arab will see why their country can't be prosperous and free like Iraq! The energies of the terrorists and all of Arab society may finally focus inward, on political reform.

And if Iraq fails?

We are setting things up with the U.N. and the G.C. so the U.S. doesn't get the blame. After June 30th, we will be present in Iraq as the country's suzerain -- and that relationship will continue indefinitely if the January elections fail.


After June 30th, the coalition no longer has the final say on internal matters. And if democracy fails, if the January elections are a disaster, Iraq will become a series of little dictatorships at the local level while the U.S.-led coalition retains control of inter-provincial matters and foreign affairs -- all approved by the U.N. Security Council. Iraq will have effectively disintegrated -- but the U.S. will no longer be formally responsible for its internal security.

So between July 1st and the January elections is when the political process really takes place?

Yes. And the President is counting on it being a relatively benign period, as the various hopeful factions compete peacefully for the favors of the electorate. No sense in soiling what may soon is your own nest and losing public support.

And with Iraq at peace, even temporarily, Iraq will appear to be a success and the re-election of George Bush will become certain!

(Smile.) You got it!

Be sure to read the anniversary update to this post: Why is the U.S. STILL in Iraq?

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Welcome to Solomon's House!

This blog was created in response to popular demand for my musings at other blogspots; readers wanted a site where my best posts could be viewed together. Over the next few days, I'll be collecting them here. Enjoy!