February 9, 2010

Quote of the Day

For Assad and the Alawis, the Iraqi insurgency amounted to a debate over the nature of the Middle East. The Bush administration thought that the region was ripe for democracy and pluralism, and that its furies could be tamed by giving Middle Easterners a voice in their own government. Syria countered that the Middle East could only be governed through violence. Its support for the insurgency was, at least in part, intended to give Washington no choice but to put away dangerous ideas like Arab democracy…

This is what the Syrians, and the Iranians, did in Iraq—but the Americans were also at fault, and not just because we failed to provide enough security early on. We should have given more consideration, and even respect, to the theory the Arabs had about us. While Washington may have thought it was laboring to bring democracy to the region, the Arabs believed we were on a deliberate course to set them at each other's throats, with the goal of dividing and conquering. The sectarian warfare that Zarqawi was waging there was seen as just the first of many more conflagrations to come, conflagrations that the Arabs thought would be to our benefit, and of course to that of the Israelis.

Sometimes shows of power and diplomacy are, in fact, connected aspects of one player's coherent and comprehensive Middle East policy. But often what appears to be a grand strategy is just a fantasy that Arab analysts, journalists, and cafe society have projected onto the map of the region in order to pass time and keep the mind nimble, like a narrative version of backgammon. That was the case with the Arab interpretation of U.S. policy in Iraq. We didn't want to set the Sunnis and Shias against each other—we just wanted to take a few pieces off the table. But the Arabs find it impossible to believe that we do not understand the nature of the Middle East, and they therefore assume that our guile matches our power.

The assumption that democracy was all a plan to set the Arabs at each other's throats also made sense to many Arabs because it fit the way they see their own societies. For the Americans, democracy meant investing the Arab man, woman, and child with the rights due every human being. From the Arab nationalist perspective, empowering the Arab individual would necessarily come at the expense of the Arab nation. And weakening the unity of the nation would animate the sectarian monster that has stalked the region for a millennium.

Nowhere were these fears stronger than in Damascus. For the Syrian regime, democracy would mean an end to the domestic peace cultivated through coercion and repression since the founding of the modern Syrian state, and the unleashing of violence at unprecedentedly lethal levels. Majority rule, meanwhile, would obviously not only spell the demise of the Alawi regime but also threaten the very existence of the Alawi community. As they watched what was happening in Lebanon and Iraq, it was easy for the Arabs to conclude that if representative government meant brother slaughtering brother, then the Americans could keep their precious democracy to themselves.

Hatred of America's freedoms, the Bush White House liked to say, is why jihadis commit acts of terror against the United States. The Syrian regime reminded the Arab mainstream that it wasn't American freedoms they hated, but their own. The Arabs feared each other.

From The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations by Lee Smith.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:49 PM | Permalink | 44 Comments »

February 8, 2010

Generation Kill

Last week I recommended The Hurt Locker, the best movie made yet about the war in Iraq, but there was some grumbling in the comments by annoyed veterans. I noticed some of the same mistakes, but they're the kinds of errors most people in the audience won't care about or even notice if they haven't served in the military or spent a lot of time with the soldiers and Marines in Iraq.

If you're the kind of person who's a stickler for the details, take a look at Generation Kill, the eight-hour HBO mini-series.

Generation Kill DVD

I prefer The Hurt Locker, mostly because it takes place in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, the only time I've ever been there. Generation Kill is about the invasion itself. I can't vouch for how realistic the mini-series is or is not because I wasn't there, but if the reviews by veterans at Amazon.com are reliable, the portrayal of the American invasion of Iraq is authentic.

It's available in Blu-ray, as well.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:07 AM | Permalink | 5 Comments »

February 6, 2010

“Radical Islam is a Way for the Superfluous Sons to Enter History”

I don't know much about demography, but Martin Kramer makes a strong case in just a few short minutes for the idea that a surplus of military-aged males is a big part of the Middle East's problem right now and that it will eventually correct itself. Worth a look. (Hat tip to Noah Pollak.)


Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:14 PM | Permalink | 36 Comments »

February 5, 2010

Guest-blogging at Instapundit

Glenn Reynolds was busy covering stuff for PJTV today, so I gave him a hand at Instapundit. In case you missed my links over there, I'm copying them over here.

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SHOWDOWN IN TEHRAN: In six days, on the 31st anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, we may see the biggest and possibly the bloodiest confrontation yet between the regime and its enemies, the Iranian people.


PROGRESS OF SORTS: Gen. McChrystal says the situation in Afghanistan is serious, but at least it’s no longer deteriorating.


GOOD GRIEF: High school girl arrested and handcuffed for doodling on her desk.


SO THAT EXPLAINS IT: Why a six-hour flight now takes seven.


GET A CLUE: Hezbollah is not the IRA.


WE’LL SEE HOW THAT WORKS FOR YA: Obama dismisses pleas from his own party to move to the center.


IS NOTHING SAFE FROM GOVERNMENT REGULATION? The Australian government now bans small breasted women from porn. It’s for the children. No, really.

UPDATE: David Harsanyi emails: “Banning of small breasts? The Mammy State.”


WHAT IF QUENTIN TARANTINO directed the Super Bowl?


THE BEST VIEWS ever captured of Pluto.


CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS ON NORTH KOREA: Kim Jong Il’s regime is even weirder and more despicable than you thought.


MAYBE THEY SHOULD CHANGE THEIR POLICIES: Car bombs today killed 32 Shia Muslims in Iraq, and 25 Shia Muslims in Pakistan. On the other hand, terrorists might be motivated by something more significant than policy disagreements.


THEODORE DALRYMPLE: Save the planet by outlawing lampshades!


ISRAEL THREATENS SYRIA’S BASHAR ASSAD with regime change.


CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: The Great Peasant Revolt of 2010.


MATT WELCH on the inherent instability of corporate monopolies.


A DEPRESSING REPORT on anti-Semitism in Britain.


Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:42 PM | Permalink | 2 Comments »

Israel Threatens Assad with Regime Change

The Israeli government may be moving beyond its fear and loathing of a Syria governed by somebody other than Bashar Assad. For years, Jerusalem has been careful to avoid doing anything or even saying anything that might destabilize Damascus. But after Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Moallem, threatened Israel this week with a war that would be fought “inside your cities,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman snapped. “Not only will you lose the war,” he said to Assad, “you and your family will no longer be in power.”

There are good reasons to feel squeamish about the aftermath of regime change, whether it comes at the hands of Israelis or not. The same sectarian monster that stalks Lebanon and Iraq lives just under the floorboards in Syria. The majority of Syria’s people are Sunni Arabs, but 30 percent or so are Christians, Druze, Alawites, or Kurds. Assad himself is an Alawite, as are most of the elite in the ruling Baath Party, the secret police, and the military. Their very survival depends on keeping Syria’s sectarianism suppressed. The country could easily come apart without Assad’s government enforcing domestic peace at the point of a gun. This is a serious problem. It’s not Israel’s problem, but it’s a problem.

The Israelis have been worried about something else: that after Assad, Syria might be governed by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood organization or something that looks a lot like it. There’s no guarantee, though, that the Muslim Brothers would take over. They aren’t in power anywhere else in the Arab world. Even if they do succeed Assad, they couldn’t ramp up the hostility much. Assad’s is already the most hostile Arab government in the world. A replacement regime, especially one dominated by Sunnis rather than by minorities who lack legitimacy and feel they have something to prove, would likely gravitate toward the regional mainstream.

Millions of Syrians sympathize with the Muslim Brotherhood. They’re tired of being lorded over by secularists from a faith they consider heretical. Still, fundamentalist Sunni Arabs who try to impose some kind of theocracy will meet automatic resistance from the country’s Christians, Alawites, Druze, Kurds, and secular and moderate Sunnis. Theocracy is hardly the norm in the Middle East anyway. Not a single Arab country — unless you consider Gaza a country — is governed by a religious regime like the one in Iran.

No dictatorship rules forever. The Alawite regime in Damascus will eventually be replaced, one way or another. Syria will have to reckon with its own demons sooner or later, and it will either hold together and muddle through, or it won’t. Just as every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, unstable countries fall apart in their own way. Only a fool would dismiss as irrelevant the sectarian bloodletting Iraq has suffered during the last several years, but Syria’s problems are its own, and a few critical ingredients that made Iraq into a perfect storm are missing.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:49 AM | Permalink | 14 Comments »

February 2, 2010

The Hurt Locker is Finally Available

I've said before that The Hurt Locker is by far the best movie about the war in Iraq. I'm pleased to see that this one instead of the others—all of which are terrible—might actually win an Oscar.

If you haven't yet seen it, I strongly recommend renting it or even buying it. None of the others are even worth watching, but I splurged and picked up the Blu-ray version of this one.


Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:40 PM | Permalink | 16 Comments »

February 1, 2010

Al Qaeda Attempts to Woo Useful Idiots

Last year in Lebanon, a left-wing American journalist tried to convince me that I’ve been too hard on Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, that I might like what I heard if I’d just listen more open-mindedly. “He’s trying to raise awareness of global warming,” he said to me earnestly over lunch. “Don’t you think that’s interesting?” I told him, no, I did not find it interesting, but the truth is I think it’s fascinating that anyone in the world would believe a terrorist and a fascist is concerned about the environment.

Osama bin Laden must be paying attention because now even he hopes to broaden his appeal by passing himself off as a green activist. “Osama bin Laden enters global warming debate,” reads the straight-faced headline in London’s Daily Telegraph, as if the Copenhagen Climate Conference organizers now have some rhetorical backup for their arguments against Republicans, Chinese industrialists, and Montana residents who set their thermostats to 70 degrees during the winter. Al-Qaeda’s founder and chief executive — assuming he’s actually still alive and recorded the most recent broadcast — even cites the latest anti-American diatribe in the Guardian by campus favorite Noam Chomsky.

Communists used to pull stunts like this all the time to get support in the West from what Vladimir Lenin called “useful idiots.” Even 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez manage to attract Western fans like Oliver Stone, Medea Benjamin, and writers at the Nation.

I’m slightly surprised it has taken al-Qaeda so long to figure this out. Hamas and Hezbollah are way ahead. They have far more sophisticated public relations departments. A few weeks ago, Hezbollah, Hamas, and leaders from what’s left of the Iraqi “resistance” hosted a terrorist conference in Beirut, which some of the usual subjects from the fringe Left attended — former Democratic party Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and British member of Parliament George Galloway.

Less prominent American and European leftists also attended, including a Jewish blogger from Sweden who said his first trip to Lebanon was an “overwhelming experience” and described his slide into the political abyss in two sentences. “As a Jew I felt guilt about the treatment of the Palestinians because it is carried out in the name of all Jews,” he said to a Syrian journalist who asked what he was doing there. “I converted guilt into responsibility by taking up the political cause for the dissolution of the Jewish state.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:09 AM | Permalink | 75 Comments »

The Middle East is Forever Interesting

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Iran will deliver "a telling blow" to "global powers" on February 11, and the United States sends ships and Patriot missile batteries to the Persian Gulf.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:00 AM | Permalink | 30 Comments »
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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