Future of the region and Arab absence

Occasionally, the Arab News throws me a curve ball and puts up an editorial that is rational, objective and insightful. This is one of them. I’m a litlle disapointed in how they handled the — issue of Israel (I almost wrote “the Jewish Problem” — heh), but other than that I think it is a good attempt to salvage what little chance the Arabs have at managing thier own destiny.

For start, they could acknowledge that Saddam Hussein’s regime is a problem not only for the people of Iraq but also for the entire region. Of course, some professional Arab-bashers might use such an assertion to claim that other Arab regimes are no better than that of Saddam. But the truth is that Saddam’s regime is way beyond the pale. No Arab regime in history has had such a black record of violence. Nor has any been as corrupt, and as cynical. The average Arab regime is not a Platonic ideal. But even the worst of the present Arab regimes is better than the system created by Saddam Hussein.

Well, I’m not a professional Arab basher, but I do what I can. Even at that, I’m not irrational enough to claim that they are as bad as another. Iraq is certainly the worst. Syria and Iran are neck and neck with each other. I would have to give Iran the #2 slot, because I think Syria can be negotiated with, but you have to have a big stick handy.

The Arabs should have banished the Iraqi regime on the grounds that it was a disgrace to all Arabs. Thus the idea of regime change in Iraq would have become an Arab idea, rather than an American one. And that would have given the Arabs a major role in deciding the future shape of the region.

Had the Arabs agreed to collectively banish Saddam Hussein, it would have been more difficult for him to pursue his game of deceit and provocation. An opportunity would have arisen to persuade a totally isolated Saddam to bow out and spare Iraq another war. At the same time an active Arab policy on Iraq would have made it more difficult for the United States to do as it pleases. The American public would have listened to a serious Arab alternative to deal with the Iraqi issue through means other than a straight war. In the 1991 campaign to liberate Kuwait, the US had to listen to its Arab allies. This time it has no such obligation.

This is the meat and potatoes of the article. For way too long, the Arabs have been playing “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. We have seen this as at worst evidence of conspiracy, and at best evidence of incompetence when it comes to policing thier own community. The mentality of the West — and I don’t think this is a groundless mindset — tends to view the silence and wavering of the Arab nations as complicity and condonation.

What this means for Arabia is that America tends to view them as at best incompetent tinpots, and at worst willing allies of Saddam.

Amr Moussa, Arab League secretary-general, says that no Arab state can take part in military action against another Arab state. He needs to revise his history lessons. The Arab states have fought no fewer than 15 open or secret wars against one another since the 1930s, including the not very peaceful rape of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990.

The real world is not divided between Arab and non-Arab. It is divided between right and wrong. The Arabs must unequivocally reject Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein as enemies of their people.

I would go on to say that in fact, the idea of Islam as a religeon of peace is a falacy in its face, but even I don’t ask an Arab news agency to go that far.

The first change in the region led to Pax Britannica that, in one form or another, lasted until the 1970s. The second could lead to Pax Americana.

And that could be bad both for the Arabs and for the United States.

The US is not a typical imperial power, and is effective as peacekeeper if it has strong regional allies, as was the case in Western Europe throughout the Cold War. At least some of the Arab states might have provided the kind of alliance needed to ensure a smooth transition in the region. They seem to have decided not to do so. History will show whether they took the right path.

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