By Dr. Nayyer Ali

Reshaping the Middle East - Part 1

December 29 , 2006

(The following two-part piece is the text of my remarks at the MPAC Convention in December 2006. I shared the podium with Amy Goodman and Robert Fisk as we discussed the reshaping of the Middle East.)
The reshaping of the Middle East, the grand project of the Bush administration, now lies in ruins. The goal of creating a pro-American, pro-Israeli Arab democracy out of the ashes of Saddam’s Iraq is now dead. The current state of Iraq is abominable. Over 1 million Iraqis have fled the country since the war started, taking the heart of the middle class on which any real democracy could have been built out of the nation. Another hundred thousand give up and flee to wherever they can every month. Over 500,000 Iraqis have died, and to put that in perspective, in proportional terms that would be equal to America having six million dead in three years. There is no functioning economy, oil and electricity production have shown no significant increase since the US takeover, and there are no effective national institutions.
The Kurds are essentially running their own country in the north, while every government ministry, police unit, and army battalion is loyal to a militia or ethnic faction rather than Iraq as a nation. The US has suffered 3000 dead and 25000 wounded, and has spent over 500 billion dollars on this adventure, with no visible progress. In fact, the violence and lack of security have never been worse. The head of the US Army has now said that the Army is near its breaking point. It can’t keep sending the same soldiers back to Iraq again and again. Meanwhile, US influence in the region and around the world has declined dramatically. North Korea tested a nuclear bomb, and Iran knows the US has its hands tied. Elsewhere public opinion polls show the US government is held in low esteem by majorities around the world.
The big prize that factions are competing for is control of the oil wealth. With 100 billion barrels in proven reserves, Iraq sits over five trillion dollars worth of oil. The deposits are split between the Kurdish north and the Shia south, and who will control that oil wealth and how it will be distributed is the main driver of the violence.
How did we get here? I don’t believe Bush planned this war when he took office. He had no real foreign policy experience, and was in fact critical of the interventions and nation-building projects that Clinton had used the military on a small scale in the 1990’s. But then 9/11 happened. 9/11 however was fundamentally misinterpreted, probably deliberately so, to allow the Bush administration to undertake the reshaping of the Middle East in a manner more agreeable to the US. According to Bush, we were attacked for our freedoms. This was a fatuous remark, but from it flowed all sorts of bad policy. It allowed Bush to avoid answering tough questions about the effects of US policy in the Middle East, and whether those policies actually served our interest. It also allowed Bush to respond by declaring a Global War on Terror, which is a meaningless idea as terror is a tactic, not a movement or country to declare war on. But it allowed Bush to demand the powers of a wartime President, and he used those powers to reduce civil liberties in the US while engaging in war abroad and bypassing the Geneva Convention and the ban on torture. A servile Congress allowed him to do as pleased.
Within the Bush administration, and the broader conservative movement, 9/11 was used to create a massive Islamic threat to the security of the United States. Instead of 9/11 being seen as the work of a small group of motivated radicals who exploited a weakness in airline safety, it was portrayed as the opening salvo of a worldwide contest between the US and a massive radical Islamic movement bent on global conquest. Every point of friction or conflict between Muslims and the US or Europe was added to this. Riots in France, the cartoon controversy, the London and Madrid rail bombings, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Chechen attacks on Russia, secular Saddam Hussein, and Shia Iran’s nuclear policy were rolled into a brief for a new global Cold War. Just as the old Cold War with the Soviet Union and global communism gave conservatives an extremely useful structure on which to hang their policies, having another Cold War with a global enemy was extremely useful to scare the public. In fact that enemy was a mere phantom, incomparably weak, and very small, making up a few thousand young males at best scattered throughout the globe. But on this thin reed, Bush went to war in Iraq.
The Bush campaign was based on the idea that terrorism in the Muslim world was a product of a democracy deficit. If the Muslim countries were democracies, then they would not have terrorist groups. This is a leap of faith to some extent, but it is true that the sources of Al-Qaeda were two very undemocratic regimes, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The main grievances that Bin Laden was articulating had no legitimate path to be aired. If Saudi Arabia was a real democracy, it might be the case that Bin Laden could have pursued his agenda through a political path, formed a party, and campaigned for the removal of US forces from Saudi Arabia. But this scheme would suggest that the problem lay not in Iraq, but in the pro-American Arab states that did not allow internal dissent from their policies. Saddam’s Iraq was not the source of Al-Qaeda, and yet Bush decided that turning Iraq into a democracy by force was the way to deal with the Arabs’ and Muslims’ democracy deficit.
The other pillar of this strategy was the notion that the US could impose democracy by force. Doing such a thing, while not totally impossible, is extraordinarily difficult. It requires tremendous patience, skill, and knowledge on the part of the occupier, and the chance of success depends to a large part on the underlying character and institution of the country. A homogenous nation that is not distracted by ethnic or other divisions, and one that has previous experience with democracy and contains viable institutions such as political parties, independent press, and civil society, is much more likely to find success. Egypt would have a much better chance of democracy taking hold than Iraq after Saddam. So to pick Iraq as the country in which to carry out this vast social science experiment was rather bizarre.
In fact, after creating this incredibly ambitious policy, Bush simply lacked the knowledge or interest, either personally or in his administration, to make it work. The occupation has been characterized by gross negligence and incompetence. Half of the staff of the CPA had never traveled outside the US when they got hired. There is still no clear understanding of who gave or why the order was given to disband Iraq’s only national institution, the army. The lack of 10,000 military policemen allowed Baghdad to descend into the chaos of mass looting right after the war, from which it never really recovered. There were many strong voices who pointed out the need for a large army of occupation, but they were ignored or silenced. The lack of sufficient understanding of Iraq’s complexities, and the heavy-handed tactics used by the military initially, culminating in Abu Ghraib, completely backfired. And yet Bush had no accountability or real process to analyze and manage these complex problems.
Throughout the last four years there has been insufficient security and reconstruction in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The overwhelming need to establish security early and maintain it was ignored, and that is why we have the catastrophe we face today. In Afghanistan, a few billion dollars annually would have been sufficient to buy and destroy the poppy crop, which fuels much of the instability. In Iraq, the lack of security has inexorably allowed the situation to go from bad to worse to beyond that. Baghdad is now dividing into armed neighborhood camps, and ethnic cleansing is gathering pace.
Part two next week.



Deflating Japan

Bush’s Axis of Evil

Speaking to Non-Muslims

If Arafat Were Jinnah

The Shape of Things to Come

South Asia Expert Calls for Negotiations on Kashmir

Kashmir After the Cold War

Kashmir Quagmire: How It Started

Kashmir: Where We’ve Been

Make Way for the Euro

Will there Be a Muslim Palestine?

Careful, Careful

Our Growing Community

Pakistan’s Golden Opportunity

Musharraf’s Reform Plans

Pakistan’s Afghan Dilemma

Humanity on the Move

Strategies of America, Pakistan and Benazir

Winners and Losers

America’s Strategy Defang the Fundamentalists

The Noose Tightens

Pakistan in America

Musharraf’s Moment

A Sad Day for America, A Sad Day for Islam

Repeal the Blasphemy Law

Bush’s Stem Cell Compromise

The Depressing Stock Market

An Evening on Human Development

“Benazir” Takes Over in Indonesia

Race Riots in Britain

Global Warming or Just Hot Air?

Milosevic on Trial

Russia’s Collapse

Economic Recovery in Pakistan?

President Khatami’s Re-election

Lifting Sanctions on Pakistan

Israel’s Moral Burden

A Break in the Logjam?

The Second American Century

Pakistan’s Constitution

Dr. Lodhi in Los Angeles

Literacy: The Road Forward

Why Yusuf Can't Read

Literacy: The Glass is Half Full

Blowing Up Buddha

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Pakistan

Did You See the Moon?

Cornrows, Ali Khan, and Culture

Will the Children Go To Harvard?

Muslim Political Progress

Information Technology Gets A Boost

Sand and Oil

On Lieberman

Pakistan Builds A Tank

Kashmir in the Nuclear Age

Full Speed Ahead on Privatization

A Muslim France?

Too Much Food

Watching the Election Why Are We Hollywood’s Villains?

A Tyrant Falls

Taliban Victorious

The Walking Whale of Pakistan
The Joy of Air Travel?

The Amazing American Economy
Arafat and Jerusalem

Names For The Children

Population: Too Many or Too Few?

It Does Matter

Aziz Goes For Growth

The Military Government's First Budget

L'Affaire Salam

End Sanctions on Iraq

Third World Democracy

Light Weapons Trade on the Rise

Iran Reforms

Back to the Future

The Saudis and OPEC Mature

How Can We Help Pakistan Develop?

Report Card on Musharraf

IMF Vs Pakistan

A Candid Discussion on Foreign Policy Issues

A Sad Tale of Missed Opportunities

Cold War In Kashmir

Whither Afghanistan?

National Security and Literacy

Pakistan Votes

The People Win

What is an Islamist?

Selling the Crown Jewels

Still Not Government

One Year After the Taliban

Benazir's Folly

Iraq and Oil

Saddam and Iraq - I

Saddam and Iraq - 2

Muslim Democracy

Zakat and Capitalism

Zakat and Capitalism - 2

The Economy Picks Up

The American Military: Power without Limit?

Good Foreign Policy is Good Anti-Terrorism Policy

The Arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammad

Bush Takes a Gamble

Bush Attacks

Besieging Baghdad

Darkness in Saddam's Bunker

Piccadilly It Aint Qissa Khani Is Still Qissa Kahani

Ed Asner and Afghanistan's Progress

Bush Delivers a Roadmap

Liberation or Imperialism

The Roadmap

Economic Rebound

Musharraf in Los Angeles

Economic Growth will lead to Democracy

Trapped by Myths and Fantasies

The Surge in Karachi Stocks

Bush's Busted Budget

America's Broken Healthcare

Time to Buy Stocks?

Islam, the State, and Human Rights

30 Years after the Oil Shock

The Future of Oil Wealth

Pakistan, India and Human Development

Pakistan's Eid Present

Iraq, Democracy and Islam

The End of Saddam Hussein

Three Wins for Pakistan

The Islamabad Declaration

Kerry's Big Wins

Repeal Hudood and Blasphemy

Bush's Growing Vulnerability

What Has Aziz Done?

Bits and Pieces

The Growth of India

Chaos in Iraq

Bush Caves in to Sharon

Abuse at Abu Ghraib

Too Harsh, Musharraf

The BJP Loses

What Do the Jihadis Want?

The Pak Economy: Bigger than We Think

Is America Richer than Europe?

Prime Minister Aziz

Unbundling WAPDA

Musharraf's Uniform

Chess Game in Kashmir

Three States, Three Debates

What's Wrong with the Democrats?

Can Elections Bring Peace to Iraq?

Elections in Iraq

Can Generals Yield to Democrats?

IMF Give Pakistan an “A”

Improve Higher Education in Pakistan

A Framework for Reconciliation

Iraq’s Elections By

Privatizing Power

Bullish in Karachi

Palestinians Should Abandon Suicide Bombings

The F-16’s

Bush’s Social Security Plan

Growth and Investment

Patronage Versus Policy

Aziz, the PML, and 2007

Are We Running out of Oil?

Purchasing Power

Economic Progress

Social Progress

PTCL and the Privatization Roller-coaster

Bombing in Britain

The Ummah is Not a Tribe

Is the US Oppressing the Muslims?

Is Iraq Dissolving?

Sharon Retreats

Pakistan and Israel

The Earthquake

The Other Earthquakes

The Battle for the Supreme Court

Pakistan’s Physician Exports

Beginning of the End in Palestine

Intelligent Design and Other Religious Beliefs

Shifting Populations in South Asia

Sharon’s Stroke

Building Dams

Hamas in Charge

Free Elections in 2007

Muslim Perspectives on Zionism

Iraq Falls Apart

Big Successes in Privatization

Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions

Global Warming

Dennis Ross on the Middle East

What Makes an Islamic State?

The Iraq War

Strong Growth, Falling Poverty

Buffett and His Billions

Why Peace Is Elusive in the Middle East

How Poor is Poor?

How Poor is Poor?
Pakistan’s Growth Moment

Declare a Palestinian State

The London Bomb Plot

Who Won the Lebanon War?

Iran, Israel, and the Bomb

The Pope’s Speech

Democrats Win!

The Republicans Lick Their Wounds

Finally, Some Enlightened Moderation

The Error in the War on Terror

Economic Challenges for Pakistan

Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
© 2004 . All Rights Reserved.