Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"Pharaonic Despotism" and all that

Back in 2002 and early 2003, I used the term "pharaonic despotism" to describe Saddam Hussein's Iraq. This type of regime legitimized itself by elevating the leader beyond the plane of ordinary mortals and also secured its position by arguing that the alternatives would be worse.

I think more work needs to be done on how one makes a successful transition from such types of regimes (beyond the bumper sticker cliches about freedom), to ensure that the ancien regime never takes on a golden glow.

But a more salient point: based on yesterday's post about the Iraq Syndrome, I wanted to revisit a point I made three and one-half years ago, about the use of the "Mongols" in Arab discourse as a reference to the United States:

The Mongols, of course, succeeded in sacking Baghdad in 1258. Two years later, however, they were decisively beaten in the battle of Ain Jalud in Galilee, in an encounter that shattered forever the myth of Mongol invincibility.

Has the U.S. reached an Ain Jalud moment? In battlefield terms, no. But politically?

Those who defeated Mongols were Shia Muslims.

But I do not believe this is an apt analogy. In no way can US be compared with blood-thirsty Mongols.

If your point js that US has reached some sort f high-water mark, I disagree. That high-water mark was reached in 1958.

What does US want in ME?

Can the President of the United States go on television and articulate a policy that every one can understand (thouh they might disaree with)?
Mr. Gvosdev:

I assume you are talking about the US role in the Middle East (cf. Vietnam 1973) and, more specifically, post-9.11 (cf. Lebanon 1983). I also assume the point of your question is, is the Iraqi state so badly damaged/congenitally deformed that nothing the US can now/ever do will prevent its disintegration and chaos? (There is no single major battle that you can point to in Iraq; it's more a series of violent events that continues to trend that state, piece by piece, shred by shred).

Your guess is surely much better than mine, but does anybody think that anything doable in the next 1 1/4 years under President Bush could create sufficient shock and awe among the powers that be in that neighborhood?
What does US want in ME?

Governments that will recognize Israel, cheap oil, "peace and quiet", and democracies where people voluntarily vote for all of these things.

Pretty simple stuff, really.
Then US will fail.
Nikolas - Your question really depends on your timeframe. Possibly for the remainder of this administration we have reached such a point, although there are signs that the President may launch a war with Iran in 2007.

Beyond 2008, though, I am not so sure. The present administration could be followed by a Democratic one, in the same way that the Carter administration succeeded the Nixon-Ford one. But if a Democratic administration is perceived by the American people to be a failure, we could have a Republican White House in 2013 that resumes a confrontational approach toward US adversaries (or even intensifies it).
Well if by battle of Ain Jalud you mean that thing that happened before approximately 70 years of Mongol rule over Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan before being dislodged due to social upheaval from the black death, probably not.

The only reason that Ain Jalud was the “high watermark” of the Mongol empire is that it soon was no longer an empire. The successor states to the Mongol empire, the various khanates, began to fight among themselves. This weakened the expansionary power of both the Golden Horde and the Ilkhante.

So is this some sort of prediction of war among the Western powers? Is France all of a sudden going make a move on Louisiana while we are tied up in Iraq?

As I have said before, the appropriate analogy for terrorism in the Middle East is Rome near the end of the golden age of ancient piracy (or possibly as late as TheJewish revolt). There are a couple of rogue tribes floating around out there, and there is Parthia to deal with, but we pretty much rule the whole planet as far as is important (though some through vassal states, for now).

Despite the best efforts of the Bush administration, I don’t believe the Western world order is on the verge of devolving into some sort of (corporately) factionalized civil war (yet). The fact of the matter remains that now is the best time (ever) to reinforce the humanist ideals that have made liberal Western states so successful (though invading Iraq was not the most practical way of doing this).

Iranians consider themselves to be the inheritors of Parthians.

West is not humanistic: the Western people, at their cores, believe that the weak deserver their lot.

Japanese people have understood this. Chinese, Iranians, and Hizbullah are learning it.

Arabs have not yet learnt it.

And by the way; there is no hsitorical precedent for what is going on now: we have entered global period where every state actor is interacting with everyone else while power is devolving from North West Eurasia and North America to the rest of the world.

Analogies can help develop a framework but cannot help us make decisions.
"As I have said before, the appropriate analogy for terrorism in the Middle East is Rome near the end of the golden age of ancient piracy (or possibly as late as TheJewish revolt). There are a couple of rogue tribes floating around out there, and there is Parthia to deal with, but we pretty much rule the whole planet as far as is important (though some through vassal states, for now)."

As long as such meretricious tosh remains a centrepiece of political discourse in the States, it will be very difficult for any sort of true "realism" to come from Washington.

America´s (and Europe´s) share of world GDP will continue to decrease in the following decades (which incidentally is only bad news for armchair Metternichs; in principle, the bigger the global economic pie the better). The twin pillars of traditional power politics, conflict among major powers and direct or indirect subjugation of weak populations, have long been rendered obsolete by nuclear deterrence and the hitherto unseen degree of politization of every corner of the planet, respectively. In spite of the enormous problems they face, China and India will continue to gain clout. The list goes on.

Not even Charles Krauthammer talks about America as the "new Rome" any more.

BTW, Mr. Gvosdev: the preceding post is
correct. Historical analogies can only go so far. Broadly similar causes may lead to broadly similar effects, but history does not repeat itself.
A minor clarification: the alredy démodé rhetoric of the "Pax Americana" was only an extreme expression of an unrealistic assessment of the limitations of American power that is still quite popular (and which no politician who values his career can afford to question openly).

Hence the reference to the prevalence of the "meretricious tosh" and the mention of the fact that Mr.Krauthammer and others appear to have toned down the triumphalism somewhat.
Is Iraq better off than they were before? Are we safer and more sound than we were before? These questions need hard answers and we need deep reflection to answer them but I feel we do need to adress the questions more thoroughly.
Raymond B

There are multiple Iraqs:

1- The Kurdish Iraq consisting of the two tribal confederacies of Barzani and Talebani (mutually hostile and at times at war with each other) is currently safe and relatively stable. They are aiming for the goal that they had failed to realize for 3000 years: Kurdish State. The future, however, might be more like Somalia.

2- Provincial Shia Iraq, inspired and influenced by the Najaf Shia Scholars, is also relatively safe and content to pursuse its commerical, religious and personal ties with Iran. It is pursuing its own dream of Shia Utopia.

3- The provincial Sunni muslims are living in the middle of the battle field. They receive aid from Sunni muslims (and states) that are nominally friendly to US. They are loosers in this and will remain so.

4- The urban Iraq of Baghdad is were the Civil War is concentrated. It is hard to see how any one can be happy and content in the middle of a civil war. But, it seems to me, the Shia poor of the Sadr City are convinced that this is their moment in history and are going for as much political power as possible. Other Shias also share this and do not necessarily want to restrain the Sadrists; it gives them plausible-deniability. The Sunnis are fighting back against the occupation forces, the Shia, and the revenge killings of the Sunni by the Shia.

"Are we safer?"

We are safer to the extent that Afghanistan is no longer available for terrorist training against US.

We may not be safer if the Sunni fighters in Iraq infiltrate other states and eventually scceed in gaining control of another Sunni Arab state.

To the extend that US is percieved now to be a clear enemy of Islam by the Sunni Muslims (Arab and non-Arab) we might be much more threatened since the sense of grivience and injustice can cause men to take actions agianst US regardless of cost to themselves.

In other words, US had lost the Information/Propaganda war and individual may believe that US is attacking them in their core sense of a human being.

National debate cannot resolve this; it will not be a debate but a shouting match since US is clearly divided half-and-half on this.
Impossible to have anything but a shouting match these days, so we shouldn't be surprised at the quality of policy and policymakers.
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