Thursday, December 07, 2006

Martin Kramer on the Iraq Study Group Report

From Martin Kramer's Sandstorm
Cogent arguments can be made for each of these three fixes, but only if you accept the core assumption: the receptivity of the Arab world to the democracy message. That is why I cannot regard these as true Plan Bs. Each of them is a Plan A, version 2.0. They build on the very same premise as Plan A: that we just have to find the right path to their open hearts.

And there's the rub. There is a growing suspicion that maybe the problem isn't us, it's them—it is some complex interaction of culture, history, and economy that is the obstacle to a successful democratic transformation.

I say "suspicion" deliberately. The idea of an Arab exception has always been anathema on the left and in Middle Eastern studies, for obvious reasons. But it has been anathema on the right as well. President Bush (following Ronald Reagan) has attacked "cultural condescension," and no one wants to be guilty of that. So we have to keep our suspicions to ourselves.

But let us be frank: there isn't a person in this room who, down in his gut, doesn't harbor such a suspicion. And no amount of historical analogy, social science theory, or stern gazes from Condi Rice can put this suspicion to rest, because too much of the front page of the paper seems to validate it.

There are also subversive texts that go far to substantiate it. One of them was published by The Washington Institute in 1992: Elie Kedourie'sDemocracy and Arab Political Culture. "There is nothing in the political traditions of the Arab world," he wrote, "which might make familiar, or indeed intelligible, the organizing ideas of constitutional and representative government. . . . Those who say that democracy is the only remedy for the Arab world disregard a long experience which clearly shows that democracy has been tried in many countries and uniformly failed."

These words now shock us in their lack of equivocation; a leading political scientist once denounced Kedourie (Baghdad-born and raised) for his "Eurocentric chauvinism." But if it is Eurocentric chauvinism we are out to pillory, might not our gaze fall upon democracy promotion itself? Upon the big-think social scientists and New York intellectuals who ran a few data sets or met a few dissidents and proclaimed the Arab world ready and eager? Upon the CPA appointees who flew into Baghdad loaded with books on the postwar reconstruction of Germany and Japan? One could go on in this vein, but you get the idea.

A Different Freedom

The only exit from our own self-centered chauvinism is to begin to think systematically about the way the Arab world is different, and then to formulate a true Plan B—a plan not fixated on elections, or even on democracy, but on the kind of freedoms whose suppression has been most resented in the region. Those freedoms are not the ones we necessarily value. They are collective, not individual; and they revolve around identity, not interests. There is a yearning for freedom—of a kind I call freedom of identity.