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Last updated on March 6th, 2018 at 12:30 am

All this freedom stuff in the Middle East is nothing but a fluke, writes the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul McGeough. It’s nothing at all to do with President Abush Ghraib and his invasion under false pretences of Iraq:

A diplomat looking at the Middle East today might observe that democracy’s glass is partly full or, perhaps, partly empty. The level does seem to have moved. The debate is: by how much and who is responsible? Regardless, talk of an Arabian spring is premature.

Regardless of what? The fullness of the glass? The emptiness? A diplomat’s eyesight? Evaporation rates?

More than seven weeks after 8 million Iraqis courageously stared down the bombers and gunmen to vote in their first free elections in half a century, they still didn’t have a proper government as their new National Assembly was scheduled to convene in Baghdad yesterday.

Only seven weeks? That’s nothing. It’s been two years since McGeough first warned of an Iraqi civil war, and we’re still waiting (presumably such talk wasn’t “premature”). So if Bush has nothing to do with events in the Middle East, to whom should credit be given?

Now, thanks to September 11 and the much-maligned Al-Jazeera and the other new Arab TV channels, the region is transfixed by the fact that there was an election in Iraq. Others want some of what the Iraqis are having, but only time will tell if it is a step towards their future or their past.

Only time will tell? Future or past? There’s more hedging going on here than Capability Brown achieved in his entire life. Next, McGeough returns to a familiar theme:

Iraq without Saddam has yet to show that it might avoid ethnic and religious strife and descent into full-blown civil war.

Except by so far not descending into full-blown civil war. The US is hopeless at nation-building, by the way:

Apart from West Germany and Japan, only two of the 16 US-led efforts in nation-rebuilding in the last century – tiny Panama and Grenada without a barrel of oil between them – continued to function as democracies 10 years later.

“Apart from West Germany and Japan.” What is this, a stand-up routine? Meanwhile, other Middle East reports note that people aren’t referencing Al-Jazeera:

A line of people in the square carried a 100-yard-long white-and-red Lebanese flag with the distinct green cedar tree in the middle, shaking it up and down and shouting, “Syria out.”

Protesters chanted “Truth, freedom, national unity!” or “We want only the Lebanese army in Lebanon!”

“Syria out, no half measures,” read a banner, borrowing from President Bush’s description of Damascus’ gradual withdrawal from this country of 3.5 million.

And Claudia Rosett reports from Beirut:

Unlike the Hezbollah demonstrators with their chants of “Death to America,” many in the crowd were friendly to Americans. “Thank’s Free World,” (sic) said one poster, held high by a woman in a bright red jacket, Rawya Okal, who told me: “We thank Mr. Bush for his position.” Overhearing this in the throng, a middle-aged man in a green baseball cap, Louis Nahanna, leaned over to say, “We love the American people” – adding, “Please don’t let Bush forget us. Your support is very important.”

Asking more people what they thought of Americans turned up the same refrain. From a young driver, Fadi Mrad, came the message: “We want to change. We need freedom. Please don’t let Bush forget us.” From a group of young men came not only the message “Our hope is America,” and “We believe in democracy in the Middle East,” but also praise for Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. There was also an invitation from one of them, young Edgard Baradhy, for his heroine, Ms. Rice, to come to Beirut “and I am ready to take her for coffee.”

Young Edgard must have seen this photograph.

(Rosset and AP links from Opinion Journal.)

Posted by Tim B. on 03/17/2005 at 08:46 AM
    1. Bush’s stuff is okay in practice but is all wrong in theory.

      The trick is that the dunking bird of democracy works on half full glasses.

      Posted by rhhardin on 03/17 at 09:09 AM • #


    1. Every day brings future to past
      Every breath brings me one less closer to my last one
      The whole world is spinning around me
      The whole world is spinning inside me

      Posted by aaron_ on 03/17 at 09:13 AM • #


    1. Amen, Amen.

      Posted by J. Peden on 03/17 at 09:17 AM • #


    1. By the way…one of the Iranian blogs was reporting on events during the Festival of Fire in Tehran.  Here’s a choice quote:

      In another area of the city people took to setting the French flag on fire while chanting: “Europe is finished and so are their Mullahs.” OR “Bush, Bush, where is Bush?” (In Persian this rhymes: Bush, Bush, kush, kush!).

      The whole post is here.

      Posted by Bucky Katt on 03/17 at 09:18 AM • #


    1. One presumes that, many years hence, people like McGeough will be nodding over their canes in the sunshine, still waiting for Bush’s evil plan to collapse and set the whole Middle East ablaze.

      Posted by RebeccaH on 03/17 at 10:06 AM • #


    1. “…only two of the 16 US-led efforts in nation-rebuilding in the last century… continued to function as democracies 10 years later.”

      Oh, that sounds very familiar.  Before the war, the lefties picked up on a story by the NYT that quoted a Christian Science Monitor that discussed how “14 out of 16” of our invasions failed to produce a democracy.  The problem is that the CSM piece was deeply stupid.  The author tried to include everything he could, so the 16 examples ranged from the “rather disingenuous” (including CIA coups like Guatemala, which were not invasions) to the “completely insane” (my jaw dropped when I saw Reagan’s bombing of Libya counted as an invasion ).

      And the original story was talking about invasions, Paul seems to be warping it even further to “nation-building”, which would most likely cut down the list even further.  That would eliminate, for example, Kuwait.  (IIRC, Kuwait was included in the 16 for some reason.) Kuwait’s lack of a democratic government would not be due to a lack of nation-building skills, rather the fact that there was a political decision to restore the non-democratic government.  I’ll see about trying to find a link later today, unless someone else would like to dig it up.

      Posted by dorkafork on 03/17 at 10:19 AM • #


    1. US efforts at Nation-rebuilding?

      Italy, France, Austria and the other beneficiaries of the Marshall Plan plus Taiwan and South Korea aren’t worth noticing, I suppose.

      Onr gerts so sick ignorant and ideologically-blinkered fools.

      Posted by Susan Norton on 03/17 at 10:20 AM • #


    1. The new standard on the left now is that Bush can’t take credit until the whole Middle East is really, really free (free to be defined by a select panel of academics at a later date)…

      Posted by richard mcenroe on 03/17 at 10:29 AM • #


    1. Bush LIED!

      Mission MORE THAN accomplished.

      Iran is wobbling too now.

      Spending on the military is the only part of my tax that doesn’t harm my interests.

      Posted by Rob Read on 03/17 at 10:38 AM • #


    1. In the run-up to the war, the lefties were predicting Iraq would be levelled, hundreds of thousands would die, and millions more would become starving refugees.

      Now Iraq is a disaster because it isn’t Switzerland yet.

      Sod off, swampy.

      Posted by Dave S. on 03/17 at 11:03 AM • #


    1. How old is McGeough?  This stuff could have been cribbed from a high-school op-ed.  “Things are bad, unless they’re possibly not that bad; and we may be fine, perhaps, until we’re utterly screwed.” Geez, it sounds like a tarot card reading.  My cat makes more sense caterwauling.

      Posted by Nightfly on 03/17 at 02:15 PM • #


    1. “Apart from West Germany and Japan.�? What is this, a stand-up routine?


      All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

      Brought peace?

      Posted by Spiny Norman on 03/17 at 02:59 PM • #


    1. Oh, the Grand Old Scribe McGuff
      He had a mighty pen,
      He tipped it towards civil war,
      Then he tipped it back again.

      When things go well its not US;
      But when things go bad it’s US;
      When things are neither good nor bad
      It’s just a lot of fuss.

      So, the Grand Old Scribe McGuff,
      Gazed deep into his glass,
      But the level’s a conundrum,
      And his column is so humdrum;
      He is talking through his arse.

      Posted by blogstrop on 03/17 at 03:59 PM • #


    1. Arabs praising Bush/America…something you will NEVER see on our ‘fair and balanced’ public broadcasters!
      McGeough…what a NASTY, MALEVOLENT piece of SHIT he is! He pins all his hopes on millions dying just so he can prove a point.

      Posted by Brian on 03/17 at 08:16 PM • #


    1. Edgard better take a number – especially if Condi comes to Perth!

      Posted by Razor on 03/17 at 08:28 PM • #


    1. Tim, you didn’t sufficiently emphasise the best line in the article, to wit :

      But this series of events in the Middle East, which is being packaged as an Arabian spring, is more a fluke of timing than what some would have us believe is Washington’s excellent management of events.

      No-one could have predicted that Arafat would one day die, for example. It’s not as if the US has been ensuring the preconditions required for democratisation in the Middle East, without having an exact to-the-minute timetable for every event.It’s all just a string of coincidences, with Democracy in Iraq happening despite, not because of, Bush.

      If it had been left to Washington, Iraqis now would have appointed (i.e. unelected) delegates writing up a new national constitution under US guidance and they would not have been to the polls yet.

      The fact that it *was* left to Washington – who deferred to the Iraqis themselves, as they’d always said they’d do – is beside the point. That’s their story, and they’re sticking to it. La la La I can’t hear you….

      Posted by aebrain on 03/17 at 10:11 PM • #


    1. There’s some cretin from inner Margolia calling for action to “undermine the ability of the state to wage the war” against Iraq.

      Isn’t this treason?

      Why do we tolerate these commie peaceniks?

      Can’t we get some decent security legislation in this country?

      Posted by ssssabre on 03/17 at 10:14 PM • #


    1. ssssabre— Maybe they’ll stand in front of the tanks and then sue us.

      Posted by richard mcenroe on 03/17 at 11:00 PM • #


    1. There was also an invitation from one of them, young Edgard Baradhy, for his heroine, Ms. Rice, to come to Beirut “and I am ready to take her for coffee.”

      Don’t try to suppress this scandal, Tim.  It turns out young Edgard is a UN peacekeeper and what he really said was, “I am ready to take her for Kofi…”

      Posted by richard mcenroe on 03/18 at 12:24 AM • #


    1. The new standard on the left now is that Bush can’t take credit until the whole Middle East is really, really free (free to be defined by a select panel of academics at a later date)…

      Basically just a seamless shift in lefty posturing from “so why aren’t you invading North Korea too?” to “so why isn’t Syria as free as Iraq yet?”

      Posted by PW on 03/18 at 12:29 AM • #


    1. Excuse me.  But Iraq is not a success.  The Right-Wings blind ideology, together with the Left’s self-righteousness certainly isn’t going to help either.

      Views expressed on this site display a deep seeded ignorance about the cultural and political complexities of the country now known as Iraq.

      Modern Iraq was created after the defeat of the German-allied Ottoman Empire in World War I, when the victorious British and French carved up the territory of their defeated rival. One of their decisions was the establishment of the new nation of Iraq under the rule of King Faisal I. The monarch had led the great war’s Arab revolt—popularized by Lawrence of Arabia—and had captured Damascus from the Ottomans in 1918.

      The rift between Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni Muslims is primarily one of divergent religious viewpoints, which has its beginnings with the line of succession after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Regional and cultural differences also exist, but Harm De Blij noted that the two lived rather harmoniously in Iraq until the rise of Baath Party power.

      What exacerbated this [difference] was a secular political movement—the Sunni Baath party. If there is one thing Shiites are not, they’re not secular. As shown by the example of the Iranian revolution, religion is very central in their lives, and that’s not the way Sunnis looked at it.

      Saddam Hussein’s sometimes brutal treatment of Shiites during his long reign has left a potentially deep rift between the groups—with many Shiites persecuted though they were numerically in the majority. It’s one of the tragedies of Iraq, that because of that animosity a division was created that hadn’t really been there before. At the time Iraq acquired its first and second constitution it was actually a fairly multicultural and accommodating society, but the ascent of the Baath Party and the rise of Saddam Hussein led to a vicious dictatorship of a Sunni minority quite unlike the historical character of Iraq.

      Salving these longstanding wounds won’t be easy, as mistrust and animosity have grown over the years. Western officials at work in Iraq must recognize and account for such distinctions at all levels.

      Local ayatollahs toting side arms with posses of loyal followers carrying AKs and knives will make theses tribal and cultural differences an inescapable consideration in the attempts to transition to some form of democracy and representative government.

      A priority of any new Iraq government is balancing recognition and representation of the nation’s distinct cultural entities with a central, national government that can rule for the good of all. How much regional autonomy is too much? How to get all groups fairly represented under the same tent? They are tough questions, but they should be at the forefront of rebuilding a nation that was from the beginning an amalgamation of disparate groups.

      The talking heads we see on TV have maps but they only seem to show tanks, planes, roads, and forts. I dont see many of them talking about the cultural, social geography of Iraq—and I hope somebody somewhere is looking at it.

      Posted by mushtaq_omar on 03/18 at 03:18 AM • #


    1. Thanks, mushtaq_omar, for a well put point of view on this matter.
      But aren’t Wahabists more devout Sunnis? Are Sunnis more secular, really, than Shi’ites. If they are followers of the Hadith and the Sunna, this does not make them more secular, but gives them more texts on which to base teachings on, does it not?

      Posted by blogstrop on 03/18 at 04:51 AM • #


    1. Iraq just had elections in a lot shorter timespan than Germany had after its ruling leftwinger clique were removed in 1945.

      So you are implying that postwar Europe is a failure?

      I don’t think lefties understand the complexities of letting other people have responsibility and freedom of choice.

      The can be no freedom with socialism.

      Posted by Rob Read on 03/18 at 06:01 AM • #


    1. Blogstrop,

      Wahabism is not a sect of Sunni.  Rather a breakaway formed by Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, in the 1700’s.

      They are a fundamentalist group, and have many differences with their Sunni Cousins, such as a fanatic literal interpretation of the Q’ran, much as fundamentalist Christians literally interpret the Bible.  A majority of modern Christians/Muslims, view the Bible/Q’ran in a more figurative fashion.

      Saudi Arabia is mostly Wahabi, and the world’s most famous/infamous Wahabi is Bin Laden.

      Shiites believe that there their Caliphs (rulers) must be direct descendants of Mohamed, where Sunni’s don’t care.

      This appears to be a good explanation of the differences between Sunni and Shiite, where this seems a concise explanation of Wahabism.

      Posted by mushtaq_omar on 03/18 at 06:58 AM • #


    1. They are a fundamentalist group, and have many differences with their Sunni Cousins, such as a fanatic literal interpretation of the Q’ran, much as fundamentalist Christians literally interpret the Bible.

      “Fundamentalist” Christians are certainly nothing like Wahhabists. You seem to know a lot about a little, Mush.

      Posted by Andrea Harris, Administrator on 03/18 at 07:22 AM • #


    1. And I see you think you are the voice of righteousness:

      Excuse me.  But Iraq is not a success.

      How the fuck would you know? Were you expecting the desert to bloom and candy and unicorns to fall from the sky?

      Posted by Andrea Harris, Administrator on 03/18 at 07:24 AM • #


    1. Andrea,

      I was asked a question and I answered it.

      The comparison I made between fundamentalists and wahabists was simply that they both literally interpret their religious texts.  I said nothing about their actions.

      Posted by mushtaq_omar on 03/18 at 07:55 AM • #


    1. And how would you know that Iraq is not a success, mushtaq?  Because there wasn’t an election in Iraq?  Because foreign troops aren’t planning on pulling out?  Because the interim parliment didn’t meet?

      Or are you focusing on the (mostly) foreign killers who are butchering Iraqis trying to rebuild their country?  The MSM that shrieks “Omigawd!  Another car bomb!”, while ignoring the good things happening?

      Or are you indulging in wishful thinking, hoping that Iraq will fail?  Gee, it’s been what, less than 2 months since the elections?

      Maybe if you spoke down to the terrorists like you are scolding people here, maybe they would stop killing people.  Actually, probably not.  But I, for one, would take a whinger like you a little more seriously if you did so; you sound an awful lot like, oh, Michael Moore.

      So far, all you are doing is assuming the moral high ground, and flinging feces on anyone that dare assumes you might be wrong.

      Posted by The_Real_JeffS on 03/18 at 08:26 AM • #


    1. Sunshine, I didn’t dispute that you answered the question. I disputed your conclusions.

      Posted by Andrea Harris, Administrator on 03/18 at 08:28 AM • #


    1. >>They are a fundamentalist group, and have
      >> many differences with their Sunni Cousins,
      >> such as a fanatic literal interpretation of
      >> the Q’ran, much as fundamentalist
      >> Christians literally interpret the Bible.”

      >“Fundamentalist�? Christians are certainly
      > nothing like Wahhabists.”

      He was talking about how they both interpret their texts literally. He didn’t say anything about slamming planes into skyscrapers.

      Posted by Dave S. on 03/18 at 11:26 AM • #


    1. “…and unicorns fall from the sky.”

      Who’s gonna clean that up?

      Posted by mythusmage on 03/18 at 01:33 PM • #


    1. Let Dave S. do it.

      Posted by Andrea Harris, Administrator on 03/18 at 01:35 PM • #


    1. They are a fundamentalist group, and have many differences with their Sunni Cousins, such as a fanatic literal interpretation of the Q’ran, much as fundamentalist Christians literally interpret the Bible.

      He was talking about how they both interpret their texts literally. He didn’t say anything about slamming planes into skyscrapers.

      Hmm…. so if fundamentalist Christians and Muslims are both literalists, but the former run soup kitchens while the latter run terrorist cabals… could it possibly be that the difference is in the content of the particular holy texts?


      Ow! My PC collar!

      Posted by Nightfly on 03/18 at 01:51 PM • #


    1. I used to think that President Bush was naive.  I could not believe he would invade Afghanistan, a country in which two world powers, Great Britain and the Soviet Union, lost wars.  And yet the US won it and made it seem easy.

      I think the same thing is happening in the Middle East.  Bush is shrewed.  His goal is not to send American soldiers to effect change in a corrupt system of governing and existence.  But simply to act as a catalyst to allow the people to change it themselves.  And for that I believe he might have taken a lesson from the days of Vietnam, not from the politicians, or the military, but instead from the anti-war protestors.  Win the youth and you will win the war.

      That seems to have occurred, not so much in Iraq, although change is certainly happening there.  But rather in Lebanon.

      Take a look at the anti-Syria protestors.  Notice their youth, their beauty.  Notice the vivaciousness of the women, hoisted on the shoulders of the men. When I see that, only one word comes to mind.  Cool.  They are simply cool.

      Witness the pro-Syria protestors, made up of mostly men, angry, sweaty, ugly.  Conservative.  And old.

      Such a spectacle begs a question.  If you were 17 to 25 and you were watching both protests, who would you want to join, to become part of?  Even if you lived in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Iran.

      When the conservative Islamists lose the young, they lose the war.  That is the lesson from the Vietnam War days.  Take it from someone who watched those protests and wanted to be part of a movement, maybe not so much because it was intellectually the right course of action. But rather simply because it was cool.

      Posted by wronwright on 03/18 at 06:40 PM • #


    1. wronwright,

      I wrote a post related to that here.  Hope you like it.

      Posted by aaron_ on 03/18 at 09:53 PM • #


    1. Yes, well, um, very nicely worded.  But I’m not sharing any of the royalties that Tim Blair plans to pay me on my post.  And those prints of Indians riding in the winter were my own creation, no matter what you say.

      (ed. Do you have any original thoughts of your own that you can share? Obviously not).

      Posted by wronwright on 03/18 at 10:05 PM • #


    1. mushtaq_omar, you are right, Iraq is not a success (yet) but clearly its not the failure that so many of the anti-war people (mostly leftists) have been trying to portray it as over the past 6 months or so (and that many were not so secretly hoping for) and do you really think that right wingers are concluding that Iraq is a complete success already? Isn’t it the right wingers who are calling for troops to remain in Iraq until “the job is done”? and the lefties who wanted the them “OUT NOW” (to quote Margo after Abu Ghraib – thank god noone takes her seriously)

      There are signs now that success is a real possibility, the real Iraqi’s that actually live in Iraq and deal with all the issues you talked about on a day to day basis seem to think things are moving in the right direction (according to the latest polls). Obviously McGeough thinks so as well otherwise he wouldn’t be so frantically trying to downplay Bush’s involvment.
      I doubt anyone thinks its a complete success yet but as each day goes by, its becoming more and more obvious that the so called “experts” on Arab affairs were almost certainly completely wrong, utterly misunderstanding the Iraqi psyche, and apparently most of the Arab street as well. Personally, I believe proving them wrong is one of the biggest of the incremental successes achieved by the Iraqi’s so far (thats if it continues that way.)

      Disaster is still hiding just around the corner in Iraq, but so is overall success, its there for the taking now, where it never was before, and to me that is a success story in itself.

      P.S although I thought the first paragraph was a load, the rest of your post (being mostly factual) was pretty interesting.
      imo anyway

      Posted by Michael42 on 03/19 at 06:46 AM • #


  1. Nations, like web sites, are always ‘under construction’.

    Posted by mythusmage on 03/19 at 04:59 PM • #