Every so often, an article or report will come out that repeats a common theme: Iraq itself may be a disaster, but Iraqi Kurdistan is secure, developing, and democratic. Here’s one from CBS News, another from the Washington Post, a third from National Review Online and, most recently, a piece from the Weekly Standard, in which the author ironically does not realize that he relies on a man accused by the U.S. army of corruption.
The Kurdistan Regional Government is slick and does not hesitate to pay visitors’ ways, shower them with hospitality, or hold out the possibility of a slice of the Kurdish oil pie. As with the Mujhaedin al-Khalq, which essentially was able to bribe former officials to get it de-listed as a terrorist group, too many former officials—both Republicans and Democrats—are willing to let greed trump principle when it comes to the Kurds. Yes, Kurds have made tremendous success (as has southern Iraq) since their removal from the yoke of Saddam’s dictatorship, but democratic they are not.
In the wake of the latest New York City corruption scandal, the New York Times convened a panel to answer an interesting question: Mayor Michael Bloomberg remains, to our knowledge, above and disconnected from the sea of corruption around him; it is because rich politicians have less need for the money of others, and are therefore less corruptible?
Leave aside the low expectations–Bloomberg may be many things, but at least he’s no crook–and the liberal goggles through which the Times views the issue–Mitt Romney’s honest wealth makes him cold and out of touch; Bloomberg’s honest wealth makes him honest–and there is actually a very old question here about politics and the ideal nature of republican governance.
Watching political developments unfold in the Middle East—from Libya’s post-Qaddafi chaos to the growing authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Nouri al-Maliki in post-Saddam Hussein, and now the violent dissolution of post-Bashar Assad Syria—it is easy to despair of the possibility of real democracy taking root in the region or to pine for the days of the strongmen. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a must-read counterpoint in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. She reminds us that the process of democratic development was not very smooth in Western Europe either—that in fact it took decades, even centuries.
She offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany: all now well-established liberal democracies but at one point they were anything but.
In what is becoming a standard trope for Israeli leftists, Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit today decries the “savagery” of Israel’s “rising political forces,” who are “alien to the new West’s values.” To which my response is, “thank God”–because the “new West’s values” are antithetical to the very existence of a Jewish state. And if that sounds far-fetched, just consider European Commission President Manuel Barroso’s speech last week when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on the European Union’s behalf.
Quoting the commission’s first president, Walter Hallstein, Barroso declared that 20th-century history showed “The system of sovereign nation-states has failed,” because “through two world wars it has proved itself unable to preserve peace.” Therefore, Barroso said, “nations needed to think beyond the nation-state” and create “supranational institutions.” Later, he reiterated this point by quoting one of the EU’s founding fathers, Jean Monnet: “The sovereign nations of the past can no longer solve the problems of the present,” Monnet said, and even the EU itself “is only a stage on the way to the organized world of the future.”
I missed this very smart article when it first came out, but it’s well worth reading. Apropos of Alana Goodman’s comments yesterday and using Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as an example, Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey’s most talented columnists, examines how so many Islamists talk about their desire to embrace “American freedom” when it suits them but ignore such freedoms when they contradict Islamist precepts. A few excerpts:
…At his party’s historic congress, the prime minister lamented once again that his daughters had to study in the U.S. because they had not been admitted to a Turkish university due to the now defunct headscarf ban on campuses. Similarly, a small Chinese-army-size army of his cheerleaders in the media have invariably hailed American democratic culture and civil liberties in the hope that these freedoms would one day blossom in Turkey too. They have glorified American freedoms and exemplified American secularism over French laicite. In short, “we wanted American freedoms in Turkey!”
Did we? Really? Why, then, was Mr. Erdogan “saddened by President Barack Obama’s remarks” that a ban on the unworthy film mocking Prophet Mohammed would violate free speech? Simple. Because the prime minister and his chorus of willing devotees adore American freedoms when American freedoms do not ban the headscarf, but hate American freedoms when American freedoms do not ban an anti-Islamic blasphemous video either.
At City Journal, the invaluable Theodore Dalrymple reviews the equally invaluable Dan Hannan’s A Doomed Marriage: Britain and Europe, and predicts pessimistically that it will change few minds about the EU, since “in the Eurocrats’ world, ignoring arguments is the highest form of refutation.” By way of explaining why the EU has a stranglehold on elite opinion, Dalrymple argues that the EU is good at corrupting business with the promise of controlled markets, politicians with perks far beyond their merits, and civil society with bribes.
All that is true, but not true enough. In Britain, the EU appeals to the elite in part because of the myth of leadership, i.e. the belief that, if only it rolls up its sleeves, Britain will be able to lead the EU in a direction that suits its desires. This is the myth that lies behind the so-called lost opportunity of Britain’s failure to sign the original Treaty of Rome, and it has inspired politicians as diverse as Harold Macmillan and Tony Blair to toss their chips in with Brussels. In reality, the reason why Britain did not sign on was because its interests and ideals led it to prefer different arrangements, and the past 50 years have proven comprehensively that the EU imposes far more on Britain than Britain is able to impose on the EU. Yet the myth lingers.
The Wall Street Journal has published a story, an editorial, and an op-ed on Libya’s first multi-party elections since the early 1950s. And while complex election rules make it difficult to know the precise outcome, the Journal reports that “Libya’s vote is expected to curb the sway of Islamic groups.”
“Ideology is dead,” according to Mahmoud Jibril, the U.S.-educated former Qaddafu-era economic official who defected to become the face of Libya’s revolution last year. “We stand for inclusiveness,” he said of the coalition he leads. According to Ann Marlowe of the Hudson Institute, “this coalition is not liberal or secular in the Western sense, but it supports a civil state and is opposed to the values of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party.”
“This is the day that we fix the past,” Maryem El-Barouni, a 23-year-old medical student told the Journal’s Margaret Coker. “We’ve come through a very bad period. This is our chance to feel freedom.”
About these developments, several things can be said. The first is that some critics of the Libyan intervention can still find dark linings in what has occurred. The second is that the Obama administration deserves praise for having intervened. The president’s actions, in concert with our European allies, toppled a brutal dictator and prevented slaughter at minimal human and financial cost to America and the West. Third, Libya’s transition to self-government has a very long way to go and much can go wrong. Still, at this early juncture, the intervention can be fairly judged to have been a success.
The New York Times reports CIA operatives are playing at least an indirect role in getting arms to the Syrian opposition. It has become customary among the thoughtful American opposition to pat President Barack Obama on the back for doing the right thing half-heartedly and very late. So, congratulations Mr. President. (See how fair-minded we are!)
Is this the first step in an American effort to get rid of the bloodthirsty dictator—and Iran’s ally—Bashar al-Assad? Let’s hope so, because it’s become all too clear how thoroughly miserable homegrown liberation efforts are without American involvement. Indeed, one of the most pressing geopolitical questions of our time has become: what do we do about destabilizing freedom movements in the age of American indifference?
The results of Obama’s hands-off doctrine are inarguable.
During the last few days, I’ve been highlighting the undeniable social changes Turkey’s Islamist government is imposing. The situation is fast going from bad to worse, as the Turkish government transforms the country from one which upholds liberalism (beyond the Kurdish issue, that is) to one which now seems to be following the self-destructive path Pakistan forged in the early 1970s, when Islamabad pushed a more radical interpretation of Islam as its chief national identity.
The most recent outrage against tolerance in Turkey involves pianist Fazıl Say, who shared a tweet reading: “Wherever there is a stupid person or a thief, they are believers in God. Is this a paradox?” That sentiment may not be my cup of tea, but the basis of democracy is tolerance. Not so in Turkey. On June 1, an Istanbul court handed down an indictment charging Say with “insulting the religious values of a section of society.” He now faces 1.5 years in prison.
Soldiers in Mali have overthrown that West African nation’s government, claiming that the elected government has incompetently managed efforts to defeat the long-running Tuareg insurgency. Mali may not often be on American policymakers’–let alone the public’s–radar, but it was important for a number of reasons. One of the world’s poorest countries, Mali was consistently not only ranked free by Freedom House, but it was also the world’s freest majority Muslim country—much freer than Turkey, and freer than both Bosnia and Albania.
About a decade ago, I was fortunate to spend some time in Mali, where I got to visit Timbuktu—to see just where my parents had always threatened to send me when I misbehaved. I wrote this piece at the time, lamenting how the squeaky wheels in Sudan and Lebanon got the American grease, but the quiet democrats in Bamako were ignored. Mali was the perfect antidote to the diplomatic tripe that poverty—rather than ideology—caused terrorism. Mali was dirt poor, but aside from very specific and isolated pockets, Saudi-funded imams had made little headway. Still, it was shortsighted for American officials to basically cede Mali to the Libyans and the Saudis to proselytize and indoctrinate.
In 2008, writing at the UK Independent, Paul Vallely contemplated whether to support sanctions on Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The article was Vallely basically thinking out loud, and he launched his train of thought with the following question: Have sanctions ever worked? Not often, he decided. He listed South Africa among the few success stories, and Burma among the failures.
But it may be time to revisit the judgment on Burma. The country’s ruling party, now led by Thein Sein, has begun releasing political prisoners and has indicated that more freedom is on the way, in what some are terming Burma’s glasnost. And today, the Wall Street Journal reports that Burma has requested American and British monitors for April’s parliamentary elections, with the hope that Western sanctions will be eased if Burma can demonstrate continued movement toward democracy. Additionally, while sanctions are usually criticized as disproportionately damaging to the population rather than the government, there is much evidence that this simply isn’t the case in Burma.