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Friday, February 11

A Waste of Great Real Estate  

Via Ezra (again) we have Tom Friedman. The text of this opinion piece tacks from the cogent to the bizarre and back faster than a ship navigating the Straight of Magellan. My education about the Middle East is very much in its infancy and yet I cannot help but feel that Friedman, for all his work in that area, is more clueless than I am.

There will be a lot of trial and error in the months ahead. But this is a hugely important horizontal dialogue because if Iraqis can't forge a social contract, it would suggest that no other Arab country can – since virtually all of them are similar mixtures of tribes, ethnicities and religions. That would mean that they can be ruled only by iron-fisted kings or dictators, with all the negatives that flow from that.

And yet falling towards the heart of this paragraph with alarming speed is the Iranian sword of Damocles. From what I can gather, what is happening in Iran is a genuine horizontal dialogue between and amongst a people who are dissatisfied with their government. Similar, perhaps, to the one that occured behind the Iron Curtain in the 70s and 80s. What we have in Iraq is something else entirely and much more of a Frankenstein. The point is that Friedman's statement that what's happening in Iraq is unique to the region is offensively wrong. What separates the steps taken towards democracy and liberty in Iraq from those elsewhere is that they are being forced by a foreign military. They are not organic, not a true democratic conversation between the governing and the governed. It might still work, but it is not a model to be emulated anywhere else.

Another problem is not that Tom Friedman is a fool, but that fools read him. Fools in power. They read Friedman and Lewis and Raphael Patai and they put these half-cocked ideas into motion, and dire consequences result.

In the specific case of the most recent Iraqi elections, Friedman needs to get his facts down:

If we can help produce a representative government in Iraq – based on free and fair elections and with a Shiite leadership that accepts minority rights and limits on clerical involvement in politics – it will exert great pressure on the ayatollah–dictators running Iran. In Iran's sham "Islamic democracy," only the mullahs decide who can run. Over time, Iranian Shiites will demand to know why they can't have the same freedoms as their Iraqi cousins right next door. That will drive change in Iran. Just be patient.

But the Iraqis didn't decide who ran for this parliament-thingy either. The voters didn't know for whom they were voting. There was no campaign, no exchange of ideas, no dialogue about the future of Iraq. Now it seems Ahmed Chalabi is a front-runner for a cabinet post. Why is it that American sponsored exiles keep popping up in positions of power? Hint, it's not because of the freedom we've created in Iraq.

There is more, much more, but I fear my head will explode. Again, I don't mind that Friedman is a fool, it's that his readers in power actually give his twaddle credence.

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