Monday, January 03, 2005

# Posted 10:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Massive public demonstrations in support of Iraq and in opposition to the military buildup of the U.S.-led coalition [have] taken place in almost every country in the region. This opposition emphasized the common interests and bonds of solidarity between Arabs, and more broadly, between Muslims against Western intervention...

A growing perception of the threat posed by the largely Western-orchestrated and overwhelmingly U.S. interventionary force, its presence near Islam's most sacred cities, and the prospects of a permanent Western military presence in the region took precedence over initial concerns about the threat posed by Iraqi Iraqi agression...

[Nonetheless], the ensuing destruction of Iraq by the U.S.-led coalition did not lead to the mass uprising of Arab and Muslim peoples that some observers had predicted.
If you know how fond I am of historical mischief, you may already have guessed that the passage cited above is a description of the Arab response to the first American invasion of Iraq, not the second.

I came across this passage today while making my way through a collection of of essays entitled Cultures of Insecurity, published by the U. Minnesota press in 1999. Naturally, I found the passage quite striking since it challenged the first invasion of Iraq -- which we now consider to be a model of multilateral diplomacy and American restraint -- with the same arguments now arrayed against the current Gulf War.

The significance of this fact is open to debate. Steve Niva, the author of the essay, would presumably argue that the second invasion reflects the total failure of the United States to learn the lessons of the first. (Niva received his Ph.D. from Columbia, teaches at Evergreen State College and is a frequent contibutor to Common Dreams.)

To my mind, the passage above demonstrates how prone American experts are to exaggerate the dangers of provoking the so-called "Arab street". I won't pretend we have many fans out there, but what happened to all the antagonism that center-left critics of the first invasion identified at the time? Some might say that it is still there, but my sense is critics of this war overwhelmingly identified US support for Israel as the real cause of Arab resentment.

As OxBlog is always fond of pointing out, widespread predictions of a pan-Arab uprising in response to the March 2003 invasion turned out to be completely false. It is important, of course, to distinguish a hypothetical pan-Arab uprising from the Al Qaeda-supported Ba'athist insurgency in Iraq. I failed to anticipate the ferocity of the Ba'athist reponse, but it hardly represents a transnational response to American disresepct for the Arab world.

The point I'm driving at here is that in spite of all of their governments' propaganda, Arabs may have more ability than we expect to recognize whether the US has done the right thing. We did the right thing in 1991. We did the right thing for the wrong reasons in 2003. So now we have to prove our good intentions by staying committed to Iraq until it really is more free and more secure than the rest of the Middle East.
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