Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Who's an expert on the Middle East...?

Mark brought up in the comments section a question on the latest traveling Iraq post. It was "are you going to write a post about the Iraqi Constitution?" Thanks for asking Mark, because I've wanted to write the post you are about to read for quite some time.

I have a love affair with the Middle East. There's simply no other way to put it. However, I am an American. While I may get to see or hear things that a lot of other Americans don't, the simple truth is that the people there (in Iraq, or Iran, or wherever the case may be), will always know more, and that's the key, listening to them. While I will discuss what I've seen or heard or experienced in Iraq sometimes, it's more of the variety of something I have firsthand experience with. I couldn't offer anything compared to any of the Iraqi blogs on the Iraqi Constitution, so I won't write about it. That's pretty much my test. Do I have something to say that people are possibly unlikely to hear or see elsewhere?

However, when I hear Michael Yon talking tonight about how the Kurdish are becoming more and more adamant about a separatist state, I find myself sitting here nodding my head. Most people don't know how fractioning this could actually become to Iraq. Kurdistan is a huge part of the economy, forget about the fact that Sulymania and the rest of Kurdistan don't exactly see eye to eye. I still believe it is also something that would benefit both areas to keep unity. I understand the Kurdish issue, really I do, as I've stated here previously. But, ARGH, the pride in the Middle East is stifling at times, and so, so, so exhausting to watch. Grudges are held and passed down for centuries, or longer.

I did get to see the beautiful signs along the roadside regarding the writing of the Iraqi Constitution, unfortunately, though the shot I thought I got had never really made it...(need a new camera).

Anyhow, this goes to something bigger for me. I go into a bookstore, here, or in Britain, and I head directly for the History section, and then the Middle East, and yes, usually specifically Iraq. (Here's me crawling around the Borders store down near Ground Zero....my colleague with me at the time thought it was amusing that I literally crawled around looking at books). One day, my sister took the kids to the movies and I spent the entire 2 hours reading this book in the store, never even knew the time was going by until my phone rang. I was sitting on the floor, tears streaming down my face, couldn't put the book down. Another time I spent a good part of an hour sitting in the Borders at Tyson's Corner in the VA/DC area reading this book.

But what normally happens is this: I go into a store, see 50 books on Iraq/Iran/Middle East by various authors, David Pryce Jones, Edward Said, of course I have read Lewis and Friedman, but now they don't hold the same allure for me. They are more knowledgeable than I, certainly. But are they more knowledgeable than, say, people there? I know enough Iraqis and Iranians now that I feel I have my own historical library if I want it. I'm not so shortsighted as to not realize that this is filtered through their personal experiences, so you still need a cross section of views. But I just can't get my mind around the fact that some American, no matter how well schooled, has any authority on a subject that is greater than the person that has and is living it. And this is where blogs come in. I've always wanted to see, and have talked with some pretty smart folks about, a future where there will be "stringers" from various countries, and translation so that we can hear all of the voices in the way that they are heard on the blogosphere in the US. That day, I think, is not so far off, and I very much look forward to it.


Blogger Mark said...


I have mixed emotions regarding the process by which the Iraqis are trying to develop their Constitution.

First, there's the question of whether the United States should interfere in the discussion and to what extent. If we don't interfere and the Constitution makes Iraqi women second class citizens, the accusation will be, "The Bush administration made our sons die for a regime that is stuck in the 7th century."

If we do intervene, we will be accused of being imperialistic and defeating the democratic principles we hope to advance, because we, presumably, will not be trusting the "voices of the Iraqi people" by dictating demands to them.

4:52 AM  
Blogger Mark said...


To continue (and this is from an American perspective, I haven't set foot outside of the US for more than an hour since I was 5 years old, just truth in advertising here)

The folks at NRO's corner were saying that if the Iraqis fail to meet this new, extended deadline, it will be a huge setback for those of us who have supported the mission of democratizing Iraq.

This is true. However, I believe (and could be wrong) that if the assembly were dissolved and new elections held, the result of the new Iraqi elections might be a constitutional assembly that would (at least among the Shia voters) be less interested in a strong role for Islam as the only source of Iraqi law.

As I understand it (a big qualification, to be sure), many of the Shia would voted for the major Shia list out of "identity politics" last January would vote for a more secular list if given another chance. This might make bridging differences between the Shia and the Kurds easier.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

....to continue.....

Also, if another constitutional assembly were elected, it is likely that more Sunni Arabs would participate in those elections. This might result in a constitution that, in the long run, more Sunnis would identify with and, thus, feel less willing to rebel from. A reduction in the insurgency?

But I wonder, in the short term, if American resolve could handle the inability of the current assembly to write the constitution.

Also, what would happen if a constitution were approved by the assembly but were voted down in a referendum?

Are Americans patient enough to really allow the Iraqis to debate the merits of their constitution and possibly say "No" on the first go around?

As you can tell by the fact that this comment has gone on this long, I have lots of anxiety about this constitutional process.

Americans want instant results. But as a marine told Karl Zinsmeister, democracy in Iraq isn't likely to be like buying a hamberger at McDonalds. It's going to take time.

5:01 AM  
Blogger Kerry said...

OK, well, I can certainly give you my opinion on the Constitution as it stands and some concerns that you raise. One of the things that struck me initially was that the Constitution was too specific.

The enemy is not just terror in Iraq, it is impatience. In fact, I'd put those two at about equal right now, and it annoys the hell out of me, because it is a bigger part of the WoT, and we KNEW this was going to be a long slog. It's going to be a hell of a lot longer. The Middle East is today's USSR. How long did we deal with that? In my opinion it's going to be a spotlight region for the next 10 years minimum. China obviously being the other one, as far as security goes.

I'm so tired of hearing people say that Iraqis need to get up and do something. Okay, yes, ultimately only they can save their country. But in just 2 years can we really expect an entire culture to do a 180 degree turn? What I mean is that for the last DECADES in order to survive, they had to adopt the mindset of not standing up for anything, for keeping their heads down and their mouths shut. Yes, humans long for freedom, but it takes TIME for them to overcome the culture of fear, particularly when for most people all that's happened is that one danger has been exchanged for another. Truth is, most people just want to stay out of the way, they don't want to lead, or follow. And the regime did a great job instilling this in particular in the last 15 years or so of it. And people expect these people to "just do it" after that? We're talking major PTSD over there, a large part of the populace of Baghdad uses valium. Those who don't use alcohol and cigarettes in abundance in many cases to help control stress. So, that would be a minimum 5 years to get over in GOOD conditions, EXCEPT, they are still living in terror, just a different form. And it's not like our soldiers, who give a sacrifice which is above because it isn't their country, but people try to compare that, and they can't. Our soldiers know they may die. They also know their families will not be killed or tortured by the terrorists because they are there. Now, try reconciling that while you are fighting. If I stand up, my wife and children might get killed. It's enough to make lots of people think twice. Now, if someone could get them to all stand at the same time, as they did on voting day, then hey, we know what would happen. The populace would win. But they tried that in 91 and they haven't forgotten what happened in the years following. More and worse brutality, year after year. So why this is "taking so long" isn't a damned mystery.

However, you make a great point about the vote. As I've said before, and many Iraqis have pointed this out to me, the vote was based very much on emotional reaction the first time 'round. A new vote, I believe, would give larger margins to the more secular parties.

The women's issue is one I owe a longer post to address.

Someone wrote, I don't remember where, that if we end up with "Taliban light" in Afghanistan, "islamic based law, but elected officials" in Iraq, we still ought to consider it a whole lot better than it was, because we will still have governments that we can at least "deal with, a la Pakistan". An entire culture is not going to change overnight. The sad thing about Iraq is what it used to be and represent before the Ba'athists took over. It really was a civilization that was up and coming in the Middle East, and it could easily have been more modernized than Jordan today if events had taken a different turn.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Mark said...


Thanks. Appreciate the quick response.

You are correct, impatience is the main enemy in Iraq, not the terrorists.

I look forward to future posts on this, whenever you feel the need to tackle this issue.

7:27 AM  
Blogger Mark said...


I admit that I don't know much of what I am talking about. But my post on the Iraqi constitution, its delay and its implications.

2:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


8:12 AM  
Anonymous Dr. Health said...

I couldn't offer anything compared to any of the Iraqi blogs on the Iraqi Constitution, so I won't write about it.

2:05 PM  

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