A Domino Effect of Questions

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Do you believe that Druze leader Walid Jumblatt may have been opportunistic when he said that the Mideast's "process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq"? If so, here is the liberal Arab journalist Mona Eltahawy on the same subject.

Eltahawy has been a consistent critic of the war and of American aims in the region. As she put it in Sunday's WaPo, "There is a way to talk about the effect of the Iraq war on the rest of the Arab world without actually supporting that war. This time last year and the year before, I marched in demonstrations in New York against the war on Iraq, which I did not believe was launched in the name of democracy and freedom. But we would be lying to ourselves if we didn't acknowledge that the U.S. occupation of Iraq is a major catalyst for what has been happening lately, be it in Egypt, Lebanon or Saudi Arabia."

"The invasion of Iraq," she writes, "was the equivalent of a bucket of freezing water thrown in the face of an Arab world in deep slumber." Eltahawy wants the anti-dictatorship efforts of Arab activists (who received little support from past U.S. administrations) to be recognized as well.

The overthrow of Iraq's Baathist regime has led many Arabs to question their own systems; the war, she says, has sparked a "domino effect" of such questions. As an example, Eltahawy offers an Egyptian's point of view. "The U.S. invasion," that source told her, "revealed the ability to overthrow one of the worst tyrants around and led to this question: If this regime collapsed, why not the others? Why shouldn't Syria leave Lebanon? Why shouldn't we change the Egyptian regime? Isn't it enough (kifaya) already?"

In fact, quotes much like this have been around for some time. The Syrian filmmaker Omar Amiralay told the NYT on March 20, 2004 what the overthrow of Iraq's regime meant to him: "The myth of having to live under despots for eternity collapsed."

"When you see one of the two Baath parties broken, collapsing, you can only hope that it will be the turn of the Syrian Baath next," he told reporter Neil MacFarquhar. Indeed, Amiralay soon started working on a documentary film with the working title, "Fifteen Reasons Why I Hate the Baath" (the harsh critique was eventually called A Flood in Baath Country). Watching the overthrow of the Iraqi regime, he told the NYT, "gave me the courage to do" the film.

Amiralay, by the way, made the only documentary about Rafiq Hariri, L'Homme aux semelles d'or.

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  1. Charles Paul Freund,

    This is just another way of reframing your earlier sneering and unwarranted remark about Bush critics.

    But we would be lying to ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that the U.S. occupation of Iraq is a major catalyst for what has been happening lately, be it in Egypt, Lebanon or Saudi Arabia.

    Or we might just be cautious regarding the issue of causality as well as results.

  2. Don’t mind me, just standing around, anxiously awaiting Joe’s spin on this one!

  3. What, you can’t have a thread without me?

    That’s sweet.

  4. “Major catalyst’ sounds about right, close enough to my “sadly necessary but not entirely sufficient” take that I won’t quibble.

  5. Christ, joe’s gone and got a publicist. I say blogging has now officially gone too far.

    I await the rebirth of Bart.

  6. R.C. Dean,

    Neither necessary nor sufficient is more like it.

  7. “Or we might just be cautious regarding the issue of causality as well as results.”

    Selectively cautious, GG.

  8. Selectivity is the heart of caution.

  9. Todd Fletcher,

    Sorry, I just don’t share the Trotskite worldview of the Bush administration. 🙂

  10. Todd Fletcher,

    And I have to admit that I am far interested in the loss of liberty in the U.S. than anything.

  11. Very French sounding, the way you accidentally dropped “more” from you sentence there, GG.

  12. Selectivity is the heart of caution.

    Yeah, and art is the heart of chokes.

  13. Douglas Fletcher,

    It should be readily apparent that I do not proof read my blog posts. If it makes you feel any better though, I can speak and read French like its my mother tongue. 🙂

  14. You know, every now and then H&R has a thread about some study published by social scientists. The usual response on this forum goes as follows:

    1) Correlation does not equal causation.
    2) Did they consider any of these alternative hypotheses?
    3) How big is their data set?

    These are all excellent questions to ask. Now, it frequently turns out that the authors were aware of these issues, and so they looked for more than just correlation, they controlled for other variables, they tested alternative hypotheses, and they tried to carefully assemble a large data set without injecting bias.

    But at least H&R commenters realize that these are important issues before declaring that a hypothesis has been validated.

    I wait eagerly for Democratic Domino Theory to face the same level of skepticism from some of the usual suspects.

  15. thoreau,

    this isn’t a study where someone can adjust variables; it is real life, and 50 years from now historians will probably be arguing cause and effect. kinda like reagan & the collapse of the evil empire; we can form our opinions but we won’t have solid proof to back them, although suggestive evidence may arise.

  16. Neither necessary nor sufficient is more like it.

    Well, since I said it was “not entirely sufficient” we are in agreement on that point.

    As to whether it was “sadly necessary”, I can only point to a dearth of successful/relevant/meaningful democracy movements before the Afghan/Iraq examples and the Bush Doctrine.

    Looking at the one variable of US intervention in the region, it would sure appear that in the absence of muscular US intervention, liberalization/democracy doesn’t happen, but after such intervention, lo, let a thousand flowers bloom. Thus, my formulation of sadly necessary, but admittedly not entirely sufficient.

    Counterexamples are, as always, patiently awaited.

  17. this isn’t a study where someone can adjust variables; it is real life

    Exactly! Be careful about giving credit when things are unclear.

  18. Exactly! Be careful about giving credit when things are unclear.

    Like many things in real life, we need to analyze this sort of thing based upon best available information, and make decisions accordingly. We can’t wait 50 years before we make a tentative decision.

  19. Well, Don, considering that there is much, much more than 50 years of evidence to suggest that world powers should be careful about meddling, I’d say that the near-term results (or apparent results) of our latest meddling should hardly be taken as a green light for more meddling.

  20. “Looking at the one variable of US intervention in the region, it would sure appear that in the absence of muscular US intervention, liberalization/democracy doesn’t happen, but after such intervention, lo, let a thousand flowers bloom. Thus, my formulation of sadly necessary, but admittedly not entirely sufficient.

    Counterexamples are, as always, patiently awaited.”

    The Iranian democracy movement was much larger and more active before the invasion than after. Wow, it’s March 2005, I’ve been making that point in the future, present, and past tenses for two and half years now.

    RC, do you really want to declare that the invasion of Iraq caused the uprising in Ukraine, but that it did not cause the country next door to Iraq to have a “rally round the flag” effect, and cause that country’s government to have a freer hand in cracking down on internal opposition?

    And, of course, there are the ongoing reforms in the smaller gulf states, including the creation of parliaments and the expansion of suffrage, which have been going on since the 1990s.

  21. joe

    Do YOU have any evidence for your assertions about the democratic opposition in Iran?

  22. i’ve yet to hear mr freund address the skepticism evinced by the arabist and nur al-cubicle regarding the manufactured basis of these well-financed, telegenic color-coded “revolutions”. they seem to follow the serbian model and gene sharp’s outline very closely.

    i’ve come to severely doubt it’s the lebanese that watched the ukrainian revolution so closely so much as it is the same american-backed ngo’s manifesting the same policy program that accounts for the naked similarities.

    such third party regime change may not be a universal evil — but it surely isn’t what anyone in the united states believes they’re watching in lebanon, and they have conveniently given the bush administration the excuses they need to start issuing ultimatums and rattling sabres.

    do you know any american ngo’s at work in beirut, mr young? who’s paying for all the stickers and flags and porta-potties at these things (conveniences noticably lacking at hezbollah’s rally the other day)?

  23. thoreau,

    meddling by “world powers” hasn’t been as problamatic as you might think. for example, the royal navy was a powerful force for good around the globe for a very long time.

  24. Andrew,

    “Do YOU have any evidence for your assertions about the democratic opposition in Iran?” Yes, very strong evidence: the paucity of protests in Iran in the past couple of years and the size and frequency of those protests in the years running up the Iraq War.

    Now I realize, all this shows is correlation, not causation. However, there is at least a rational nexus to point to: having the Great Satan on your border strengthens the government’s hand. The assertion that the independence protests in Lebanon were the consequence of events in Iraq (despite the fact that they look a lot more like Ukraine) is much more tenuous.

  25. joe

    Then how come seeing the Great Satan arrive on the OTHER border didn’t seem to bother them? The slogan in the LAST big wave of protest was “Death to the Taliban, in Kabul and in Teheran!” Why is seeing the US drop Saddam, who killed at least a half-million Persians, supposed to dim the light of freedom? You really have the nerve to stand by this crap analysis?

  26. “Then how come seeing the Great Satan arrive on the OTHER border didn’t seem to bother them?”

    First of all, the mullahs and the Taliban were at each others throats – the Taliban killed Tehran’s diplomatic staff in Kabul when they captured the city.

    Second, the justification for the invasion of Afghanistan couldn’t be used as an excuse to invade Iran, whereas the pretext given for invading Iraq – the global Jacobin revolution against guys with long beards and bad attitudes, who might have WMD programs – applies to Iran just as well as to Iraq.

    “Why is seeing the US drop Saddam, who killed at least a half-million Persians, supposed to dim the light of freedom?” Wow, a hawk pretending that removing Saddam from power was the only consequence of the war. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. In case you didn’t notice, there are almost 140,000 American troops in Iraq, including heavy armor divisions. The presence of an expansionist power overrunning your next door neighbor, and declaring its intention to set up shop in the neighborhood, tends to rile people up. You’ve been reading these threads – how many times has the “benefit” of enhancing our ability to invade Iran been pointed out as a positive effect of the war?

    ‘The slogan in the LAST big wave of protest was “Death to the Taliban, in Kabul and in Teheran!”‘ So what your arguing is that people in the political opposition don’t rally to the flag when they believe their country might be going to war? That’s…interesting. Were you perhaps out of the country in the last quarter of 2001? Yeah, it’s MY crap analysis that has holes it.

  27. R.C. Dean,

    You do understand what the term “sufficient” means, right? Its a binary concept you dolt. Either something is sufficient or it isn’t.

    Your query was answered.

  28. Now I realize, all this shows is correlation, not causation. However, there is at least a rational nexus to point to: having the Great Satan on your border strengthens the government’s hand. The assertion that the independence protests in Lebanon were the consequence of events in Iraq (despite the fact that they look a lot more like Ukraine) is much more tenuous.

    It is clear that in Iran, the government cracked down on student protestors. That’s a more “rational nexus” than your “rally about the flag” nexus, particularly since the students in Iran probably understand that a US invasion would lead to a democratic process.

    The fact that people in Lebanon think that the US invasion of Iraq is pushing the process there makes it a much less tenuous assertion than your off-the-cuff assertions about Iran.

  29. joe

    What you’re saying is, you DON’T have any evidence – and it is likely you don’t know much about it, and possibly don’t care…this is just a talking point you picked up off Kos or DU. You don’t even know that “the number of protests” IS down, in that you likely have no idea what the number was before, or is now.

    How come you can’t cite a single Persian source on this? The Persian opposition is hardly inarticulate, and hundreds, if not thousands, of web-sites are easily accessed. What I hear from web-sites that touch on the issue, is that the regime is uncomfortable with discussing the situation in Iraq, at all: an elephant in the living-room they choose to ignore…for one, as a diplomatic matter, they AREN’T implacably opposed to our being in Iraq…and, two – they believe it makes them appear vunerable.

    A flash-point between ordinary Iranians and the regime was removed when the mullahs backed off on the fire-festivals.

    But you believe what you want, because you live in the universe where Castro and Chavez are populist heroes, right?

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