Friday, March 25, 2011

Ask Mr. Geography

Sylvia, of Dallas, Texas, writes:

Hi Richard,
I can't help but think history will look very favorably upon W for doing what he did in Iraq and for the subsequent consequences of the Mideast countries standing up and fighting for freedom. What do you think?
Mr. Geography:
Hi, Sylvia, thanks for writing. That is an interesting and intriguing question.
I think you are assuming a causal relationship that just isn't there. It's very good that Saddam is gone; but democracy hasn't really started in Iraq, and the US military action in Iraq has as a result left Iran as the major military power in the region. Iraq, like Iran, is majority Shi'a, and you can expect Iraq and its huge oil resources to increasingly tip toward Iran as the government becomes more representative of the Iraqi majority.

Look instead at the self-immolation in Tunisia as the spark that lit the freedom fires across North Africa and Southwest Asia. Egypt has suffered under Mubarak for over a generation, and the abuses, tortures, and political imprisonments that happened under the Mubarak regime are more instrumental in bringing about its demise than anything the US could hope to achieve in this region.

When many educated in Southwest Asia and North Africa think of US foreign policy, they think about the US ouster of the elected government in Iran and institution of the Pahlavi (Shah of Iran) regime. They are also aware of the relationships existing between the US and some of the region's cruelest and most brutal characters, including the ruling Saud family in Saudi Arabia and Mubarak in Egypt. Remember also that Rumsfeld, on behalf of the Reagan/Bush administrations, considered Saddam an ally, providing him with satellite intelligence showing the location of Iranian troops so they could be gassed.

The blooming of democracy in the Middle East is not an American product, nor is it American inspired. But we can take heart in the new turn of US policy in the region, supporting fledging "true" democratic movements. And the people of the region note and approve of that change, even though they remain somewhat (justifiably) suspicious.


  1. I would argue that the democratic movement is American-inspired in the sense that people in the Middle East want what we have -- many of them have friends or family who live here and are quite rightly envious of the political and social freedoms that we have in the U.S. (moreso than in Europe, given the ethnic and religious tensions there).

    However, you are quite right in that most people in the region (at least the ones I've talked to) don't believe that the spread of democracy had anything to do with the U.S. intrusion into Iraq, nor has Iraq been an example for the region -- only in the past couple of months has Iraq even begun functioning like a democracy.

    I haven't seen or heard anyone in any of the protests citing Iraq as a model of what they want their societies to become -- most of them seem to be looking at Turkey, which became a democracy all by itself in the 1930s, stands tall in the international community, and has more of a partner-relationship with the U.S. and Europe than the client relationships that Mubarak had.

    As for how history will judge W ... that remains to be seen.

  2. Caitlin, of Istanbul, Turkey:

    Since blog spot is blocked in Turkey I can't post a comment, just read it using a proxy.

    But I will say that I think the biggest difference between Iraq and the other countries we are currently hearing about in the news is how these movemen...ts have started. With Iraq, a change in administration was forced upon the Iraqi people by the coalition forces. It was a foreign power basically taking over without consideration for the makeup of the country- something seen in the Cold War with Afghanistan. As a result we are now dealing with large amounts of sectarian violence. However in Egypt for example, the movement to get rid of Mubarak started as a result of a group citizens wanting to gather in protest of the poor economic conditions. What resulted was thousands joining in Tahrir Square. I heard comments on the BBC from one of the men who organized the first round of protests. He had no idea the movement would catch on at the rate and size that it did. Through social media, mainly, word was able to travel fast and people could gather. Corporate media was not the source of information, nor the government. It was sights like Facebook and Youtube which served as a catalyst for gathering. Many social scientists have commented on the nature of these movements- they have lacked the central formal organiztiong and normal catalysts for social change. As cliche as it sounds, these are truly movements of the people.
    (Note to readers: Caitlin is a Communications/International Relations major at Oklahoma University. She is currently studying at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey.)

  3. Bush did not invade Iraq with the altruistic intent of establishing a democratic government. He invaded Iraq for the sole purpose of removing Saddam from power and the questionable WMD rumor was just the excuse he needed to do so. After all, following the Gulf War Saddam had threatened to assassinate the daddy Bush and the Branch's ego would not let him ignore the, by then non-existent, threat. “W” wanted to be a “war time” president who would "bring it on" and protect his daddy.

    Prediction: The final outcome in Iraq, despite the billions of dollars spent and the thousands of U.S. and Iraqi lives lost will be the same as it was in Vietnam.

    Once the U.S. and other coalition forces are withdrawn there will be a power struggle with the accompanying slaughter among the various Islamic sects and the strong-man who emerges will implement Sharia law and run the country much the same as all middle-eastern dictators run their respective countries. The over-5,000 lives of U.S. servicemen and women sacrificed, the countless number of physically and mentally crippled troops, and the billions of dollars spent will have been wasted for nothing – except to satisfy Bush’s desire for vengeance.

    Just imagine what those wasted life-talents as well as the dollars could have accomplished if they had been used for medial research!