In An Arab State
By Robert Fisk
14 February, 2004
democracy, read fantasy. Iraq is getting so nasty for our great leaders
these days that anything - and anyone - is going to be thrown to the
dogs to save them. The BBC, the CIA, British intelligence - any journalist
that dares to point out the lies that led us to war - get pelted with
more lies. The moment we suggest that Iraq never was fertile soil for
Western democracy, we get accused of being racists. Do we think the
Arabs are incapable of producing democracy, we are asked? Do we think
they are subhuman?
This kind of tosh
comes from the same family of abuse as that which labels all and every
criticism of Israel anti-Semitic. If we even remind the world that the
cabal of neo-conservative, pro-Israeli proselytisers - Messers Perle,
Wolfowitz, Feith, Kristol, et al - helped to propel President Bush and
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld into this war with grotesquely
inaccurate prophecies of a new Middle East of democratic, pro-Israeli
Arab states, we are told that we are racist even to mention their names.
So let's just remember what the neo-cons were advocating back in the
golden autumn of 2002 when Tony was squaring up with George to destroy
the Hitler of Baghdad.
They were going
to re-shape the map of the Middle East and bring democracy to the region.
The dictators would fall or come onside - thus the importance of persuading
the world now that the preposterous Gaddafi is a "statesman"
(thank you, Jack Straw) for giving up his own infantile nuclear ambitions
- and democracy would blossom from the Nile to the Euphrates. The Arabs
wanted democracy. They would seize it. We would be loved, welcomed,
praised, embraced for bringing this much sought-after commodity to the
region. Of course, the neo-cons got it wrong.
The latest contribution
to the defence of these men came from David Brooks in The New York Times.
"In truth," he writes, "the people labelled 'neo-cons'...
don't actually have much contact with one another... There have been
hundreds of references, for example, to Richard Perle's insidious power
over administration policy, but I've been told by senior administration
officials that he has had no significant meetings with Bush or Cheney
since they assumed office... All evidence suggests that Bush formed
his conclusions independently."
It's good of the
"senior" officials to let us know this - let alone the unconsciously
hilarious aside that Mr Bush reaches conclusions on his own. Brooks
even tries to erase the word "neo-conservative" from the narrative
of the Iraq war with the absurd line that "con is short for 'conservative'
and neo is short for 'Jewish'". For now, the mere use of the phrase
"neo-conservative" can be anti-Semitic: Brooks actually ends
his article by announcing that "anti-Semitism is resurgent".
If that's the best
critics can be threatened with, then Messers Wolfowitz, Perle and the
rest are on the run. They didn't say democracy would work. They didn't
influence President Bush. They didn't have the power. They hardly talked
to him. Neo-conservatives? Who? But it was the neo-cons who were - along
with Israel itself - among the most fervent advocates of an Iraqi invasion.
They had seized
upon a devastating and all-too-true fact of life in most of the Middle
East: that Arab states are largely squalid, corrupt, brutal dictatorships.
No surprise there. We created most of these dictators. We kicked off
with kings and princes and - if they didn't exercise sufficient control
over the masses - then we supported a wretched bunch of generals and
colonels, most of whom wore a variety of British military uniforms with
eagles instead of crowns on their hat badges.
Thus King Farouk
was supplanted, indirectly, by Colonel Nasser (and by General Sadat
and Air Force General Mubarak), King Idris by Colonel Gaddafi - the
Foreign Office loved the young Gaddafi - and King Faisal's post-First
World War monarchy in Iraq was replaced, eventually, by the Baath Party
and Saddam Hussein.
So we never wanted
the Arabs to have democracy. When the Egyptians tried this in the 1930s
and looked like booting out Farouk, the British clapped the opposition
into prison. We Westerners drew the borders of most of the Arab nations,
created their states and propped up their obedient leaders - bombing
them, of course, if they nationalised the Suez Canal, helped the IRA
or invaded Kuwait. But the neo-cons and Mr Bush - and then, inevitably,
Mr Blair - wanted them to have democracy.
Now there are a
lot of Arabs who would like a bit of this precious substance called
democracy. Indeed, when they emigrate to the West and settle down with
US or British or French or any other Western passport, they show the
same aptitude as ourselves for "democracy". The Iraqis of
Dearborn, Michigan, are like any other Americans, and they vote - largely
Democrat - and play and work like any other freedom-loving US citizens.
So there's nothing genetic about the Arab world's inability to seize
The problem is not
the people. The problem is the environment, the make-up of the patriarchal
society and - most important of all - the artificial states which we
created for them. They do not and cannot produce democracy. The dictators
we paid and armed and stroked ruled by torture and by tribe. Faced with
nations which they in many cases did not believe in, the Arab peoples
had confidence only in their tribes. The kings were tribal - the Hashemites
come from the north-east of what we now call Saudi Arabia - and the
dictators were tribal. Saddam, as all the world is told repeatedly,
was a Tikriti. And these ruthless men held power through a network of
tribal and sectarian alliances.
When we bashed into
their country, of course, we told the Iraqis we were going to give them
democracy. They would have free elections. I remember the first time
I realised how dishonest this promise was. It was when Paul Bremer,
America's failed proconsul in Iraq, stopped talking about democracy
and started referring to "representative government" - which
is not the same thing at all. That was when folk like Daniel Pipes,
a right-wing cousin of those neo-cons we can no longer mention, started
advocating not "democracy" for Iraq but a "democratically-minded
Bremer says there
can be no elections before the June "handover" of "sovereignty"
- in itself a lie because the "handover" will give the mythical
"sovereignty" of Iraq to a group of Iraqis chosen by the Americans
and the British. They will - prayers are now called for - later hold
the democratic elections we falsely promised the Iraqi people and which
the Iraqi Shias are now vociferously demanding. And even if these elections
are ever held, most Iraqis will vote according to tribe and religion.
That is how their political system has worked for almost a hundred years
and that is how the American-selected "interim council" works
And so here we go
again. No weapons of mass destruction. No links between Saddam and 11
September. No democracy. Blame the press. Blame the BBC. Blame the spooks.
But don't blame Messers Bush and Blair. And don't blame the American
neo-conservatives who helped to push the US into this disaster. They
don't even exist. And if you say they did, you know what you're going
to be called.
© 2003 Independent
Digital (UK) Ltd