Adam Ash

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Iraq - what the other Arab states are thinking

The Great Circle of Enmity
By Fouad Ajami/US News & World Report


Truth be known, American diplomacy can't reconcile the ruling order of power in Arab lands any more than it can sweet-talk the Arab "street" to accept the right of this new Iraq to its place among the nations. Hard as the Bush administration might try, there is no hope that those Arab neighbors will write off the debts incurred by Saddam Hussein in his ruinous wars. It is idle to think that the day is near when the Arab satellite channels, silent toward the misdeeds of Arab rulers, will cease the steady drumbeats against all that plays out in Baghdad.

Vice President Dick Cheney may descend on Arab capitals, as he did last week, and our secretary of state can assemble one huge diplomatic conclave after another in support of Iraq, but the great circle of enmity around this fragile Baghdad government will not be broken. We can warn the powers in Arab capitals of the dangers of failure and breakdown in Iraq, but we should understand that those neighbors may dread the prospects of Iraq's success more.

This region has been stubborn in its refusal to accept the stark verdicts of history. The State of Israel is a year away from its 60th anniversary, and still the Arab imagination denies Israel's legitimacy. Iraq is different, but a state that gives pride of place to the Shiites (and the Kurds) is still an oddity in the Arab landscape. For well over a millennium, the Shiite Arabs have not governed; they have been the stepchildren of the Arab world. But in their long years of defeat and subservience, the Shiites remained righteous in their claim to the Prophet Muhammad's mantle, in their stubborn hope that the day would come when the order of things would be righted.

True to those Shiite hopes, American power, in a moment of perfect innocence, struck into Baghdad and upended an entrenched order of power, granted the dispossessed a chance at a new history, delivered them a big country loaded with oil and possibilities.

The Sunni Arab rulers, and the angry men and women on the airwaves and in the "chat rooms" of the Arab world, insist that their animus toward this new Iraq derives from their opposition to the American presence. This is plain hypocrisy, for vast stretches of the Arab world are within the orbit of American power. Pax Americana, and the shadow and the reality of its power, underpin the security of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. In Amman, Jordan, and Cairo, American largess and security networks uphold these regimes. In the Arabian Peninsula, the American presence-military and economic and cultural-dates back decades.

Those angry preachers and pundits who take to the pages of the Arabic dailies or to the ceaseless agitation of al Jazeera television to brand Iraq's leaders American "collaborators" and stooges look past the entire edifice of American power all around them. They shout in the knowledge that America is too unschooled in Arab malice and evasions to see through their mischief and belligerence. If anything, it is the prospect that America may forge a bond with those embattled Iraqis that unsettles Iraq's Arab neighbors.

New political order. Against the background of a cruel war, and in a region addicted to failure and self-pity, American power has brought forth in Baghdad a political order alien to its habitat-a state that does not belong to a ruling caste or a single master. That state fights for its life, but a secular Kurd of great civility and learning, Jalal Talabani, is the constitutional head of state, and a modest Shiite man who has risen from the depths of Iraqi society, Nouri al-Maliki, is the head of government. Around them are political figures drawn from practically all of Iraq's checkered communities-a Kurdish foreign minister, a Sunni speaker of parliament, etc. To be sure, the Sunni Arabs are no longer masters of this turbulent country, but no one in Iraq thinks that a new, tranquil order could be had without them.

This new Iraqi history will stand or fall of its own weight; the specter of an Iranian-dominated Iraq peddled by the Arabs is a scarecrow. Now the Arab regimes are openly campaigning for nothing less than an American coup d'état against the Maliki government and for the return of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a man at ease with Arab rulers and intelligence services. But Allawi, who spends more time in Amman and the United Arab Emirates than in Baghdad, is anathema to his own Shiite community, and America has not waded deep into Iraq to perpetuate those old Arab ways.

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