Then a miracle occurred …

by Chris Bertram on March 20, 2007

Last night’s edition of BBC’s flagship programme Newsnight contained fictionalized scenarios from the future of Iraq prepared by a pessimist (Toby Dodge of QMC) and an “optimist” — Brendan O’Leary of the University of Pennsylvania. Brendan is an old friend of mine, but, as an adviser to the Kurdistan regional government, he’s been a keen promoter of something like the “decent left” agenda. His “optimistic” scenario has Iraq descending even further into the mire of sectarian killing, US withdrawal and Iranian and Saudi invasion … but then the character who utters his script tell us: “we were at the brink, and then, for some reason — a miracle — we stepped back”. (Oh, and Kurdistan ends up with the Winter Olympics.) I’m all for looking on the bright side. But miracles? Watch the whole thing “here”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/6332717.stm (today only). The “miracle” remark is at about 12.01.

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{ 40 comments }

1

Bryan 03.20.07 at 10:01 am

well this is also the kind of well thought out political analysis that many commentators often use in explicating complicated pasts to their viewers. it is supposed to give you that warm fuzzy feeling combined with a dose of fear that in the cuban missile crisis we were at the brink but we pulled back by some miracle(what if in the future the miracle doesn’t come, damn that was close, thank god for that miracle!)

This however is the first time I have ever heard that particular trope applied to the future, and wow, it sort of is really absurd sounding.

I guess it heightens the fear and doesn’t give any warm fuzzy feeling because, damn, we’re relying on miracles now?

2

jonst 03.20.07 at 10:29 am

Anyone, or anything, that postulates a “Saudi invasion” of anything other than the latest 5 star hotel is talking sheer nonsense.

3

franck 03.20.07 at 12:12 pm

Why is supporting Kurdish self-government and self-determination being part of the decent left?

4

dsquared 03.20.07 at 12:17 pm

Franck: there’s no necessary connection, but as a matter of fact, Kurdish political parties, particularly the PUK, were very much in the forefront of attempting to build a domestic left coalition in favour of invasion of Iraq, and so they tend to have a lot of friends among the Atlanticist/interventionist wing of the Labour Party.

5

StephenJOhnson 03.20.07 at 12:47 pm

This reminds me of a quote from the Duke of Medina Sidonia, “We sailed forth in the confident expectation of a miracle.”

Frankly, however, the Duke had a far greater probability of success – the actual naval action being more-or-less a standoff, and the storm being the Armada’s main problem.

“And then a miracle happened”. Jesus wept.

6

Minion 03.20.07 at 1:54 pm

That miracle?

Reagan mentioned it at the UN.

Aliens attack the earth and we all have to band together to defend our planet.

Isn’t it beautiful? Except for the 3/4s of the population who die in the battle to save earth.

7

P O'Neill 03.20.07 at 1:54 pm

The 12th Imam finally shows up?

8

franck 03.20.07 at 2:08 pm

The Iraqi Kurds have many enemies – it seems to me that they will take any friends they can get, even if they are the decent left. Everything I have seen about Brendan O’Leary suggests a much greater focus on Kurdistan and national self-determination than on the Euston manifesto.

I don’t think tarring the Kurds with the Euston manifesto is at all justified. The Kurds wanted Saddam Hussein removed, and the decent left were willing to be useful idiots.

9

Mary Rosh 03.20.07 at 2:17 pm

Get this guy an appointment to the Bush admin stat! He’s a shoo in. Perhaps he can replace Gonzales?

10

SW 03.20.07 at 2:21 pm

Some of the Iraqi Kurds worst enemies are Iraqi Kurds.

11

CaptainVideo 03.20.07 at 2:29 pm

“we were at the brink, and then, for some reason—a miracle—we stepped back”.

Looks like Jesus returned just in the nick of time.

12

itsbenj 03.20.07 at 2:34 pm

jonst – the saudi government has already stated that they will help the sunni in iraq militarilly if we leave in order to prevent their slaughter by the shia. i think that’s what is meant by ‘invasion’ in this sense. its not particuarly hypothetical, but it doesn’t mean a ground force invasion.

yeah, truly frightening logic at work there though, i mean, can someone saying this really not understand how absolutely absurd it is?

13

Peter Principle 03.20.07 at 2:45 pm

“Anyone, or anything, that postulates a “Saudi invasion” of anything other than the latest 5 star hotel is talking sheer nonsense.”

That’s not true — they’re also perfectly capable of invading and occupying any brothel in the world.

14

Hidari 03.20.07 at 2:45 pm

‘The Kurds wanted Saddam Hussein removed, and the decent left were willing to be useful idiots.’

I think it would be much more accurate to say that the Kurds wanted their own state and thought that the Americans would help them to achieve this. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein was not important in itself (why would the Kurds care who ran Iraq if and when they were not part of Iraq?).

15

r€nato 03.20.07 at 2:50 pm

It’s the same kind of thinking which informed the decision to invade Iraq, topple Saddam’s regime, and have no plan for what to do after that.

What could possibly go wrong?

16

Ginger Yellow 03.20.07 at 2:57 pm

Getting rid of Saddam Hussein was not important in itself (why would the Kurds care who ran Iraq if and when they were not part of Iraq?).

Well I imagine that they’d rather not have had him as a neighbour. But yes, they had less reason to want Saddam gone per se than the Shi’ite population of Iraq.

17

anonymous 03.20.07 at 3:06 pm

Our discourse is led by the underpants gnomes.

Step 1: Invade Iraq
Step 2: ?????
Step 3: Profit!!!

18

otto 03.20.07 at 3:14 pm

It’s all the pro-war faction have left.

19

ron 03.20.07 at 3:19 pm

(insert comment referencing underpants gnomes here)

20

Carnacki 03.20.07 at 3:47 pm

Faith-based government at its finest.

21

Richard 03.20.07 at 3:49 pm

Is it possible he’s being quite ingenious, using the BBC’s bizarre definition of balanced debate to get a voice, which he then uses to devastating effect?

After all, would we even be talking about it if it were just another bit of doom-saying?

22

Jared 03.20.07 at 3:51 pm

There’s something else about the video that’s a bit annoying: although the video was blurry, one of the few subtitles I made out was “woman president of Iraq, first for a Muslim country.” Shocking ignorance here–even if you ignore Benazir Bhutto on the grounds that she was PM not President, that still means they’re forgetting about Indonesia and Sukarnoputri.

I don’t know enough to judge whether a woman could be elected president of post-miracle Iraq. But this is (to me) one of the more infuriating things about the “decent” left: the assumption that the liberal values of the Euston Manifesto are 1. available only in the West and 2. transparently desirable once the West shows up and demonstrates them. (This latter point is another example of underpants gnome thinking.)

23

franck 03.20.07 at 4:04 pm

izable part of Iraqi Kurdistan still under the control of the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein. And, post-invasion, that is precisely what the Kurds have moved to do, largely successfully. The sticking points are Kirkuk and Mosul, and we will see what happens on that front – there may be a swap of Kirkuk for Mosul.

24

franck 03.20.07 at 4:06 pm

Ah, sorry, weird cut off of the top of the comment. The comment should read:

One reason to get rid of Saddam Hussein was to get control over and prevent the ethnic cleansing of the sizable part of Iraqi Kurdistan still under the control of the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein. And, post-invasion, that is precisely what the Kurds have moved to do, largely successfully. The sticking points are Kirkuk and Mosul, and we will see what happens on that front – there may be a swap of Kirkuk for Mosul.

25

Stuart 03.20.07 at 4:25 pm

I also got the impression it could be a deliberate attempt to further damage the pro-war cause (not that it needs any help nowadays). I cant see how anyone who genuinely believed that the war still could be a good thing in the end would produce such a weak argument – if you can even consider it an argument at all, I am sure for most debating purposes a statement that amounts to ‘it could magically get better all on its own’ would be ignored as meaningless and not even worth making a counterpoint to.

I suppose it shouldnt be too surprising though, when the entire thing started four years ago with desperate dissembling and outright lies, its makes sense that with the passage of time the defense of the war has been reduces to fairies and rainbows, its not like it started on a solid base, and clearly it was only going to get worse as the situation developed.

26

Barry 03.20.07 at 6:43 pm

“Well I imagine that they’d rather not have had him as a neighbour. But yes, they had less reason to want Saddam gone per se than the Shi’ite population of Iraq.”

Posted by Ginger Yellow

1) Saddam killed a large number of Kurds.
2) Saddam in power in the rest of Iraq was and would be a threat to an independent Kurdistan.

27

Barry 03.20.07 at 6:46 pm

Stuart, a point which can’t be emphasized enough is that many (most?) of those who lied/BS’d into this war continued to lie/BS us during the war, and will always lie/BS us about this war, and about what they said previously. The surprise should not be that they continue to lie/BS; it’ll be those few who actually repent.

The nature changes; several years from now I expect a schizophrenic mixture of ‘if only we had killed more people less discriminantly we could have freed them’ with ‘we were betrayed by the cowards at home’. The second, of course, heavily used by those who preferred the mission of keyboard commando rather than actual Iraq duty.

28

bert 03.20.07 at 9:18 pm

This was in the New Yorker – when? – a couple of years ago, say. Your exact post title, pretty much.

O’Leary’s Newsnight film impressed me too. After a bloody proxy war, Saudi forces withdraw thwarted. Whereupon Iranian forces, for reasons left unclear, withdraw too. Result: immediate peance freeance.

To be fair, if you’re an advisor to the Kurdish regional government the development of credible scenarios for a successful unitary Iraqi state has got to be quite a way down in your in-tray.

29

Ian 03.21.07 at 12:21 am

Re comment 22 about woman political leaders in Muslim countries: Megawati Soekarnoputri became non-elected president of Indonesia – not a Muslim country, but a Muslim-majority country – purely as the outcome of factional warfare among the political elite. She was dumped as soon as she had to face the ballot-box, in Indonesia’s first genuine presidential election (2004). A better example would be Bangladesh, where Khaleda Zia and Huseina have been alternating in the PM position, gained by popular vote, from 1991 until the army’s recent soft coup. But all these women, and Bhutto, only got as high as they did because of who their dead fathers/husbands were. Asian dynastic politics (as also demonstrated in non-Muslim South Asia) trumps purist, or at least paternalist, Islam every time. But a woman leader chosen on her own merits, in the Islamic world or elsewhere in tradition-bound Asia? (Middle-class, semi-Christianised South Korea doesn’t count.)

30

snuh 03.21.07 at 2:59 am

not a Muslim country, but a Muslim-majority country

look, indonesia is by any sensible definition a muslim country (about 90% of citizens are muslims, which is a hell of a majority). i mean it’s not a theocracy, but neither is saudi arabia, iraq or jordan (or bangladesh, your example) and you wouldn’t think twice about calling them muslim countries.

jared’s point is something that has been iritating me for a while. there are quite a few annoying generalisations made about muslims and muslim countries that seem to be made without reference to the world’s most populous muslim state. generalisations about the capacity of muslims for democracy, religious tolerance, treatment of women etc.

it is odd.

31

Ian 03.21.07 at 3:53 am

indonesia is by any sensible definition a muslim country (about 90% of citizens are muslims, which is a hell of a majority).

Indonesia is constitutionally a secular state, with six religions officially recognised. Its politics, bureaucracy and military have long been dominated by secularists, traditionalist Muslims with pluralist sympathies, and non-Muslims. Of the 88% of the population who declare themselves Muslim, approximately half are believed to be nominal or non-observant Muslims, although they might well consider themselves believers. (Approximately, because there aren’t accurate stats for degrees of religiosity.) In the 2004 parliamentary election, Islamist parties got about 20% of the vote.

Bangladesh essentially defines itself as Muslim, although it’s not officially an Islamic state (as is Pakistan). Even as East Pakistan, the whole basis for its existence was as the portion of Bengal with a dominant Muslim and not Hindu culture. About half of its relatively homogenous population votes for the main Islamist party and allies. But I’d still think twice about calling it a “Muslim country”, and I didn’t do that above.

Or are all Muslims just “Muslims”, and we stop there?

32

Hidari 03.21.07 at 8:26 am

‘jared’s point is something that has been iritating me for a while. there are quite a few annoying generalisations made about muslims and muslim countries that seem to be made without reference to the world’s most populous muslim state. generalisations about the capacity of muslims for democracy, religious tolerance, treatment of women etc.’

Snuh, you don’t have to read much anti-Muslim propaganda (even by the ‘decents’) to see that usually, (not always, but usually) ‘Muslim’ is a euphemism for ‘Arab’. They say Muslim so that they don’t get accused of being racist.

I mean, perish the thought.

33

abb1 03.21.07 at 9:13 am

‘Muslim’ is a euphemism for ‘Arab’

Yes. Incidentally, the Kurds (everyone’s second most favorite ethnic group now) are also Muslims. But most of them, apparently, hate the Arabs, which obviously makes them extremely enlightened, worthy and good guys.

34

franck 03.21.07 at 2:02 pm

The Kurds are majority Muslim, but also have Yazidis, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Jews represented among them. The Yazidis are relatively powerful. They are also largely confirmed secularists – the Kurdish Islamist party only gets about 5% of the Kurdish vote. If anything, Islamic devotion in Kurdistan is declining as they see what Salafis have in store for them in the rest of Iraq.

In exactly the same way the United States isn’t a “Christian country”, Indonesia isn’t a “Muslim country”. The situation is more blurry in Bangladesh, where the government takes it upon itself to declare the Ahmadis “non-Muslims”, and relatively clear in places like Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslims are actively discriminated against in both legal and social terms, up to and including extra-judicial killings.

There is a difference between a secular country and a “Muslim country”, and non-Muslims feel it quite keenly.

35

Jared 03.21.07 at 2:11 pm

all these women, and Bhutto, only got as high as they did because of who their dead fathers/husbands were. Asian dynastic politics (as also demonstrated in non-Muslim South Asia) trumps purist, or at least paternalist, Islam every time.

Well I certainly wasn’t arguing that “paternalist Islam” was more woman-friendly than Western liberal democracy. I was arguing that a political tradition which has deeper regional roots than do American client states has ALREADY produced female heads of state, something which America itself has yet to do. So there are no grounds for triumphalism on that point.

36

Jared 03.21.07 at 2:35 pm

Ian and Franck:

I realize that Indonesia is a secular country, with no state religion despite its overwhelming Muslim majority. But that was/is the plan for Iraq too, right? And a fine thing that would be, if it were still possible. My problem with the “first woman president of a Muslim country” thing is that it’s basically being used as code for “west=enlightened, islam=backward.” At least the “decent” left actually cares about women’s rights in the West too, wheras conservatives more often just pay lip service to it in order justify the war. (I’m thinking of Karen Hughes’s visit to the region last year, when she encountered much more resistance to America than she expected among Arab women.) But that doesn’t make the claim any less sloppy.

37

abb1 03.21.07 at 2:37 pm

Franck, Saudi Arabia is kind of a special case, though, isn’t it? It’s Vatican of the Islam; non-Christians are discriminated against in Vatican as well, no one objects.

Also – c’mon – if you really want to make a distinction between ‘Muslim countries’ and ‘countries with a Muslim majority’, how do you place Egypt into the former category? Egypt is a decisively non-Muslim country, religious parties are banned. Discrimination against the Copts there fades in comparison with their discrimination against Muslim fundamentalists.

38

franck 03.21.07 at 3:22 pm

Population of the Vatican: 783
Size of the Vatican: 0.44 km^2

Population of Saudi Arabia: 27 million.
Size of Saudi Arabia: 2,150,000 km^2

There are 7 million migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, including a million Filipinos and 1.4 million Indians. That means there are a lot of non-Muslims to be actively discriminated against, as opposed to zero non-Catholics in the Vatican.

I don’t think the Vatican should be a sovereign country either, but the situations aren’t comparable. The correct comparison would be having a small portion of Mecca being a sovereign state, not most of the Arabian peninsula, most of which is outside the Hejaz.

Egypt has a wide variety of repressive laws against non-Muslims, many of them left over from the Ottoman era. One important one forbids new construction of non-Muslim places of worship. Only Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are recognized, so that other religions are repressed and their members are denied identity cards. There are pogroms against Copts and religous discrimination is rampant. Many Jewish citizens were expelled by Egypt and denied their citizenship rights. Atheists can be sued in the courts for defaming Islam, and converts from Islam to Christianity are frequently arrested by the state.

39

franck 03.21.07 at 3:29 pm

Jared,

I agree that there have been woman presidents in majority Muslim countries, and even in “Muslim countries” before, but I think it is only symbolically important. It’s not like women’s rights in Pakistan took a huge step forward under Benazir Bhutto.

Human rights are the more important thing to focus on. I don’t like this idea of “Muslim countries”, where somehow God ordained that within a set of borders and population of a country must be Muslim til the end of time. And that holds for any other religion too.

40

abb1 03.21.07 at 3:53 pm

Well, in the terms you’re arguing, the fact that there are zero non-Catholics in Vatican seems like quite a strong charge against Vatican. Imagine if there were zero non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Anyway, whether we like it or not, both of them are very special places, exceptions with a special status.

And outside of Saudi Arabia I don’t know any places where you can’t build a church or a synagogue; it’s not true that you can’t build a church in Egypt, it’s just that you need a permit:

An 1856 Ottoman decree still in force requires non-Muslims to obtain what is now a presidential decree to build a place of worship. In addition, Interior Ministry regulations issued in 1934 specify a set of 10 conditions that the Government must consider prior to issuance of a presidential decree permitting construction of a church. These conditions include the location of the proposed site, the religious composition of the surrounding community, and the proximity of other churches. The Ottoman decree also requires the President to approve permits for the repair of church facilities. In response to strong criticism of the decree, President Mubarak in January 1998 delegated to governors the authority to approve permits for the repair of church facilities.
http://www.cesnur.org/testi/irf/irf_egypt99.html

Hey, so what, many countries (including Western countries) have official religions.

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