Friday, June 17, 2011

Madmen in the Middle East

Here's Lee Smith's chilling analysis of internal Middle Eastern politics, published in Tablet Magazine.

Sunday, June 19, 2011 update
Um, easy come, easy go--not only is my link not working, but the entire Tablet Magazine website seems to be inoperative, at the moment. So here's Lee Smith's premise, standing on one foot (as best I can remember it): The Western world can't have a coherent policy for dealing with North African, West Asian, and South Asian internal politics until we accept the fact that we're dealing with sociopaths who won't hesitate to bomb a whole town into oblivion in order to wipe out their own country's dissidents.

3:00 PM update
The link is now working again, but here's a chunk of the article, just in case:

"Our inability to actually think like the people we are trying to influence or defeat is ultimately a much more fundamental problem than the challenges of securing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Both our adversaries and our allies in the Middle East—the political and military leadership of countries like Syria and Iran and Iraq and Egypt alike—are the products of a kind of finishing school that makes Rikers Island [a New York City prison] look like Miss Porter’s prep school. What they had to do to secure power and then maintain it is beyond the imagination of any U.S. official who thinks Rahm Emanuel is a tough guy or that the West Wing of the White House is a snake pit or is stung by a slighting mention by Bob Woodward.

So, who are these people? Bashar al-Assad, for instance, has astonished the international community with his slaughter of unarmed civilians because the leaders of the Western democracies are incapable of imagining a “Westernized” ophthalmologist being capable of such violence. His Arab peers know better, which is why they are saying nothing; they’re scared of him, because he is a sociopath who tortures, maims, and kills children without blinking. NATO thought Muammar Qaddafi was a lunatic in funny robes who would fold at the first—or fifth—aerial bombardment of Tripoli. What they missed was the fact that Qaddafi is the kind of funny lunatic who held onto power for four decades while gleefully slaughtering his political opponents, manipulating Libya’s tribes, and stashing billions of dollars away for exactly the moment when the West would try to drive him from power, and who pays African mercenaries a thousand dollars a day to rape his own people.

And so we wonder why things go wrong when we try to engage the Syrians and Iranians, or to get the Pakistanis to choose a side (our side). The fact is that we don’t see the world the way they do.

But thank God for that."


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