What the Iraq Study Group Gets Right--And Wrong

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Mr. Polk taught at Harvard from 1955 to 1961 when he was appointed the member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Council responsible for the Middle East. In 1965 he became professor of history at the University of Chicago where he founded its Middle Eastern Studies Center. Subsequently, he also became president of the Adlai Stevenson Institute of International Affairs. Among his books are The United States and the Arab World; the Elusive Peace: The Middle East in the Twentieth Century; Neighbors and Strangers: the Fundamentals of Foreign Affairs; Understanding Iraq; and together with Senator George McGovern, the just published Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now.

The most important positive element in the Baker-Hamilton study is to focus attention on the central predicament of the Middle East – the Arab-Israeli problem.  Like a cancer, this issue has infected Middle Eastern affairs for over half a century.  No American administration has chosen to attack it head-on.  Simply giving Israel a blank check to do anything it decides to do is not an American policy.  Indeed, as many thoughtful Israelis have pointed out, it is bound to bring out the worst in Israeli politics.  For  alerting the government and the public to the need to do something to solve or at least put into remission this problem is important and for doing so Baker-Hamilton deserves praise.

However, there are two minuses on this issue:  Baker-Hamilton does not give more than a hint as to what an intelligent American policy would involve. The only concrete step it proposes is indirect – to return the Golan Heights to Syria – in the hope that the Syrians will then help persuade the Palestinians to opt for peace.  As in other parts of Baker-Hamilton, this is to replace objectives or desires for means to achieve them.  The Palestinians have their own agenda which arise from such issues, which Baker-Hamilton does not address, as illegal settlements, release of the 10,000 or so long-term prisoners in Israeli camps, severe and growing restrictions on the ability of Palestinians to work, move or even remain in their homes.  Land for peace is a good slogan, but it is apparently not supported in Israel and probably is no longer regarded as feasible by Palestinians.  Moreover, the explicit support for Mahmud Abbas rather than the group that won the last election, HAMAS, will be seen by most Palestinians as an attempt to divide them.  Finally, here as in the rest of the study, Baker-Hamilton fails to lay out concrete steps much less indicate what such steps would require, how much they would cost, what the likelihood of success for each would be or indicate their cumulative effect.  What they have done is merely to indicate a goal, not the means to reach that goal.

The second positive element in Baker-Hamilton is their suggestion that America turn toward diplomacy in its relations with Iran and Syria.  

Baker-Hamilton put this suggestion in the context of America’s desire to solve the Iraq dilemma.  That is an understandable desire.  But it is not a policy.  It does not lay out a means to achieve our desire.  Moreover, even the desire rests on intelligence appreciations that are weak or even unlikely. Briefly put, they include these:   

First, why should Iran or even Syria wish to assist America in solving the Iraq problem? Baker-Hamilton suggests that Syria be “bought” by the return of the Golan Heights which the Syrians believe are legally theirs, but there is little reason to believe that the Syrian government puts so much emphasis on getting back the Golan Heights that it would radically alter its policies.  Those policies arise in part at least from considerations that have nothing to do with the Golan Heights.  Any Syrian and most outside observers will affirm that the lodestar of the Syrian government is fear of America.  Thus, unless or until the United States forswears  its often repeated proclamations that point toward invasion of Syria, change of its regime, and ostracizing it for alleged support of terrorism, the Syrians have insufficient reason to help America in any fashion.  Moreover, the Syrians observed that in the conflict between Lebanon and Israel, the United States treated Israel as a surrogate military force; so, whether right or wrong,  the Syrians would almost certainly require some sort of guarantee that it will not use force itself or allow Israel again do so before even considering helping the United States even if, which is doubtful, it could in any appreciable degree dampen the Iraqi insurgency or put a stop to the Palestinian resistance.

Iran, similarly, must see that a solution to America’s mistakes in Iraq is more likely to be  detrimental than beneficial to its national and governmental interests.  The Bush administration has repeatedly told Iran that it is an enemy, the third member of the Axis of Evil, a suitable candidate for preemptive attack.  Those set out what the Bush administration wants.  What has held it back is that it could not carry out such an attack because it was bogged down in Iraq.  Would a rational government wish to help America free up its military force which might then be used to attack it? Baker-Hamilton substantiates the Iranian belief that this is a possibility in its recommendation 18 which points to “resources that might become available as combat forces are moved from Iraq.”   

Second, even if Iran wished to help the United States solve the Iraqi dilemma, could it do so?  Baker-Hamilton not only does not address that question.  The probable answer is that it has far less leverage in Iraq than Baker-Hamilton posit.  During the Iraq-Iran war, the Iraqi Shiis fought determinedly against Iran.  Moreover, the Iraqi Shiis are internally divided with many determined not to allow Iran to determine their agenda.  Baker-Hamilton also fails to tell us what specifically it would want Iran to do.  Presumably Baker-Hamilton wants the Iranians to tell the Iraqi Shiis to do what America wants them to do, but presumably the Iraqi Shiis do what they are doing from their estimate of what is fundamental to their interests or even to their survival.  If this is so, it is unlikely that Iran can lead them to do otherwise.  The idea that they are simply the puppets of Iran is based on an ignorance of history and current politics.  Even if Baker-Hamilton believe America should make the attempt, it does not lay out a plan specifying what America would be willing to do to get Iran to act as it wishes.   Simply to invite Iran to a conference is hardly a sufficient inducement.  As with Syria, America would have to forswear in some meaningful way the threat of force.  And, more difficult than with Syria, it would have to back off – and get Israel to back off – from its statements and threats on Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear capacity.  Baker-Hamilton does not address these issues.  My own belief is that the only feasible way they can be addressed now is serious movement toward both general and regional nuclear arms control.  Regional nuclear arms control must involve Israel which has a huge nuclear arsenal.  Is forcing a reluctant Israel into giving up some or all of its nuclear arsenal feasible for any American government?  Baker-Hamilton does not even raise the question.

The third positive element in Baker-Hamilton is the admission that we need to get out of Iraq.   The negative aspect of Baker-Hamilton is that it does not realistically face what that means.  What it does, understandably given its origin and composition, is to attempt reach a compromise. Such compromises, of which diplomatic history affords many examples, are attractive because they preserve reputations, cover over mistakes and seem statesmanlike.   

Baker-Hamilton’s chosen move is reduction of combat forces and their replacement by Iraqis.  This is what the administrations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon tried in Vietnam.  In fact the numbers proposed are eerily similar.  But is this a practical move in Iraq?   Was it in Vietnam?  Consider where we are in Iraq, mired down in an unwinnable and wasting war and where we were in Vietnam in 1968 when the Tet offensive had shown that what we were doing militarily had failed. Thus, it appears logical to take steps to adjust to that reality.   

In our book, Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now (which was published shortly before Baker-Hamilton), George McGovern and I have urged that this be done cleanly, clearly, definitively and over a six months period.  Baker-Hamilton thinks that it should be done piecemeal over a much longer but unspecified period.  Why?  Their argument is that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war and without the restraining hand of America troops there would be a bloodbath. Their proposal would cut down on combat forces but keep a large American training and advising force in Iraq.  

We believe that such a force would inevitably be drawn into the fighting. In evaluating the Baker-Hamilton proposal, bear in mind that in Vietnam force reduction did not stop the war: in fact, in the following years as it was slowly implemented, almost 21,000 Americans were killed and over 50,000 were seriously wounded.  Are Iraqi likely to stop fighting while we slowly reduce our combat troops but keep a significant presence of “advisers” to train – or as the insurgents will charge, control -- Iraqi security forces?   We find that hope highly unlikely.

Baker-Hamilton appears to recognize the weakness of this hope and so urges that while American combat units are reduced more attention be given to improving the quality of the Iraqi army.  We strongly disagree as we said in our plan.  Iraqi history shows that building an army is a dangerous strategy.  It was, after all, the relative strength of the Iraqi army vis-à-vis such relatively weak institutions as representative government, an independent judiciary, a free press and “grass roots” organizations that caused coup d’état after coup and dictator after dictator.  Thus, in the quest for a short-term solution to America’s Iraqi dilemma, Baker-Hamilton may have opted for long-term catastrophe.

A less costly, more acceptable (to the Iraqis) and more likely-to-succeed approach, Senator McGovern and I assert in our book Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now is to introduce into Iraq what we have called a “stabilization force.” That force, we  argue, must be made up of non-Americans, drawn from mainly Arab and Muslim countries, working for the Iraq government but under the umbrella of the United Nations, with an American financial subvention.   This force would operate in Iraq during the transitional period, when we can expect the current civil war to continue but also to gradually wind down.  Is this just a pious hope?  We think not.  It has happened in all guerrilla wars during the last two centuries.  Once the principal aim of the insurgents, usually to get the foreigners to leave, is met, the insurgency abates.  Not immediately, to be sure, to meaningfully.  During this period, with its sovereignty assured, it needs help: help to create minimal public security for schools, hospitals, government buildings etc. which is the role we propose for the multinational stability force, help in building an effective national police force, and help in getting the economy going so that the unemployed can earn decent livings and a significant portion of the refugees be lured back.  

During this period, we advocate that the Iraqi army, on which we are spending $2.2 billion and which Baker-Hamilton finds (rightly) to be dysfunctional, be converted into what Iraq really needs, an organization somewhat like our Corps of Engineers.  Such a group could provide the infrastructure on which an Iraqi economy could reconstitute itself.   

Overall, we have proposed a series of programs to accomplish our objectives,  given estimates of cost, analyzed the chances of success, provided a timetable, and shown how they would save the American tax payers about 97% of what the occupation is now costing. That is, we  provide in our book exactly what Baker-Hamilton does not address, a practical plan to get us out of Iraq with the least possible damage to ourselves, to the Iraqis, and to America’s position in world affairs.  
A key proposal in Baker-Hamilton is a regional conference. The idea of a regional conference sounds appealing.  We all like the idea of sitting down together and thrashing out our differences.  It appears sensible, positive, practical and “diplomatic.”  But a review of all international gatherings since the 1814 Congress of Vienna shows that a conference is meaningless, or sometimes even counter-productive, unless fundamental issues either have been resolved or at least narrowed beforehand.  Merely to meet to discuss an issue which is worrying one party but not the others, us but not them, is hardly a recipe for success. Put bluntly, a conference is not the first step, the means, but the last step, the ratification, of the process.   
Baker-Hamilton states that there are four “alternative approaches for moving forward”– “Precipitate Withdrawal,” “Staying the Course,” “More Troops for Iraq” and “Devolution to Three Regions.”   

Baker-Hamilton rejects precipitate withdrawal.  We do too.  The word “precipitate,” of course, gives the answer but obscures the question.  Everyone agrees that the United States must withdraw.  The question is when and under what conditions.  In the action plan contained in Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now, we lay out a definite timetable and specify measures, each analyzed in terms of cost, effectiveness and likelihood of success, designed to bring about withdrawal in an orderly fashion with the least possible damage to American soldiers and interests and to Iraqis.    

President Bush has repeatedly called for “staying the course”  which Baker-Hamilton does not favor and recognizes will simply continue the casualties and huge expenditures without positive result.  We agree.

The third alternative is to send in more troops. Baker-Hamilton believes that this will not work and will “hamper our ability to provide adequate resources for our efforts in Afghanistan or respond to crises around the world.”  If we cannot control a small country, most of which is uninhabited desert, or contain a guerrilla force estimated at less than 20,000 with 150,000 American troops, it is just wishful thinking to believe we can do it with another 10,000 or so Americans.  We agree with Baker-Hamilton on this.  We also point to the history of Vietnam where we were told, time after time, that just a few tens of thousands more of American soldiers would bring victory.  Victory proved elusive but casualties were ever-present.
The fourth scenario is to break up Iraq which, Baker-Hamilton believes (in our opinion rightly) would be a political, military and humanitarian disaster, which, should it happen,  would require that the United States “manage the situation to ameliorate humanitarian consequences, contain the spread of violence, and minimize regional instability,” each of which is a likely result.  As Baker-Hamilton rightly points out, the map showing Iraq divided into three areas is misleading: virtually every town and all cities are mixed.  Thus, a division of Iraq would literally tear the society apart and would so “balkanize” it as to sow the seeds for future wars. Certainly, an independent Kurdistan would invite intervention from Turkey and possibly also from Iran.   

Implicit throughout Baker-Hamilton is that stability must be achieved in Iraq before America can leave.  History suggests that the sequence is wrong: only when the central objective of insurgents, usually getting the foreigners to leave, has been realized can “security” be attained.  This is the lesson of insurgencies from the American Revolution against the British, the Spanish guerrilla against the French, Tito’s Yugoslav partisan war against the Germans, the Algerian war of national liberation from the French and so on.  In each of these wars, to be sure, there was a period of chaos immediately after the foreigners pulled out -- they had been unable to prevent chaos with their massive armies --  but, once they were gone, the fighting died down.   

Why did this happen and is it likely in Iraq?  The answer was given to us by that great practitioner of guerrilla warfare, Mao Tse-tung:  there are two elements in guerrilla wars, he said, the combatants and those who support them.  He called the combatants the “fish” and their supporters “the water.”  Without water, fish die.   What has happened in guerrilla war after war is that the people, Mao’s “water,” get tired of the suffering that is inherent in guerrilla war and when the object for which they have sacrificed has been won, they don’t want to continue to sacrifice.  So they stop supporting the “fish.”  Then, one of two things happens: either some of the fish take over the government (which is the most common) and then themselves suppress the more radical combatants (as happened in America, Spain, Ireland, Yugoslavia, Algeria, etc.).  The second possible outcome is that the combatants become outlaws or “warlords” (as happened in Afghanistan after the Afghans forced the Russians out).   This is already happening under the guise of religious strife among Shia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq.   Foreigners cannot prevent this; the only way it can be prevented, or at least the only way it has ever been prevented or stopped, is by natives.   They can be helped, however, as we have urged in our plan with an international stabilization force during the period when a national police, no longer tainted by appearing to be collaborators with foreigners, become functional.   In short, sovereignty is the first, not the last step in the process.  Once sovereignty, not just a collaborationist government, is established, the steps lead (and can be helped to move with all deliberate speed) toward security.

That is why the plan we have proposed contains the interlocking elements that together constitute Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now.

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omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

It is ,indeed, disheartening to some including Mr Green et all that the USA should reconsider, or rather consider reconsidering, its middle east policies!
Why should it?
Its recent policies, particularly with the Bush/Wolfowitz administration, were greatly rewarding for Israel .

Well, strangely enough,some Americans DO believe that American interests DO count and the USA have other interests than to defend Israeli aggressive expansionism as with, most recently, its support of the land grabbing WALL.

If what is going on now is anything to go by the USA will soon have to do much more than reconsider its policies in the Middle which proved ,by any standard, to be totally enemical to US interests in the region and its world standing and prestige.
However, what I find most interesting in Mr Green's post is his ,seemingly, genuine surprise cum alarm at the fact that FOUR substantial books,reports, articles that ARE NOT totally supportive of Israel and Israeli claims DID see daylight.

Zionist/Israeli selfcenterdness ad blindness is the reason behind this surprise.

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Interesting historical interlude!
So what is it that you are driving at?
Be it less American involvement; I would be 100% for that .
I wonder then whether a Zionist Israel will survive as a Zionist nation /state.
I have indicated in an earlier post ( that you chose to ignore)that few, if any, major culture/state is without its dark side(s)!
Well it seems Israel has started its life only with many dark sides; not least its all but proclaimed aggressive, expansionist and racist policies; the natural offspring from its illegal colonialist, imperialistically assisted, mode of birth.

N. Friedman - 1/11/2007


The return of the Ottomans to Lebanon brought a massacre of Maronites by Ottoman Muslims and Druze. And, the issue was, as you say, lost privileges. Such is discussed in passing by Bat Ye'or in The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam. I think, as I noted before, that the issue today is about privileges as well.

As for Polk the politician, it is not unusual for historians to give bad political advice. That does not trouble me. His opinions do - or at least some of them -.

As for Lewis, what he says is that the treatment of Jews, overall, was better in the Muslim regions than in Europe. I do not see how one can claim he is absolutely correct or incorrect as it depends on the time and place. Lewis makes a point of noting that the place of Jews deteriorated substantially during the 19th Century. So, that may explain most of your point.

I also note that Lewis is enamored of the Turks and of Islam. I think he is an honest scholar that has done an extraordinary amount to provide a realistic appreciation of Islamic history and society - and from a Muslim perspective, which is rather difficult for a Westerner to achieve. So, I would not call what he does soft pedaling. I would call it a different view than you have.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/11/2007

I think that Lewis does try to present a soft view of Muslim treatment of subject peoples. I think that Polk goes farther, to the point where he wittingly distorts the historical meaning of jizyah. Obviously, when a historian is also closely bound to decision-making, one has to wonder about his motives. On the other hand, in his book on Lebanon, Polk asserts that Christians [mainly Maronites] in the Lebanese mountains were able to escape from paying jizyah because they had a favorable military-geographic position and could resist tax collectors and central govt armies. I don't deny this. Then, Polk argues that Muhammad Ali of Egypt was able to overcome the obstacles to central govt control of the mountains. Although he had started with a policy favoring improvement in the dhimmi social conditions [I don't think Polk uses the word dhimmi in this book], his actions resulted in worsening the condition of the mountain Christians [and others] because his modern force had enabled him to go up the mountains, overcome local resistance, collect taxes from everyone, and ultimately to cancel the relatively favorable, isolated condition of the mountain Christians, and he left that situation for the returning Ottomans in 1840, who had not yet arrived at the stage of equality for dhimmis which occurred later in the Tanzimat process. Anyhow, he points out --if I rightly recall, in that book or another-- that increased equality and freedom for dhimmis led to increased resentment by the Muslims. We may take his conclusion forward and make that resentment one of the causes of the Armenian genocide, for example. So Polk can make a reasonable argument about that, about the folly of efforts to improve a situation, especially in foreign countries. Then, Polk the policymaker makes up a list of ten easy steps to achieve peace between Israel and the Arabs. Thus, he seems to contradict Polk the historian. Anyhow, I not sure what Polk's ten or 15 or 25 easy steps are, but if he and McGovern did not include stopping funds by the USA and EU to the palestinian authority, stopping weapons smuggling from Egypt into Gaza; if the steps don't include shutting down the war and hate incitement on palestinian authority TV and radio, etc., then his steps are not serious.

Now, to compare Euro and Islamic treatment of Jews. In the late 18th century, Niebuhr described the regular humiliation of dhimmis, including Jews in Egypt. This was before Napoleon's invasion, before any Western political domination or influence in Egypt. Lane in the 1830s describes Egypt in the same way, except that he shows that the Jews were treated worse than Christians. The French scientific mission under Napoleon found the same extra persecution of Jews. So, one might ask Lewis how his views jibe with those of Lane, et al.

N. Friedman - 1/11/2007


There is no peace to be had just now, no matter what your country does or does not do. Were the only issue - and assuming for the moment that you are wrong - "Palestinian nationalism" by a "Palestinian people" at war with Israel and Jewish nationalism, the problem could probably be solved by compromise. The real issue is that there are many, many other issues that block consideration of the one issue that, in fact, could be solved.

From your sides' perspective, the more important issue is Islamism and transnational nationalism. Which is to say, to the extent that Palestinian Arabs - and large numbers do - buy into the view that they are part of the great Islamic people or the great Arab people, they have no reason ever to reach an accommodation with your country. Or, in simple terms, they think, given their numbers, that time is on their side. And, to be frank, such is probably a rather reasonable assessment. By contrast, were a Palestinian national identity to exclude all others, there would be greater reason to settle and a compromise might work.

There is also the issue - and this is how things are seen by people not hateful toward Israel but, nonetheless, not enamored of Israel - of whether your country really means what it says. As Peter C. might say, offering to give away land - but never quite doing so - while you are settling the same land does not create common ground or build confidence. Rather, such policy is divisive.

Please note that I am not convinced that your country's "settlements" are a central issue to Palestinian Arabs as alleged by Europeans. But, such a policy is certainly divisive, and would be seen by any reasonable group as tending to create an overlord vassal relationship. So, that is a factor to be considered, most especially since the policy undermines Israel's support outside of Israel.

In this regard, I think your country would be wise to set parameters for settlements that are defensible to non-Israelis rather than to leave things to your country's enemies to define. Which is to say, I think your country can defend a policy directed toward retaining and settling land that will help create a more easily defensible border. I do not think that your country can defend a policy of reclaiming the Jewish community of Hebron. And that is true even if though it is certainly an historic wrong against Jews.

N. Friedman - 1/11/2007


The tendency of most historians I have read is to minimize the various taxes placed on people of the, in the Muslim view, wrong books. Even the great Bernard Lewis - and, as an historian, he really is rather extraordinary - does that.

Lewis appears to take the view that, apart from our time, the treatment of the non-controlling group in any society stunk and is not an adequate definer. So, he thinks such matter a secondary issue, as it would be to an historian attempting to discuss specific trends over the broad brush of European history.

At the same time, Lewis argues that the Muslim side was fairly consistently kinder to the out groups than European Christians were. I am not sure that is saying much that is complimentary but his is at least an arguable point. In any event, his is one way to look at things. And, he does - for example in his book The Jews of Islam and, to some extent, in other books he has written - explain rather fully the nature of discrimination and disabilities involved so one is free to agree or disagree with his editorial judgment. Having read Bat Ye'or's writings, I think Lewis may be a tad bit too kind. In any event, Lewis is up to something different than what you describe Polk doing. You paint him as ignoring uncomfortable facts rather than interpreting them differently than you might.

On the other hand, your description of what Polk is doing is rather tame, in terms of understatement, compared to what, for example, Reza Aslan does in his somewhat interesting book No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. In his book, one does well even to pick out the fact that there might be any war-like notions associated with Islam. As he says regarding the early centuries of Islam, if it is a religion of the sword, so were all the others (and I guess he is not familiar with Buddhism or Judaism of that period); regarding the classical Islamic period, the war-like theology set down was due to the need for self-defense; as for the current period, that is due to the Wahhabis; but a true Islam that is peaceful, progressive faith was there all along. Maybe so. In any event, his version of things puts basically only the best face on Muslim conquest and its treatment of non-Muslims.

I should add that even the great Ignaz Goldhizer - who is really a stupendous scholar of Islam - sees the Muslim treatment of non-Muslims as, given its time, fairly exemplary. Of course, Goldhizer was writing from early 20th Century Europe where the treatment of Jews really stunk, so his perspective plays a part in his thinking on the matter. Such may be evidence for Lewis' view that one needs to consider the treatment of the dhimmi with reference to how the world of that time was.

By contrast, the twentieth century non-Muslims of the Muslim regions are affected differently than Goldhizer was. They see a more advanced Europe and America that treat, for perhaps the first time in history, the out groups rather well. So, the discrimination of the Muslim regions - at this point on the ascendancy as the region re-Islamizes - with contemporary eyes. And, from the contemporary viewpoint, not only is the present bad but the past looks rather bad as well. So, such historians - Bat Ye'or being an excellent example - highlight such issue as important. My view is that for the purposes of the world that is, she is largely correct to note that the impact of Muslim rule was to destroy the non-Muslim book communities by a thousand little cuts (and some of them not so little) and to remind us that such is not accidental but part and parcel of religious ideology.

Lastly, there is Dadrian's point, which adapts Bat Ye'or perspective, that the religious divide in the Muslim regions, with the Muslim group being the overlord to non-Muslims, is a central source of the nationality conflicts that arose in the 19th Century and, since his topic is the Armenians, for the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire. I might add that such issue is also very important to any real understanding the disputes today between the Maronites and Muslims in Lebanon, the Copts and Muslims in Egypt and Jews and Muslims in Israel, etc., although the issue today, in my humble view, is the attempt to reclaim privileges lost by Muslims.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/11/2007

N, in regard to settling "the dispute." In my not so humble view, the very notion of a "palestinian people" was invented to make peace between Arabs and Israel more impossible rather than less. That is, to make peace less possible. Further, in the current state of opinion and belief in the West, or shall we say, the world in general, peace between Arabs and Israel is not possible. So I don't believe that peace is just a function of the parties on the ground.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/11/2007

N, well, I found what Polk said about the jizyah in two places in one book, which may change in other books. Note that he calls the jizyah "the kharaj of protection." I don't object to that especially, since I know that Cesar Famin, whose book was paraphrased and quoted from by Karl Marx [New York Daily Tribune, 4-15-1854], also called the jizyah "the kharatch." It seems that these two words, jizyah and kharaj, changed or shifted in meaning over time.
Here is William Polk:
"Kharaj of protection or jizya, in later Islamic practice, was the poll tax levied on those peoples of the Empire who for religious reasons were not subject to military service. The tax was conceived of as a money obligation payable direct to the state in lieu of military service." [Polk, Opening of South Lebanon, p 37]; jizyah is defined slightly differently farther on in the book: "the jizya or 'toleration' tax"[Polk, Opening, p 155]. He does not make clear who or what was supposed to tolerate whom. The whole issue is presented by Polk, in my view, in a cloudy manner meant to provide a necessary minimum of information [in Polk's view], yet to gloss over the subject as much as possible.
This is hardly an adequate presentation or definition of the jizyah.

N. Friedman - 1/10/2007


Well, the Kaiser certainly did hold himself out as a champion of Islam and thought very highly of the political arrangement that the Sultan had - a worshiped political leader -. And, it was certainly in Germany's interest to undermine French and British policy, which it worked to do. So, we have a mix of things.

The Dadrian's title previously noted, by the way, is a rather stellar book, all the more so as a critique of those who support humanitarian intervention as a policy. Even to the extent that the policy was well intentioned - and it was sometimes but not always so -, it was an abject failure with lethal consequences: always too little too late or, as with the late 19th Century massacres of the Armenians (up to 250,000 people massacred), power politics stood in the way when push came to shove.

I have not read any of Polk's books. Reading his articles does not suggest to me that he is worth the time although you indicate that his book has some useful - although at times, manipulation of - information.

As for Palestinian Arab nationalism, I am inclined to think that there is politics all over the world, at least at some level. So, one can find most any plausible opinion among any large enough group at any time. Which is to say, there may have been, as early as the 1830's, some Arabs in the area who saw no benefit in rule from either Istanbul or Damascus.

But, that could not hardly have been one of the more common views. And, it is a view that is at odds with Islam's universalism so, if it existed at all, it existed among a tiny group that was very, very Western in their orientation - and not in "the people." It is worth noting that even now, the HAMAS covenant does not envision a Palestinian state and the original PLO charter does not do so either.

In the end, it probably does not matter when Palestinian Arab nationalism arose or even whether it is all that real today. Among the big advocates today of that ideology are Europeans who, notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary, see only saintliness in their version of the Palestinian Arab cause - without much concern for the Palestinian Arab version of that cause. That is bad history, not to mention bad politics. It is bad for Israel and it is bad for Europe and it is bad for the US and it is bad for Palestinian Arabs.

Please note that I am saying nothing above one way or the other regarding how to settle the dispute.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/10/2007

The Eurabia phenomenon seems to involve a certain European smugness, a sense of superiority, a feeling of cleverness and a sense of schadenfreude directed at the US and Israel. But sometimes people outsmart themselves. I think your analysis ultimately implies that.

I may have read a review in the TLS of Dadrian's book on German help for the Ittihad genocide of Armenians. His book's findings have to be incorporated into histories of the Holocaust. After all, if the German army took part in the Armenian genocide, then there must have been some higher officers in Hitler's army who had some experience during WW I in Anatolia and may have passed on their experiences, recommendations, etc. WW 2 began only 21 years after the end of WW I in 1918. I have seen over the years several references to a quote from Hitler: Who today remembers the massacre of the Armenians? Can a history of the Holocaust be written without seeing the Armenian genocide as a prelude or practice for the Jewish Holocaust? Especially in view of German & Austrian military experience in Anatolia.
Now, when I referred to Kaiser Wilhelm, I was thinking of his policy --as Defender of Islam-- as the kind of cynical power politics that is not necessarily helpful to those who practice it.

About Polk and the jizyah, Polk described the jizyah as such as purchasing an army exemption. But he also made clear that it was compulsory and not voluntary. So he may have been trying to define the jizyah in a cloudy way in order to allow several interpretations. He does not satisfactorily explain the dhimmi status as such, although he quotes from a letter or manifesto by Ibrahim Pasha of 1831 that describes economic exploitation [and extortion] of the non-Muslims going beyond the jizyah and kharaj --additional exactions, which were customary payments-- which he orders to be abolished [Polk, Opening of South Lebanon, p93]. Furthermore, Polk knows that the Tanzimat process began only in 1838 or 1839, and I don't know when the jizyah was replaced by the army exemption, in that process. Maybe Polk is trying to confuse the issue, trying not to deny the democratically unacceptable phenomenon of the jizya, while minimizing its moral significance. Really, if Polk is defining the jizya as such, which he claims to be doing, then he has to describe it as a historical phenomenon [as what it meant throughout Islamic history], and not as what replaced it after it had been formally abolished.

By the way, all this focus on the time of Ibrahim Pasha and Muhammad Ali of Egypt reminds me of the claim by Migdal and Kimmerling that "palestinian nationalism" began with the 1834 revolt by the Muslims against Muhammad Ali. It seems to me more and more that what they were revolting against, besides the military draft and the illegitimacy of the upstart regime in Egypt [compared with the Ottoman empire], was the raising of the status of, the granting of near equality to, the dhimmi peoples. Migdal & Kimmerling don't deal seriously with this issue.

N. Friedman - 1/9/2007


On the first question (i.e. about the Kaiser), I do not recall. I do note that Dadrian has written more than one book about the Armenian genocide and, in fact, a book dedicated to the involvement of Germany in that sorry episode of inhumanity.

The comment about Polk and the jizya would depend on the period. In the 19th Century, after the Tanzimat, there were times when Christians eventually were given the right to join the military but generally opted out by paying a fee that, surprise, surprise, was the same amount that had been due as a jizha before Tanzimat. See, for this point, Bernard Lewis' book The Emergence of Modern Turkey. So, Polk is not necessary wrong, if he narrows his time frame.

As for the tendency of people, most especially, in Europe to look the other way at the horrors done by Muslims, it is not often love of Islam, Muslims or Arabs that is at work. It is old fashioned imperial instincts in which is thought expedient to say nice things about Arab Muslims while, at the same time, attempting to control them or benefit from them. Post 1973 and the Euro-Arab Dialogue, the issue is France's agenda, now Europe's agenda, to obtain secure oil supplies, obtain lucrative contracts and the like, and creating a countervailing political force to the US, all in exchange for taking a philo-Muslim Arab view of the world. Your country, in the process, is the butt of that policy and my country is supposed to be persuaded to turn on your land as well - that, after all, is important to the Arab side of the deal.

The real impact, not noted by Europeans when they signed up, is that they have sold their souls for rather limited, short termed gain. And, they have created a continent wide, publicly supported Antisemitic cheering gallery - both the EU bureaucracy and its supporters as well as the imported Muslims who push their hatred against Jews and Israel. On this, see Bat Ye'or's Eurabia and Richard L. Rubenstein's article "Pipeline to Peril" at http://reformjudaismmag.org/_kd/go.cfm?destination=ViewItem&Item_ID=1113 . And note, this is historical analysis by two historians, one alleged to be on the right (which is not really correct) and the other clearly on the moderate left. And, it is a real good piece of history.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/9/2007

N, thanks. I'll have to look up Dadrian's book. Does he, by the way, discuss the Kaiser's claim to being The Defender of Islam or some such title?

On your point that there seems to be a widespread favoritism in the Western press and academic world for Muslims. I agree and I think that William Polk, an American, one of those fellows who shuttled back and forth between the State Dept & the university, is a good case in point for what you are asserting. I have been reading [in one case rereading] some of his stuff lately. He even went so far as to explain the jizya [for those who don't know, a head tax traditionally paid by non-Muslims in the Muslim state] as a tax or fee paid by non-Muslims because they were exempt from military service. In another words, he is likening the jizya to a fee or fine paid to get out of serving in the army. Polk doesn't want to admit that non-Muslims were not supposed to bear weapons or ride horses, etc., in the Islamic state. All this does not mean that Polk's book on Opening of Southern Lebanon isn't a good historical work. But he has his blind spots, unwittingly or wittingly. Toynbee too, once famous as a historian, was very defensive about Arabs and Islam, and seems to have influenced generations of British academics, journalists, etc., to go in the same path. And Toynbee had a powerful academic power base in the Royal Inst. for Int'l Affairs.

N. Friedman - 1/9/2007


Regarding interest in one group, the Palestinian Arabs.... I am not quite sure you are correct. I think that the interest is in Arab Muslim projects, of which one is the Palestinian Arab war against Israel. That project seems most readily apparent, most especially in Israel but note the near silence regarding any bad doings in the Arab Muslim regions. Hence, the ceaseless attacks against that region's non-Muslim population that are hardly reported, if at all.

Note the attitude of Europe toward groups which stood up to the Arab Muslim project, like the Maronites who were labeled and dismissed as fascist - as if the Muslim sides' (more than one in Lebanon, after all) were democrats - during the Lebanon civil war. Note the near silence as to the treatment of Christians, Jews and Bahai'a's in Iran - ok, not an Arab land but close enough -. You will find a consistent European picture of taking the Muslim side in any world dispute.

As for a book which discusses the role of Germany in supporting the Ottoman Empire, you might read The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus by Vahakn Dadrian - who is the leading author evidencing genocide by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians. You will note the support given by the Kaiser - sometimes secretly and sometimes via his government - to Abdülhamid's regime in the late 19th Century. The Kaiser was particularly enamored of the political arrangement in the Ottoman Empire with the Sultan and Caliph rolled into one. You will also note, albeit at a later time, the assistance provided to the Ittahist regime in the WWI genocide of the Armenian population. Dadrian considers the German role in the genocide to exceed that of a mere observer. He believes they provided support and assistance.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/9/2007

You're right of course about the blemished and inconsistent character of European "humanitarianism" in foreign affairs, from the early 19th century till today. What has changed is the object of "humanitarian" solicitude. Where in the 19th cent. they worried about the Greeks and then the Eastern Christians --some even taking concern for Jews [we're talking about govts]-- now they're focussed on one narrow group only, the Arabs called "palestinians." We hear little, even from labor activists, about the conditions of foreign workers in the Persian Gulf or about southern Sudan [Darfur has strangely gotten more attention than the South]. The UN "human rights" commission/council and the Nobel peace Prize are bad jokes.
I should clarify something above. Rather often in the 19th century, European travelers in the Muslim and Arab lands felt sorry for Eastern Christians and Jews. This concern was sometimes taken up by govts. However, today, both govts and the media focus almost exclusively on Arabs, whether the poor, oppressed Hizbullah in Lebanon or the "palestinian" Arabs. Western humanitarianism has reached a very low level and reasonable, informed and intelligent people do not take it seriously anymore. That's one of the problems that Bush has in selling his "war on terror" to his people. Many people don't take it seriously. And why should they, since Bush himself is very inconsistent about terrorism?

by the way, do you know anything about the German policy of defending the Ottoman empire and/or pretending to be "the defender of Islam"?? Can you recommend any particular book or article on that subject? I am aware that German and Austro-Hungarian troops serving in the Ottoman empire during WW I sometimes took part in the Armenian massacres.

N. Friedman - 1/7/2007


The main benefactor of the Ottoman Empire was Prussia/Germany. I might also note that the issue of humanitarian intervention related to the Eastern and Armenian questions in the Ottoman Empire led to fits and starts of assistance.

The bottom line, so far as I have read, is that while there was, at times sincerity in that European policy, there was also considerable imperial interests involved and, in the end, it did nothing to help the Armenians, to say the least. On this point, Dadrian's book on the destruction of the Armenians is a devastating analysis of European humanitarian intervention as a policy.

As for Europe today, I do not think the policy, vis a vis Israel, has anything to do with humanitarianism. I think the issue is oil and lucrative contracts and now, given the mess in Europe with its migrants from Arab Muslim lands, how to appease Europe's Muslim population. Erase the oil - which will, in time, occur - and that is the end of lucrative contacts and the end of Europe's dispute with Israel because, in such instances, the Arab Muslim lands will have nothing to offer and the Muslims in Europe will no longer have important champions in the Arab Muslim lands.

This is not to say that Israel should wait to solve its problems. My gut reaction is that Israel's problems will not be solved in the next 25 years no matter what Israel does or does not do. So, Israel is playing for time for an improved International situation. I suspect that, in time, the prospects for Israel's diplomatic position are bound to improve from their current low, especially as the influence of the Arab Muslim regions begins to recede - which will, in due course, occur.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/7/2007

In my post #104177, I should have written FIFTY years of intermittent massacre, not sixty.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/7/2007

`Umar, you do want to believe that Israel's birth was assisted by imperialists. Well, maybe. But then why did the UK support the Arab side in 1947-49? Why was the USA officially neutral? In fact, Britain supplied weapons to the Arab side. For instance, Muhammad Hassaein Haykal reported that Britain urged Egypt to get into the war against Israel, against the desire of Nuqrashy pasha, then pm of Egypt. Haykal also reported that the UK made British weapons available to the Egyptian armed forces from the stocks of weapons in the Suez Canal Zone, then under British control. Professor Shlomo Slonim of Hebrew Univ found that US diplomatic representatives encouraged Arab states to attack Israel as part of the Arab League forces, in the 1947-1948 period. John Roy Carlson reported [in Cairo to Damascus] that British troops guarding the "Palestine"-Egyptian frontier in early 1948 allowed armed Arab irregular forces to come into "Palestine" from Egypt without inspection, without hindrance. The Transjordanian Arab Legion was commanded by a British general [Glubb Pasha] and had mainly British officers [and some Arab officers]. It attacked the new-born Jewish state. How do you explain all that as imperialists helping Israel?? It seems that the US and UK were encouraging the Arabs to attack Israel.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/6/2007

N, you're right of course about imperialism hand in hand with humanitarianism. How else could the Clinton Admin have convinced Americans to go along with intervention in ex-Yugoslavia on any other grounds? US intervention was said to be needed because the Serbs were bad guys and the Bosnian and Kosovo Muslims were innocuous, pacifistic Christian saints.
Much of the Euro press, it seems to me, has been trying to depict Israel and the Jews as evil bad guys, as `Umar does, perhaps in order to justify future military intervention.
On the other hand, there are cases where humanitarian intervention is really needed... but doesn't come. How come the massacres in southern Sudan [I do not refer to Darfur] never led to humanitarian military intervention in the sixty years since Sudan became independent in 1956, sixty years of intermittent massacre?

Both the French & British are old hands at humanitarian intervention by the way. It seems that the French may have believed that they were being "humanitarian" in 1840 when they supported persecution of Jews in Damascus on the grounds of the ritual murder libel, as you point out. You can look up what French pm Thiers said at the time in Jonathan Frankel's book on the Damascus Affair. Also in my:

I don't see French policy as monolithic, and in some times and places they did help Jews. French and British intervention to defend the Ottoman Empire against Russia [Crimean War] should be viewed with gratitude by pan-Islamists like `Umar, even if France & Britain did obtain some advantages from the Sultan particularly in and around Jerusalem after that intervention.

The problem today is that international humanitarianism is fake more often than not. Likewise, humanitarian military intervention is fake more often than not.

E. Simon - 1/5/2007

I wonder then whether an authoritarian Arab world will survive as modern nation /states.
I have indicated in an earlier post ( that you chose to ignore)that few, if any, major culture/state is without its dark side(s)!
Well it seems most Arab countries, especially the Palestian national movements, have started the modern era only with many dark sides; not least their all but proclaimed aggressive, expansionist and racist policies; the natural offspring from their illegal colonialist, imperialistically assisted, modes of birth.

N. Friedman - 1/5/2007


That is a good point.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/5/2007

"They may, for example, believe that some speech needs to be suppressed for the advancement of Islam. So, the issue might not be fear but pure ideological policy of advancing an Islamic society."

Interesting distinction between fear of being ovethrown and the desire to reach an ideologiccal goal. I think that the desire also contains an implicit fear.

It is the fear of failing God. This could drive a religious leader to repress speech even in the absence of a clear danger to his power.

In the case of Iran, I would be hard pressed to separate the two.

N. Friedman - 1/5/2007


If Israel followed the recommendation of the infamous "A Clean Break" proposal by, among others, Richard Perle, Israel would be on its own. His theory evidently was that Israel required no aid to survive and prosper and that the US would retarding Israel's economic and political development. My gut reaction is that Israel would do well on its own also and that its relation to the US is a major source of objection by anti-imperialists. On the other hand, there are benefits to being with the US.

N. Friedman - 1/5/2007


You write: "He cites a declaration by Muhammad Ali of Egypt [circa 1832] which clearly states that the dhimmis, Jews & Christians, have been oppressed and denied rights."

This is certainly the case and, for the Maronites, it was surely the case. And, the resistance to reform led to the massacres which, in turn, gave the French an excuse to intervene on behalf of the Maronites. Or, truth be said, the policy of humanitarian intervention and imperialism were paired together.

As for the treatment of Jews, that is also correct in that region. Jews were nearly always worse off in such region - and most especially in the vicinity of Jerusalem - than elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire although, in the 19th Century, the position of Jews was deteriorating even in the heart of the Ottoman Empire.

I am not sure I would put the French as intervening to help Jews. It was, after all, the French government which was pushing the Damascus blood libel. On the other hand, there was a religious affinity with the Maronites, which the French championed.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/5/2007

E and Omar,
I came upon another writing by Polk just by chance. It seems that there is a stout partition traversing Polk's mind and seldom the two halves meet. The partition sunders Polk the historian from Polk the policymaker/propagandist. I came upon his book The Opening of South Lebanon, 1788-1840. Some very interesting documents. This is Polk the enlightening historian. He cites a declaration by Muhammad Ali of Egypt [circa 1832] which clearly states that the dhimmis, Jews & Christians, have been oppressed and denied rights. He further indicates that the Jews were at the bottom of the social totem pole [below Christians]. Other documents cited in the book confirm the oppressed status of dhimmis. Now, if Polk's book has a message, it seems to be that the social changes initiated in a village in the Shuf mountains of Lebanon by Muhammad Ali & Ibrahim Pasha, his son, exacerbated intercommunal relations. These pashas, while declaring a desire to help the ahl al-kitab, bringing modernity to the heretofore nearly isolated, autarkic village, created a situation that increased hostility --even violence-- between groups. If you follow the sequence of events in southern Lebanon, you do get to the violence and massacres of 1860 there and in Damascus, etc. However, I think that Polk reaches this conclusion, that may be called "conservative" [i.e., don't try to change Middle Eastern society, you'll only make things worse], in too simplistic a way. There seem to me to have been several factors leading to the massive, violent outbursts of 1860. But if we should accept Polk's conclusion as a historian, then we might have to criticize Polk the policymaker/propagandist. After all, the USA and UK have been hyperactive in the Middle East for a long time [the UK since the building of the Suez Canal, the USA since the 1930s when ARAMCO began to develop oil production in Saudi Arabia]. Many of the US/UK policies have been harmful in outcome, both for people on the ground in the Middle East/Levant, and for Americans. So maybe Polk the historian ought to overrule Polk the policymaker/propagandist. Maybe Polk-McGovern & Co.'s plans to change the Middle East will only make things worse.

N. Friedman - 1/4/2007


You say the religious leaders are afraid of free speech. That may be although there could be other explanations. They may, for example, believe that some speech needs to be suppressed for the advancement of Islam. So, the issue might not be fear but pure ideological policy of advancing an Islamic society. The point is that it is rather difficult to place Americanized judgments on people raised in a very different culture.

Another point. I think it is true that there is a modernized and even a Westernized group in Iran. I just do not think it runs very deep. Suffice my evidence, for the moment, to be the handing of keys to paradise to armies of children. Parents, evidently, went along with that monstrous insanity. I know wartime brings out the worst in people but that worst does not always play out in such a positively Medieval manner, or at least that is my impression.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/4/2007

Elliott, having voted for the losing candidate in many elections, I am well aware of the limits of majority wisdom. :)

More seriously, you are absolutely correct. Democracies can have a range of values, not all of them good. And I do not equate Iran becoming democratic with their becoming western.

However, Iran is at minimum partially westernized, and its populace seems to contain a pretty wide range of values. The disagreements over the role of women--and the presence of some women in elective office--is one indicator of that range.

Also the religious leadership tends to be afraid of free speech, particularly concerning religious freedom. I take that as a hopeful sign, as it may mean that they have reason to be afraid of it.

Still, there are no guarantees that things will turn out well. The anti-western forces that you and Mr. Friedman perceive are real. There is an older tradition of Persia as a great power that seems to now have a nationalist twist to it. As "N" noted above, that could play out in a range of ways.

Sill, I think that it is important to recognize that there are countervailing forces that push roughly in the direction of greater freedom and individualism. It would be wrong to underestimate them.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/4/2007

Oscar, part of the problem is the lack of a perspective over time as to what majority rule --if that is what democracy means-- will or can or might bring about.
Now, a majority can be tyrannical towards a minority. Consider jimcrow in various American states. In some southern states, Blacks were the majority in the pre-WW I period, yet unable to exercise their civil rights. In other southern states, whites were the majority. In the latter group, Whites imposed jimcrow on Blacks quite democratically, if majority rule is what democracy means. Likewise, the majority in Iraq today, Sunnis and Shi`ites together, might wish to impose dhimmi restrictions on the Assyrian Christian minority. Since the Assyrians and other Christians are only about 2 or 3% of the population, wouldn't those restrictions be democratic? The fact that the Assyrians were there before the Arabs does not seem to interest many in the international community.
For another historical example, consider Hitler's takeover in Germany. Hitler's party did not get a majority in the last elections before he rose to power in late January 1933. The president [Hindenburg?] appointed him chancellor, that is, prime minister, and he began to suppress whomever he hated or feared. Later that year, as I recall, he called a referendum to democratically ratify his policies. And he won a majority in that referendum. So democracy in itself is not a cure all nor is it a certain guarantee against tyranny.

N. Friedman - 1/4/2007


You may be correct. I am not sure. I do agree that the assembly is somewhat akin to what existed in some places (e.g. in the Ottoman Empire, on occasion) in the 19th Century. My gut reaction, however, is that the institution was set with with the opposite intent from the constitutional regimes of the Ottoman 19th Century, meaning, the idea of the Mullahs is to undermine Westernization.

Of course, some might say that the Ottoman institution was also designed as a facade for Western consumption although, clearly, those most interested in pushing for Westernization were sincere, whether or not any given Sultan was.

And, the march toward Westernization, at least in the Ottoman Empire, continued regardless of the preference and dictates, near the end of the Empire, of the truly reactionary Abdul Hamid. So, you might be correct - if the analogy holds -, assuming that you have correctly tapped into what the Iranian people want. Constitutional government, intended to reinvigorate Islam political and militarily, may on that theory undermine Islam political and economically and lead someday to something more like Turkey.

I, nonetheless, worry that the Mullahs have largely guessed correct and that the direction of the people in the region, including in Iran, is not toward Westernization even if it is not, at this moment, entirely enamored in Iran with reactionary religious fervor. So, we may be having fits and starts toward the direction favored by the reactionaries rather than, as was the case at the end of the Ottoman Empire, toward Westernization. Or, we may be watching the bitter end of the Mullahs.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/4/2007

I recognized that my last point, on moving toward democracy, probably required more than a bit of clarification. So here goes:

1. "Movement toward" was not meant to equal "arrived at." To use a 19th century European comparison, Iran is bit like one of those monarchies with a highly limited representative assembly. Iran's right to suffrage is far broader than most of those, which were intended to extend power only to the propertied.

Whether the religious nature of the limits on Iran's people makes it more durable than the monarchical limits, only time will tell. I think it is possible, but far from certain, that the power of the religious leadership will fade or be overthrown.

2. That does not guarantee a friendlier Iran, or one that suddenly becomes one with western values. The departure of a clerical check on government would probably leave large portions of Islamic-based law in place. However, it is clear from these elections, particularly the recent one, that a majority of Iranians do not want rigid adherence to that law, as interpreted by the conservative clerics there today.

3. Even a far friendlier and more democratic Iran would probably continue to develop a nuclear program. It's become a matter of national pride and respect. And, both geographically and politically speaking, there are nuclear powers all around them. Let's face it, given Iran's neighbors, their developing a small nuclear arsenal is not in itself irrational.

4. I think deterrence is a viable response. Some sincere long-term work at reducing nuclear stockpiles--which the US has not done consistently--would help too, thought that's the sort of thing that takes a generation or more to bear fruit.

5. If my hopes are at all right, then the Armageddon-mongering phase will pass; unless of course the leadership actually tries to bring it on by, say, attacking Israel. As always it's getting through the short run to the long run that's the challenge.

N. Friedman - 1/4/2007


I agree with you with one minor exception. Oppressive as the Shah was - and he was -, he was likely one of the most enlightened and least oppressive leaders that Iran or Persia has had.

The Islamic Republic in place now stones people to death, treats non-Muslims terribly and, for those, like Baha'i's, who are considered apostates, offers basically no legal protections at all.

So, I really cannot join you if your suggestion is that the current regime is in any real way an improvement. I think it is a big step backward. As for the elections, I think the Iranian regime is employing elections as a means to move society in reverse, religio-politically speaking.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/4/2007

The policy of Carter's administration in Iran at the end of 1978-early 1979, toward Iran is a complex matter. I believe that American policy does greatly influence events far away from American shores. Some or all of Khomeini's writings were known to State Dept-NSC-CIA specialists at that time. Yet he was promoted. I recommend George Lenczowski's piece on the Khomeini revolution in the American Spectator circa 1981. Lenczowski's conclusion about Carter's policy is similar to mine, as I recall.

N. Friedman - 1/4/2007

Mr. Simon and Oscar,

I really do not like the overused word "monolithic." So far as I can discern, there is not a government or people on Earth, now or in the past, to which that word cannot somehow be applied. I take the word "monolithic" to mean that we do not, thus far, know the overall direction a government or movement is taking from the various persons who might impact on that direction.

And, to that extent, I agree that we do not know just what the Iranian government is doing. And, it is also not clear whether Iran will continue its path back toward the 7th Century or will take the path of the more modern people to whom Western reporters have access. So, there is much upon which to reflect.

On Morning Edition, today, there was a story about Iran's oil business with reference to its nuclear power. An economist stated his view that Iran's oil business is in serious decline due to extraordinary mismanagement and failure to at all modernize or, to some extent, even repair equipment. The not so long term trend will be, unless the problems are fixed, that Iran will not have the ability, notwithstanding its huge oil reserves, to both export oil and fuel Iranian needs. His believes was that Iran's nuclear strategy may well be a very short-sighted gamble by Iran to solve its looming energy problems with Russia basically doing the work for Iran.

His theory is that the US may be in a much stronger political position to dictate to Iran in a very few years by being patient because nuclear energy will not prove to be remotely sufficient to solve Iran's energy problem.

He did not suggest that Iran is not trying to obtain nuclear weapons but only that Iran is going to weaken, economically speaking, and thus will be easier to confront politically.

He may well be correct. It is worth considering.

Aside from that point, I reiterate my general comment about the Muslim regions. The modernizing trend in the Muslim regions that began some centuries ago may have ended and the broad trend may be toward restoration of tradition as a means to restore Muslim political power.

If that trend is the real one, that means a return to hostility toward all things non-Muslim and toward more traditional Islamic notions that eschew nationalism and favor the idea of Islam as the property for all mankind, with Muslims as the agents of bringing that property to the world by, if necessary, war.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/4/2007

"it was precisely Carter's administration that helped Khomeini --Ahmadinajad's spiritual father-- take over Iran."

There are some problems with that statement.

1. The Shah was overthrown by a broad-based coalition led by Khomeini. {It was so broad based that, in the end, the Civil Service simply switched sides.)

2. Carter's mistake, if it was a mistake, was in assuming that the coalition would remain broad based. In this "mistake" he was joined by millions of Iranians. In short it was hardly obvious that Khomeini would come out with as much power as he did.

3. I say "if it was a mistake" because I've never seen a credible alternative to Carter's policy. Assisting the Shah in a bloody repression was the only coherent alternative available; such an approach would have been of dubious morality and could well have failed anyway. Carter chose to gamble on their moving toward democracy, which in fact Iran did (when compared to the Shah's regime).

E. Simon - 1/3/2007

I wonder if this stuff doesn't just go above Omar's head. The important thing to iterate is that when he promotes his false dichotomy of American vs. Israeli interests, and the assorted gobbledy-gook he draws from that about Americans supposedly waking up in contrast to Israelis supposedly remaining "blind", he forgets entirely about the Rio Grande. If Americans are willing to raise an incredibly misguided ruckus about illegal immigrants from Mexico, to the point of demanding the U.S. government build a wall on that border, I trust that they couldn't give two s+++s about Israel building a wall to keep out 9/11-style jihadi human suicide bombs - the border issue utterly notwithstanding.

Omar, like usual, just doesn't get it.

E. Simon - 1/3/2007

In the spirit of Oscar's post, it's also important to keep in mind that Ahmedinejad's party suffered significant setbacks in recent elections.

Richard K. Pelz - 1/3/2007

I agree with much of what Polk says. However,I don't accept his historical analogy that the insurgency in Iraq is like most insurgencies in that they will be satisfied if they drive out the foreign occupiers. There are many additional obstacles to overcome: The Sunni insurgents also oppose democracy and seek to reestablish Sunni control over the country. The Shiite militias seek revenge against the Sunnis for past oppression. There is no sense of loyalty to the concept of "Iraq" as a nation. There is an invasive culture of corruption. There is an established culture of quarreling. There is no tradition of rule by the people. Polk does not discuss how Iraq and the U.S. might deal with these realities.
The Iraqis themselves must evolve some kind of operable accommodation of the competing interests and destructive cultures, the form of which we cannot envision. All that the U.S. and the international community can do is to provide them help along the way.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/3/2007

One of the problems in viewing the Carter-Baker-Polk-walt-Mearsheimer [etc] effusions in light of what to do about Iran, is that it was precisely Carter's administration that helped Khomeini --Ahmadinajad's spiritual father-- take over Iran. Zbig seems to have been particularly pleased with this achievement.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/3/2007

Omar, Polk has always been hostile to Israel. However, in one of his writings from 1957, he denies that there is any such people as "palestinians." "As has been shown in Part I [of a book to which Polk contributed -EAG] , Palestine as such did not exist..." and "Precisely the lack of this contrast with neighbors [unlike French vs. Spaniards -EAG] is what raises the first problem in discussing the Arabs of Palestine. In recent centuries they could not readily be contrasted with populations in the surrounding areas who were also Arabic-speakers and also heirs to the Arab heritage." [see W Polk, D Stamler, E Asfour, Backdrop to Tragedy (Boston: Beacon Press 1957), p 226]
-- Polk is clearly saying that there is no such people in history as "palestinians." Indeed, his section in this book shows him to be a pan-Arabist.

Now, let's consider how much Carter and Baker, inter alia, are guided by pure loyalty to the interests of the American people. Carter's Center in Atlanta has received many millions from super-rich Arab oil princes, ranging from the Shaykh of Abu Dhabi to Saudi prince al-Walid, etc., not to mention $$ from the BCCI bank, one of the most crooked banks of the 20th century. Baker too got Arab money in various ways, which has been reported on the Internet, so it should not be too hard for you to find. It's quite possible that Carter et al.'s policy proposals in their various "books," reports and papers are meant as payment for funds received from Arab sources. On the other hand, maybe Carter et al. were committed by deep Judeophobia to anti-Israel attitudes and went to Arab oil potentates to solicit funds with the claim of "I want to help you & you ought to help me to help you."

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/3/2007

You are right about the eschatological talk. Anyone who wants to be around for the end of the world worries me a bit.

One cautionary note, for all of us: we should be careful not to see the Iranian government as monolithic. Not even the religious leadership is that. The elected officials are strikingly diverse, particularly if one looks beyond Tehran. While their power is limited, they are not simply rubber stamps.

Does this hold promise for better relations? A little. It could also mask direr trends. I incline toward the former but cannot say that the latter is not true as well.

N. Friedman - 1/3/2007


Happy New Year!

It would be nice to know what the Iranian goals are. Certainly, the rhetoric is revolutionary and, far more scary, eschatological not to mention genocidal.

The eschatological talk, if it is sincere, suggests a willingness to risk war that more sane revolutionaries might be more likely to eschew. So, understanding what is going on is rather important.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/3/2007

The question of deterrence is important. Iranian's foreign policy seems to me no less sane than the Soviet Union's was. (Whether we like it is another question.)

In fact, thinking about it, the debate over the degree to which Iran is motivated by Islamicist goals--as opposed to more ordinary regional power goals--echoes the old debate over the degree to which the Soviet Union's leaders acted from Marxist as opposed to Great Power goals.

I would not want to press this comparison too far, but it is food for thought.

N. Friedman - 1/1/2007


Perhaps they believe that Iran can be contained, as the USSR was contained.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/1/2007

Whereas you say that the Islamic threat will become more lethal, if not stopped or slowed down somehow, Polk views with favor --it seems-- the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran. Obviously that would be quite lethal, but these old Middle East hands or State Dept types like Polk do not see it as a threat or do not want to see it as a threat. And that attitude seems dangerous and unwise.
On the practical level, neither the US nor the EU --nor the UN which is much influenced by both-- has done anything practical to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions. Maybe they don't care.

N. Friedman - 1/1/2007


Whether or not Israel plays or does not play a role in what is occurring in the Muslim regions is not the issue - whatever Professor Polk may think. The issue, instead, is the religious revival movement which Polk's proposals do nothing to address or even attempt to understand. In fact, Polk's approach leaves the local forces in play on the same trajectory that they have been over the course of the last 50 or more years - which, to any rational observer, have been a disaster for the US and the world, including the Muslim regions.

The main issue at hand is the religious revival movement aka Islamism. It is the religious revival movement that wants to overthrow the existing order in the Muslim regions and replace it with purely Muslim institutions. It is the religious revival movement that has made war against the West, initially as part of the strategy to overthrow the "hypocrites" (i.e. the reigning order) but if successful, as an end in itself.

A number of people in the Bush administration, followers of Bernard Lewis, believed that we could affect and alter the direction of changes that the religious revival portends, namely, the restoration in the Muslim regions of Islamic style governance and goals. Instead, they hoped that the forces that favor democracy were strong enough to fight the forces of religious revival. Those forces either are not strong enough, have not been sufficiently supported or were not adequately understood. Or most likely, the amount of time necessary for such a strategy is prohibitively long.

Whatever the case, the current policy, if stability is necessary to it, is not working. So, it is rather natural that people with different agendas would come forward. It is rather doubtful that these new voices will change much of anything and almost certainly not the US approach to Israel, where Polk fails even to address the centrality of the Muslim religious revival movement to the unwillingness of Palestinian Arabs even to consider resolving the dispute - their favoring instead that venerable Islamic institution of the hudna (i.e. temporary truce to allow for more favorable circumstances in which to continue a jihad).

One possible alternative not considered by Polk, presumably out of fear that it would get out of control and affect the supply of oil, is to encourage fighting between Shi'a and Sunni in the hope that such fighting exposes the religious revival movement to be a dead end for Muslims. That might, in the long term, force Muslims to face the need to reform institutions and shed their Medievalism. And, unless the vast majority of Muslims embrace modern institutions and shed Medievalism, Islamism will not only continue as a threat but the threat will grow and become more lethal.

I am not sure that the above proposal I mention is a good idea. But, at least it addresses the problem at hand. What Polk proposes instead is merely extracting the US from the region on their near religious belief that the US and Israel, not internal forces, are what is driving problems in Muslim lands. I can only say that people who see the world as a reflection of themselves are not able to provide helpful advice - since such advice requires understanding those being discussed, as independent actors with their own goals, whether or not affected also by outside forces.

Elliott Aron Green - 1/1/2007

It is curious that in a short period of time, since the November elections, four reports/papers/"books" have issued forth to deal with the Middle East, all issued by prominent political and/or academic personalities. All propose "new," "fresh" policies. All four --Carter's "book," the Baker-Hamilton report, the Walt-Mearsheimer paper & now Polk-McGovern-- have urged, inter alia, pushing Israel to make dangerous concessions to aggressive Arab nationalist & Islamic forces, while typically depicting Israel as a violator of law, a manipulator of US policy, a reckless and aggressive power, and blaming Israel for past and present conflicts, those that involved Israel directly and those that these authors blame on Israel's presence. Carter, Baker-Hamilton, and Walt-Mearsheimer's tracts have all met with varying degrees of contempt, rejection, and withering scholarly criticism. Moreover, Baker's lucrative business ties with Arab governments have been highlighted, as well as the many millions contributed by wealthy Arabs to Carter's Center in Atlanta. So now Polk comes along to rescue what is "right" in Baker-Hamilton. Polk's advantage is that he is the only one among all those mentioned who can in the least be considered a scholar on the Middle East. On the other hand, he participated in policy-making in the early sixties, when the US was helping Saddam Hussein's Ba`ath party take over Iraq and fight Kurds, and when both the US and USSR were encouraging Nasser of Egypt in his hostility to Israel. Polk's anti-Israel views of today differ little if at all from his anti-Israel views of years gone by. He represents the old, pre-Six Day War American policy in the Middle East, a policy that helped cause many current problems there which have come to threaten the very safety of Americans in the USA itself. His own career offers ample evidence --against all four political tracts mentioned above-- that US policy has not been dominated by Israel, has not been designed to further Israel's interests, has not worked toward peace in a realistic way, etc. This applies all the more to State Dept & CIA policies and actions in the Middle East, which were sometimes tempered by public opinion, by Congress and/or by the White House.

A full critique of Polk's justification for his policy presented here would be tedious and time-consuming. However, I would like to point out some curious omissions and errors.
1-- Lebanon is not mentioned except in the context of last summer's war there between Israel and Hizbullah, which Polk grossly misrepresents as a "conflict between Lebanon and Israel." Polk can only do this by identifying the Hizbullah [a clear Syrian-Iranian proxy] with Lebanon as a whole. Polk also forgets that Syria has never recognized Lebanon as a separate, independent state. Further, he falsely claims that the US "treated Israel as a surrogate military force" in that war. If so, US support for a Security Council cease fire resolution [1701] favorable to Hizbullah [and neglectful of SC res. 1559] is indeed curious.
2- He argues that the so-called "insurgents" in Iraq want the foreigners to leave. If so, why is it that the overwhelming number of attacks have been against Arabs, primarily Shi`ites to be sure?? Likewise, the overwhelming number of victims has been Shi`ites. Americans and other foreigners have indeed been killed in the war, but their numbers are dwarfed by the number of Iraqis killed by fellow Iraqis. On what grounds could we expect Sunni-Shi`ite conflict to end merely because the foreigners leave?
Polk also claims that "the fighting died down" in Algeria when the French left. Actually, fighting continued in Algeria among Muslims, especially Berbers against the Arab govt in the 1960s. Besides, the war with the French may be compared to a girls hockey game in view of the immense slaughter among Arab-Muslim and Berber factions in Algeria over the past fifteen years [up to 150,000 killed].
3-- What Polk does not mention is that Carter's national security advisor, Zbig, did much to bring the Khomeini regime to power. If it were not for Zbig's unfortunate policy at that time, the world might have been spared a great deal of suffering and other troubles since 1979.
4-- Polk, like many others, labels Israeli settlements "illegal." Yet, the area that he would call "West Bank" was a part of the internationally designated Jewish National Home decided upon by the San Remo Conference in 1920, endorsed by the League of Nations in 1922, and later endorsed by the USA in the Anglo-American convention on Palestine. The UN General Assembly Partition recommendation of 29 November 1947 did not and could not change the status of the Judea-Samaria [West Bank] region. Since no borders have been agreed upon between Israel and any Palestinian Arab entity, that region is still legally part of the Jewish National Home and Jewish settlement there is to be favored [according to the 1922 L of N Mandate], rather than being illegal.
5-- Rather than seeing Israel as a disruptive, trouble-making factor, I would argue that Israel is a stabilizing factor in that it focusses the energies of Islamic jihadists --an authentic, traditional expression of Arab Islam-- on Israel. Those energies might otherwise be used against other non-Muslim states, as occurred historically. Hence, it is desirable for peace-loving countries that Israel thwart and frustrate those jihadist aims, rather than encourage them by surrendering to them. The existence of al-Qa`ida owes more to US policy in Afghanistan --and that of US ally Saudi Arabia-- than it does to Israel's existence.
Polk's present article is a partisan advocacy rather than an informed, balanced analysis of Middle Eastern problems.