Rashid Khalidi: No Good Choices in Iraq

Roundup: Historians' Take

Rashid Khalidi, in a lecture given at UCLA in May that was just published (June 27, 2004):

... I don't think there are any good choices now for the United States in Iraq. The experts were also right to warn about the impossibility of imposing democracy from the barrel of a gun. Power maybe, but not democracy. For the last 12 months Bremer has tried successfully to prevent elections demanded by prominent Shi'a leaders. The stench of hypocrisy hovers over a regime claiming to support democracy that supports undemocratic regimes such as the Saudis and now Libya.

It is a myth that the Middle East has no experience with democracy or constitutionalism. There were constitutions in the Middle East, in Turkey in 1876 and Iran in 1905. The French and British supported antidemocratic regimes. The United States did the same, with the overthrow of the Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953. What this administration seems to mean by a democratic government in the Middle East is a government that does as it is told.

The wholesale theft of Iraqi property as it is privatized is known all over the Middle East. Iraqi airlines is now 51% owned by a shadowy group of Iraqis and Jordanians who put up nothing but their expertise, while 49% is the $3 billion worth of planes and airports both in Iraq and of this airline throughout the world.

These things arouse deep fears in the Middle East in public opinion which is afraid of foreign control of Middle Eastern oil. Until the 1960s all decisions on oil production were made by the oil importing countries. This has been a source of bitterness and concern. It was only with the nationalizations of the 1960s and 1970s that even the governments in the Middle East began to benefit from the oil industry.

How will what we do be perceived by people of the region? They don't like foreign forces on their soil. The United States may be following in the footsteps of the old colonial powers....

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