Notes From Babel

Making Sense of US in the Middle East

with one comment

I’ve long struggled with the big questions regarding the Middle East, especially, why is it such a mess, and what good, if any, are we doing over there? Tired of being agnostic on the subject, I’ve finally picked up a book to try to start getting a sense of the subject. I picked up Michael Oren’s Power, Faith, and Fantasy, although without doing much research — I later discovered he serves in the IDF. However, the book is balanced thus far (halfway into it at this point). And who doesn’t have an opinion on the subject of the Middle East, after all.

My studies on the founding era and first 100 years of the US has already revealed that the flourishing of of a free republic is not an easy thing to pull off. It takes not just a good constitution–I think many people believe that anyone can have what we have if they want it, they just need to use our founding documents. But it takes much more than the lifting of ideas–you need soil, not just the seed alone. The Protestant movement had a big impact in shaping our system. Instead of having a strong authority center like Catholicism, Protestantism had a DIY bent, which leads to people forming strong local groups, public and private, to get things done on their own. There is of course more to it than just the particular religious history that coincided with America’s early period, but it is profound.

Because the mid east has always been predisposed to lousy rulers, and because it’s actually pretty tough to get democracies going, I can see the argument for being pro-Israel as a general matter. That is not to neglect all Israel’s awful policies of settlements et al., and its religious bigotry. But that has been the norm since the US was introduced to the Middle East–it’s not something Israel invented. Rather, Israel does and should endure censure because of the Spiderman notion that with great power comes great responsibility. Israel has superpower backing but lacks the full measure of the moral and philosophical grounding of the superpower backing it.

But it does seem that US has been trying to give the Middle East education and democracy for hundreds of years. It just never really took, unfortunately. So in a sense it’s hard to buy the argument that Israel is the only thing standing in the way of a free and prosperous Palestinian state. I’m anxious to see how Iraq pans out. It may be the next real successful Middle Eastern democracy, which would be very exciting. And it would do much for Bush’s legacy.


Written by Tim Kowal

January 22, 2009 at 12:44 am

Posted in Middle East

One Response

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  1. In your post I am reminded of Democracy In America by de Tocqueville and how he contrasts ideas that worked in this country that did not (or would not) work in France because of cultural preconditions.
    Like you, I think I am sometimes inclined to think if you copy and paste our constitution onto other countries they would immediately “shape up”, but that is not the reality.


    January 22, 2009 at 9:31 pm

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