Makiya’s Theory is Farfetched

by Azzam Tamimi

I find the theory that the eruption of the Arab Spring was somehow contributed to by the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein farfetched. In fact, I don't see much relevance between the Arab Spring and the events that blighted Iraq during the period from the early 1990s to the late 2000s. If at all, any Iraqi relevance began to form only as the Sunni Arabs of the Anbar embarked on their own peaceful uprising against the Maliki regime. And this happened no more than two years after the Tunisian uprising was triggered by the self-immolation of fruit vender Bu Azizi. In other words, one may argue more convincingly in favour of a Tunisian or Egyptian influence on the recent Iraqi uprising than the other way round.

Undoubtedly, Saddam Hussein was an oppressive ruler, a tyrant loathed and feared by the majority of the people he ruled. Yet, it was not the Iraqi people who toppled him and it was not an uprising anywhere in Iraq that expedited the end of his tyrannical reign.

The marsh Arabs uprising was generally perceived, at the time, as an Iranian-instigated, U.S.-backed, riot aimed at exploiting the exhaustion of the regime in the aftermath of the defeat of its troops and their expulsion from Kuwait in 1991. The uprising never managed to gain the momentum needed to finish what its leaders hoped to achieve and the U.S. and its allies believed at the time that intervening directly to accomplish the mission was outweighed by the risks involved.

The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq had hardly anything to do with the Iraqi popular discontent or any meaningful domestic dynamic aimed at change. It was planned and executed entirely by external actors who brought with them from exile remnants of Iraqi, mostly Shi'ite, opposition. It was the U.S. invasion that enabled these figures to be installed in power once Saddam's Ba'thist regime was finished off. Iraqis who stood to benefit from the change of regime justified the U.S. invasion and considered it, at best, the lesser of the two evils. Yet, the U.S. predetermination that the Sunnis of Iraq were potential enemies, in accordance with the incredible theory of the Sunni triangle, and should therefore be treated as such led to a gradual estrangement of most Sunnis and to a profound sectarian division unprecedented in the recent history of Iraq. Iran, of course, was the greatest beneficiary from the U.S. invasion and mismanagement of Iraq. Ironically, Iran's men ended up being the new rulers of Iraq. You can hardly think of a happier ending for the Iranians to their long ‘war and peace' epic with Saddam's regime.

The model of governance the United States helped establish in post-Saddam Iraq was far from impressive. Opposition groups and individuals in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, the three Arab countries that led the Great Arab Popular Uprising (GAPU – referred to as the Arab Spring), had already been struggling peacefully for reform in their own countries during the years of the invasion and occupation. At the time they condemned the U.S. invasion and what they perceived as a U.S./Iranian stooge regime in Baghdad. Generally, nothing positive was seen about the U.S.-provoked change in Iraq. The U.S. & U.K. claims that one of the objectives of regime change in Iraq was to liberate the Iraqi people from tyranny and promote democracy and respect for human rights were hardly credible. Any claim that such a regime change encouraged Arabs elsewhere to engage in a dynamic aimed at achieving similar results is indeed illusory.

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Response to Gelvin & Tamimi

by Kanan Makiya

The field of modern Middle Eastern Studies in the US today is, alas, afflicted by deep ideological non-scholarly divisions, which reflect the divisions being played out today in the region. However that which is tragic and real about what is actually going on in the Middle East, is farcical and pure theatre in the hands of these academic zealots. Among the consequences of this sad state of affairs is that we have in the US today not one but two professional associations in the field (ASMEA and MESA), one excessively pro- and the other excessively anti-everything and anything the US does or does not do in the region. The two camps engage in fierce polemical exchanges, characterized by the use of epithet, insult and ad hominem attacks, to the point of publishing blacklists of faculty disliked by the one side or the other, and they do all this under the facade of a search for the truth and true scholarship. The field of modern ME Studies is, as a consequence, rightly held in contempt by academics in more traditional departments and disciplines, and by a US government that pays no attention whatsoever to ME ‘experts' when it comes to making important decisions about the region.

Mr. Gelvin's response to my essay is a perfect example of this disease afflicting our joint profession. In place of argument he deploys wild accusation and personal insult of the “he just does not know or care much about the Arab world” variety. His response is full of such statements in spite of the fact that we do not know and have never met one another. More importantly, he does not deal in any way with the substance of my argument, quibbling instead about typographical errors and the like. I may or may not know or care about the Arab world, but you will not find evidence for that in his angry rant. I wonder where he was when I spent eight wasted years in various organizations of the PLO in the 1960s and 70s? Such people cannot and should not be taken seriously.

Mr Azzam Tamimi, on the other hand, has made a real and important argument, one with which I disagree, but in which, through the prism of that disagreement, are played out some of the most fundamental problems afflicting Iraq today. That, needless to say, is what civilized intellectual discourse should be about.

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