Friday, March 30, 2007

Dear Professor Makiya...


An Iraqi exile has some words for this Uncle Tom. Makiya, of course, recently told the New York Times - amid a dire bleat about how disappointed he is in Iraqis for their failure to live up to the high standards set by the occupation - that to expect one to apologise for having supported this mass slaughter was "Maoist". About Makiya, you must know that he is routinely lionised as, for instance, "an Arab dissident in the manner of Havel or Solzhenitsyn". I take that from George Packer's The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq, but I'm pretty sure Nick Cohen said something similar recently. Packer's book is a prolonged love letter to Makiya and the pro-war Left, whose seductive arguments he claims to have been taken in by. I want to lay some of this on you, as it's a real laugh. Here's Packer upon meeting Makiya in his office, who has declared himself "a universalist" and claimed that he has formed something called Charter 91 (thus practically begging for the comparison with Havel):

"Charter 91 and the Iraqi National Congress, the exiles' political organisation (Makiya was a member of its assembly), seemed unlikely to create the Republic of Tolerance ... The miracles of 1989 and the democratic revolutions of the 1990s were not for Iraq, which belonged to an alien and frightening part of the world where governments and people routinely did terrible things and no light or air ever penetrated."


You see? Because the Arabs are "alien and frightening" and can exist in an exoteric land without light or air, they are not destined to overthrow the dictatorships whom the US has by and large imposed on them - unlike white Europeans. They require shock and awe, proof of which is in Packer's inane, racist perception. He goes on to describe what happened when the State Department's Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs recruited Iraqi exiles to form committees on the post-Saddam administration. Makiya initially declined to participate on the grounds that the State Department was full of "Arabists" who were part of the problem and hated Makiya's friend Chalabi. For Makiya adored Chalabi, having been "drawn" to his "mind" after meeting him in Salahuddin in 1992, while his preferred Pentagon contained neocons who adored democracy. Indeed, what Makiya despised most about Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, was that he was an "appeaser". However, Makiya later participated in the State Department, as a key figure in the Future of Iraq Project's "Democratic Principles Working Group". One State Department official tells Packer that "Makiya did not pay heed to standard protocols for working in committee". Makiya's main complaint is that the diverse group of egos and wideboys in the FOIP would weaken the main ego and wideboy, Ahmad Chalabi. Instead, Makiay, Rend Rahim and Salem Chalabi took over the whole thing and devised a detail blueprint for the "transition from totalitarianism to democracy". Essentially, the plan was to put Ahmad Chalabi in charge of an INC-led vanguard, which would include the two main Kurdish groups and the Iraqi National Accord. Most of the other groups involved, of course, were as unrepresentative as Chalabi's gangsters, but even they were sidelined in the planning process.

Packer also meets an array of pro-war liberals, such as Hitchens, who tells him that he relishes the coming war: "I feel much more like I used to in the Sixties, working with revolutionaries. That's what I'm doing, I'm helping a very desperate underground. That reminds me of my better days quite poignantly", even if it would be a "revolution from above". And after all, "after the dust settles, the only revolution left standing is the American one. Americanisation is the most revolutionary force in the world. There's almost no country where adopting the Americans wouldn't be the most radical thing they could do. I've always been a Paine-ite." Yes - Napoleon was a Paine-ite, too. Off, then, to see Berman, who pleads that "It's extremely hard to judge what the people in the administration really think. On what points are they sincere? On what points are they hypocritical? They haven't allowed us to be able to tell." Aside from wearing sandwich boards, I don't know how else the Bush administration could have told Berman that they don't give two shits about human rights or freedom.

And so back to Makiya, whose wearily familiar tale of apostasy is recounted - he was a supporter of the Fourth International, a member of the PDFLP (I don't know if this is strictly true?), and then became disillusioned by the tactics of some Palestinian groups, by the civil war in Lebanon, by the defeat of the Left in the Iranian revolution. "I could no longer blame it on the United States", he says, as if he was supposed to blame everything on the United States, whatever that would mean. Indeed, Packer tries adumbrating the beliefs of the average Trotskyist, which apparently involves "workers in Israeli factories and kibbutzim" (uh-huh) teaming up wiht the "oppressed Arab masses to throw off the yokes of imperialism, feudalism and capitalism". Yet this caricature is apparently defeated when Makiya realises that another caricature (that one can blame the United States for everything) doesn't hold water. And so begins a "seismic shift" in his thinking. Indeed, when it comes to the Iran-Iraq war, "It wasn't the United States, it was the Iraqis and Iranians who were bleeding themselves to death". Finally, in 1984, he writes "Could it be possible that a Marx today in a Middle Eastern political context is far less of a revolutionary than, say, a Voltaire?" Yes, Voltaire, the friend of 'Enlightened absolutists'. And by 1991, he has come to the view that the sins of the US are those ommission, not commission. Initially, Packer reports, Makiya had urged the "Arabs themselves to repel Saddam's aggression" and notes that "the only other Arab willing to push this line, though for very different reasons, was a Saudi construction tycoon named Osama bin Laden". But then, of course, the American media suddenly found use for Makiya's superficial account of Iraq's dictatorship (ironically funded by money from the Hussein regime paid to Makiya's father), Republic of Fear, in August 1990, before which it had sat gathering dust. So, he becomes a cheerleader for war, and is only saddened when Stormin' Norman doesn't take it all the way to Baghdad and put an American flag in Firdos Square. He goes on to meet Chalabi and the INC bunch, and writes an attack book about Arab intellectuals and their alleged silence in the face of Arab tyranny which Makiya (by then a modern day Havel, or Voltaire, or Solzhenitsyn, take your pick) is sworn to oppose. Packer invites Makiya to say a few words about Edward Said, and is told that the problem is that Said is a relic of 1967, a Palestine-comes-first rejectionist. "You don't ever work to make it better." This, Packer depicts as a bid for "intellectual detachment".

Then, of course, Makiya meets Chalabi and the INC bunch in northern Iraq, and is impressed by Chalabi as the mon "most likely of all those capable of leading Iraq to go in a democratic direction". Chalabi took CIA money to launch coup attempts, failed, and went into business with a right-wing Christian PR man named Francis Brooke, who helps him set up a base in the Republican Right - he meets Perle, Wolfowitz and Cheney, and is introduced to the guys from the AEI, PNAC, the Gingrich Congress, Halliburton and so on. Impressed by these credentials, Makiya remarks: "Iraq has one democrat - Ahmad Chalabi". So that, come 2001, Makiya is already on standby with remarks about the blamefulness of Arabic and Muslim culture, its "sense of victimhood" and so on. It is in that year that the State Department begins recruiting Iraqi exiles, and the scramble for Baghdad's black gold begins. Makiya continues to sigh and huff and maintain that the catastrophe of the occupation was not predictable from the beginning. Iraqis have let him own. "The ideas were fundamentally all there and sound. Ideas are important, yes. But the test was one of character. And here they virtually all failed."

Packer's book finishes with an ambient scene in Makiya's kitchen, with a kettle boiling, and a great deal of wistful regret. Makiya lights up suddenly, and tells Packer, who is apparently enthralled enough to consider it an adequate closer, that "I think it was Ahmad who once said of me that I embody the triumph of hope over experience."