Thursday, March 04, 2004


KANAN MAKIYA, speaking to Mansour Farhang in a panel discussion at New York University, November 2002:

You certainly couldn't even think about democratizing Saudi Arabia. That would be a pipedream -- if you were to hold elections there today, Saudis would overwhelmingly vote for bin Laden. But Iraq provides an alternative. Think for a moment, Mansour, of the two revolutions that happened in the Islamic world. One was very noisy -- of which you were a part in Iran. The other was very quiet, insidious and infinitely more dangerous. I'm talking about the export (after the oil revolution of 73) of an austere little sect, which meant nothing to anybody and now today is Islam -- substituting itself for a great religion and civilization, exporting hundreds and thousands of madrassas whose graduates become bin Ladens and al Qaeda. It's Saudi money that did all this.

Now look I'm pretending to be an American strategist. These guys know 9/11 wasn't about Afghanistan. That country was a poor fractured one that became a campground for Arabs. These are Arab problems exported to Afghanistan through Saudi money, which led to 9/11. The heart of the problem is in the Middle East. Something in this part of the world (since 1967 I'd argue) has gone terribly, horribly wrong.

To sum it up -- what's apparent is that the Middle East needs a success story. In the Clinton years that was thought to be Oslo. But that's all finished for the time being. Iraq is being thought of by this of school of thinkers as an alternative. I'm just trying to say that they have a strategic design, a way of thinking about what they see as the root of the problem -- namely a turn to democracy and an end to America's support for regimes like Saddam Hussein, or regimes like Saudi Arabia, which has been the rule for as long as I've been active in politics. It could be that that formula has finally proven itself to be a failure. That's what some of these people are thinking. (It's not what Colin Powell is thinking!) From their point of view, Iraq could be an alternative to Saudi Arabia. Its oil reserves are second to none. Iraq also has things that Afghanistan doesn't have -- a developed infrastructure, a highly educated class. They have a sense that democracy could work in Iraq where it might not work elsewhere. I'll leave it there.