Thomas Friedman continues his series on the implications of the Iraqi project for the larger Middle East. His beginning is interesting if characteristically overreaching:

During the next six months, the world is going to be treated to two remarkable trials in Baghdad. It is going to be the mother of all split screens. On one side, you’re going to see the trial of Saddam Hussein. On the other side, you’re going to see the trial of the Iraqi people. That’s right, the Iraqi people will also be on trial–for whether they can really live together without the iron fist of the man on the other side of the screen.

This may be apocryphal, but Saddam is supposed to have once remarked something like: Be careful, if you get rid of me, you will need seven presidents to rule Iraq. Which is why this split-screen trial is going to be so important. Either Saddam is going to be laughing at us and at Iraqis, saying “I told you so,” as Iraqis are squabbling and murdering each other on the other side of the screen.

Or, we and the Iraqi people will be laughing at him by proving that it is possible to produce something the Arab world has rarely seen: a self-governing, multiethnic, representative Arab government that accepts minority rights and peaceful transfers of power–without a military dictator, monarch or mullah standing overhead with a stick.

One wonders if there isn’t a middle ground somewhere. Would reaching the level of democratization and religious tolerance of, say, India pass the test? That would seem to me a huge improvement over the status quo ante.

Friedman is a bit less ambitious in the next section:

You don’t want to miss this show. This is pay-per-view history. If, somehow, Iraqi Kurds, Sunnis, Turkmen, Christians, Assyrians and Shiites find a way to embrace pluralism, it will be a huge boost to moderates in the war of ideas all across the Muslim world. Those who scoff at the idea of a democratic domino theory in the Arab world don’t know what they’re talking about. But those who think this is a done deal don’t know Iraq.

I must not know what I’m talking about, because I don’t believe in domino theories. I do think that having a thriving democracy in the region would make it more likely that democracy will spread, but it’s not a given. After all, Israel has been more or less democratic for decades and it hasn’t spread to its Arab neighbors. And, while I don’t really know Iraq, I know of few people who think this is a done deal.

If Iraq is going to be made to work as a decent, pluralistic, self-governing entity, noted the Iraq expert Amatzia Baram of the United States Institute of Peace, all the key factions there will have to accept being “reasonably unhappy.” All will have to settle for their second-best dream in order to avoid their first-class nightmare: chaos or a return to tyranny.

Certainly true. Compromise–which by definition means everyone is somewhat dissatisfied–is the essence of democracy. Indeed, it borders on tautology.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    Those who scoff at the idea of a democratic domino theory in the Arab world don’t know what they’re talking about. But those who think this is a done deal don’t know Iraq.

    That is the quote of the week.

    I don’t think you and Friedman disagree. You say it is a possibility and I have not read this installment yet but I’ve never heard Friedman say it was a given.

    I think Israel is not a fair example. If Israel made a vaccine that cured cancer the Arab states would ban it.