Thursday, May 03, 2007

Edward Luttwak on "The Middle of Nowhere"

The cover story of this month's Prospect magazine is ponderous reading but it does me good to plow through it. The whole piece is deliciously politically incorrect, but in a good way. Edward Luttwak is not being cute or blaming anyone in particular as he chips away at what comes across as one big meaningless hoopla in the Middle East. Not only war in Iraq, but just about everything making headlines, from the over-rated importance of the players and their lands to the putative threats advertised as much by our own leaders as the sources themselves. The term paper tigers comes to mind, except it is the wrong part of the world for that image.

Why are middle east experts so unfailingly wrong? The lesson of history is that men never learn from history, but middle east experts, like the rest of us, should at least learn from their past mistakes. Instead, they just keep repeating them.

►The first mistake is "five minutes to midnight" catastrophism...

►The second repeated mistake is the Mussolini syndrome....

►The third and greatest error ... is the very odd belief that these ancient nations are highly malleable.

Go read the first part and your weekend will be better for it. We are still stuck with the same misguided leadership, beating the same tedious drums no matter what happens, but after reading this I am less worried that they will do as much mischief as I had been worrying about. I love the ending.

That brings us to the mistake that the rest of us make. We devote far too much attention to the middle east, a mostly stagnant region where almost nothing is created in science or the arts—excluding Israel, per capita patent production of countries in the middle east is one fifth that of sub-Saharan Africa. The people of the middle east (only about five per cent of the world's population) are remarkably unproductive, with a high proportion not in the labour force at all. Not many of us would care to work if we were citizens of Abu Dhabi, with lots of oil money for very few citizens. But Saudi Arabia's 27m inhabitants also live largely off the oil revenues that trickle down to them, leaving most of the work to foreign technicians and labourers: even with high oil prices, Saudi Arabia's annual per capita income, at $14,000, is only about half that of oil-free Israel.

Saudi Arabia has a good excuse, for it was a land of oasis hand-farmers and Bedouin pastoralists who cannot be expected to become captains of industry in a mere 50 years. Much more striking is the oil parasitism of once much more accomplished Iran. It exports only 2.5m barrels a day as compared to Saudi Arabia's 8m, yet oil still accounts for 80 per cent of Iran's exports because its agriculture and industry have become so unproductive.

The middle east was once the world's most advanced region, but these days its biggest industries are extravagant consumption and the venting of resentment. According to the UN's 2004 Arab human development report, the region boasts the second lowest adult literacy rate in the world (after sub-Saharan Africa) at just 63 per cent. Its dependence on oil means that manufactured goods account for just 17 per cent of exports, compared to a global average of 78 per cent. Moreover, despite its oil wealth, the entire middle east generated under 4 per cent of global GDP in 2006—less than Germany.

Unless compelled by immediate danger, we should therefore focus on the old and new lands of creation in Europe and America, in India and east Asia—places where hard-working populations are looking ahead instead of dreaming of the past.

Thanks Dr. Coutinho for the link.
His remarks are also worth a look.

Underscoring one of Luttwak's main points (that the ME is overly-dependent on oil..."parasitism" was the term he used) one of the youngsters at the sparkling little group blog, Mideast Youth elaborates on the same theme.

In the United Nations Arab Development Report for 2002 the Muslim’s world literacy rate stands at only 53%, against 81% for China; Arab literacy is only 50%.So when oil begins to diminish,what’s going to happen?

In Israel — of the 1.2 million Israeli Arab citizens of Israel - the rate of female literacy is 88% for Israeli Arab women and twenty-six percent of Israeli Arab students who graduated from high school went on to receive some kind of secondary education in Israel at colleges and universities !!

Quoting a popular Arab religious commentator the writer says the main problem is that Arabs have a poor work ethic.

This is a smart bunch of kids at Mideast Youth. They don't all agree about everything but they don't hesitate to speak their minds. Check out these bios. They may be out of date by now, but any additions are probably impressive. I've been reading Nouri Lumendifi for some time and I know he's no longer 17.


Serendip, an Iranian blog less than a year old, comments on Luttwak's article. This blogger publishes mostly in English and frequently makes critical points about Iran's heavy-handed autocracy. At the same time he (or she) seems to be a patriotic Iranian at heart whose criticisms seem intended as constructive.

Luttwalk is not only unmindful of the long history of the Middle East, but also completely in denial about certain genocidal maniac and his ilk who want to repeat this history and are quite vocal and perilously honest about it since Khomeini took power in 1979 and embeded his 'Islamic manifest destiny' (Khomeini's Doctrine) into the Constitution of the country itself. This includes even our best Arab allies in the region who wouldn't mind to establish an Islamic Empire again.

Lutwwak, apologists, and those navigating in the circles of denial in foggy bottom, tend to forget that Iran, India and all other "Arab" states - including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria, as well as the entity under the Palestinian Authority - were originally non-Arab nations that were conquered by the Muslim Arabs when they spread out from the Arabian peninsula in the first great wave of jihad in the 7th century, defeating, killing, enslaving, dispossessing, converting, or reducing to the lowly status of dhimmitude millions of Christians and Jews, Zoroastrian exodus to India, and destroying their language (Phoenicians in Lebanon didn't speak Arabic)(Iran is the only country that was able to sustain its own language thanks to our brave poet, Ferdowsi) ancient and flourishing civilizations. (Prior to being Christian, of course, these lands had even more ancient histories. Phraonic Egypt, for example, was not an Arab country through its 3,000-year history.)

It is precisely this history that Khamanei and Ben Ladanite want to repeat if we allow them to have their "own history". Islamic Republic's ambitions are not just repressive and incendiary; they are nuclear (their nuclear programs started 20 some years ago secretly and we just found out about it 4 years ago) and global (See the Islamic Republic's Constitution and Read Khomeini's book, "The Islamic Government" and not just for Iran) and to this end they have formulated and continue to implement all of their foreign policies since 1979.

No comments: