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April 02, 2003

Come the Revolution

Thomas Friedman has an interesting take on the American war with Iraq and the impact upon arabs in the ME
To read the Arab press is to think that the entire Arab world is enraged with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and to some extent that's true. But here's what you don't read: underneath the rage, there is also a grudging, skeptical curiosity — a curiosity about whether the Americans will actually do what they claim and build a new, more liberal Iraq.

While they may not be able to describe it, many Arabs intuit that this U.S. invasion of Iraq is something they've never seen before — the revolutionary side of U.S. power. Let me explain: for Arabs, American culture has always been revolutionary — from blue jeans to "Baywatch" — but American power, since the cold war, has only been used to preserve the status quo here, keeping in place friendly Arab kings and autocrats.

Even after the cold war ended and America supported, and celebrated, the flowering of democracy from Eastern Europe to Latin America, the Arab world was excluded. In this neighborhood, because of America's desire for steady oil supplies and a safe Israel, America continued to support the status quo and any Arab government that preserved it. Indeed, Gulf War I simply sought to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait to restore the Kuwaiti monarchy and the flow of oil. Once that was done, Saddam was left alone.

And that is why Gulf War II is such a shock to the Arab system, on a par with Napoleon's invasion of Egypt or the Six-Day War. But different people are shocked in different ways.

To begin with, there is the shock of Arab liberals, still a tiny minority, who can't believe that America has finally used its revolutionary power in the Arab world. They are desperate for America to succeed because they think Iraq is too big to ignore, and therefore a real election there would shake the whole Arab region.[more]