Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lee Smith on the Clash of Arab Civilizations

Tony Badran has interviewed Lee Smith, author of the just-published tome The Strong Horse, for Now Lebanon. Smith's book, excerpts of which I've read, is an essential and contrarian reading of power politics in the Middle East today.

About his book:

The title comes from Osama Bin Laden’s observation that people by nature prefer the strong horse to the weak one. I wanted to try to explain is how politics works in a region like the Middle East, where, with very few exceptions, there are no peaceful transitions of authority, and power is not shared but rather is typically passed from one family member to another, or taken in a military coup.

On power alignment in the region:

On one hand you have the Islamic Republic of Iran, which wants to rewrite the regional order to its own advantage, and on the other you have Washington and the American-backed regional order, including Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states, along with Egypt, Jordan, and of course Israel, that wants to maintain its position. Tehran, at least until the June presidential elections, has been very confident in its status as a rising power, while the US is now led by a president who has expressed his discomfort with power.

On the implications for pro-democracy advocates in the region:

For pro-democracy forces in the Arab states, and perhaps Iran as well, an American loss of will amounts to an unqualified disaster. An active Iranian nuclear program would be powerful evidence that resistance works. Those publicly advocating in the region on behalf of democratic principles like rule of law are a minority as it is; but a victory for the culture of resistance would enshrine violence and vengeance as the manner in which to redress all grievances, real and imagined.

Smith's notion of a developing comity ahead between the Arab Sunni powers and Israel goes against received opinion and is, I think, quite correct.

Read the whole interview at Now Lebanon HERE.

And buy Smith's book HERE.

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