Thursday, March 02, 2006

Dubai and Iraq - Two Mistakes

The administration continues to doggedly support the Dubai Ports World deal in the face of considerable criticism from GOP leaders and the general public. As more information about the United Arab Emirates emerges, it looks less and less like a Western-friendly democracy-in-the-making and more like what it actual is, a satrapy whose ruling clan likes flashy Western gadgets and living standards, but isn’t quite so hot on all that individual rights crap that Westerners are always going on about. Like most little Gulf states, the U.A.E. is flush with oil revenues and uses that money to entice foreigners to come in and build nice, modern looking things, giving the false impression that the U.A.E. is a nice modern place. It’s not. William J. Bennet and Seth Leibson, writing on the National Review’s website, point out the obvious facts glossed over by the administration and its supporters:

Freedom House rates the UAE "not free" and puts it one notch above Saudi Arabia. The Economist actually ranks it one notch worse than Iran in its "political freedom index." In its report on the country, Freedom House reports that "[c]itizens of the UAE cannot change their government democratically. The UAE has never held an election. All decisions about political leadership rest with the dynastic rulers of the seven separate emirates of the UAE in what is known as the Supreme Council of Rulers." That is not something that can be said about Great Britain.

As for freedom of expression, the UAE "severely restricts this right." While freedom does exist in the economic sector-mostly for the promotion of trade-"Discrimination against non-citizens, who make up the vast majority of the population and at least half of the workforce, occurs in many aspects of life, including employment, access to education, housing, and healthcare." This is the description of the sort of regime that President Bush warned us about a year ago: "A status quo of tyranny and hopelessness in the Middle East — the false stability of dictatorship and stagnation — can only lead to deeper resentment in a troubled region, and further tragedy in free nations." That is not something that can be said about Great Britain.

To defend this deal is to defend a $7 billion arrangement with a country that has never had a democratic party in its entire existence. Indeed, it has been a supporter of terrorist organizations and authoritarian regimes. And, despite post-9/11 reforms, to this day the UAE will not recognize Israel, and has funded Islamic terror movements, including Hamas, during the very time we are told it has changed it ways. It may have changed some of its ways, but it is a country that in its 34-years of existence has been unable to recognize the first, original, and perhaps only fully-fledged democracy in the Middle East — Israel — which has been in existence for almost 60-years, and where Arabs enjoy more freedoms than they do in the UAE.

Messrs. Bennett and Liebsohn advise the administration to pressure Dubai Ports World into withdrawing its bid to manage the US ports, pointing to the way the Chinese withdrew a bid to buy Unocal last year, possibly in exchange for some future non-strategic-asset-compromising economic arrangement. This would be the Bush administration’s most sensible egress from the D.P.W. fiasco.

Of course, Messrs. Bennett and Liebsohn find the port row most vexing because they feel it will undermine the president’s Middle East strategy, especially in Iraq. As if the facts on the ground weren’t doing that all on their own. And how are things in the newly democratic Islamic Republic of Iraq? Well, aside from the fact that the Iraqi people really want to rip each other to shreds (as they have been merrily doing, on and off, for the last ten centuries), the one bright spot in the US effort to get the Iraqi military back on its feet seems to be unraveling.

The only Iraqi battalion capable of fighting without U.S. support has been downgraded to a level requiring them to fight with American troops backing them up, the Pentagon said Friday.

The battalion, made up of 700 to 800 Iraqi Army soldiers, has repeatedly been offered by the U.S. as an example of the growing independence of the Iraqi military.

The competence of the Iraqi military has been cited as a key factor in when U.S. troops will be able to return home.

"As we see more of these Iraqi forces in the lead, we will be able to continue with our stated strategy that says as Iraqi forces stand up, we will stand down," President Bush said last month.

The battalion, according to the Pentagon, was downgraded from "level one" to "level two" after a recent quarterly assessment of its capabilities.

"Level one" means the battalion is able to fight on its own; "level two" means it requires support from U.S. troops; and "level three" means it must fight alongside U.S. troops.

Though officials would not cite a specific reason for downgrading the unit, its readiness level has dropped in the wake of a new commander and numerous changes in the combat and support units, officials said.

After almost three years of occupation, the US apparently cannot train a single battalion of Iraqi troops to combat readiness. Doubtless most commentators will be wringing their hands over this fact in the coming days, excoriating the administration and the occupation force in Iraq for this failure. However, before one blames the US commanders in Iraq for this failure, one should consider the state of the Iraqi army prior to the invasion, or even prior to the First Gulf War back in 1991. For all the swagger and bluster, the Iraqis never mounted an army capable of doing more than looting Kuwait, which didn’t take much effort since the Kuwaitis fled on their yachts and private jets at the first hint of trouble, leaving their servants to face the Iraqis. The Iraqis did hold back the numerically superior Iranians, during the 80’s, but Iran’s army proved even more hapless than theirs. In fact, lousy military performance is endemic to the entire Arab world. No Arab country has fielded an army worth fighting in centuries. Probably not a single Arab army battalion anywhere could meet US military readiness criteria, even if – as one presumes has happened – that criteria has been lowered significantly to make it easier for the Iraqis to do so.

This raises an interesting question: why have the Iraqis failed so badly under US training? Is it because American commanders have poorly trained them? Given the ability of American commanders to adequately train American recruits and the soldiers of other allied nations, and the strong, strong political pressure on them to get the Iraqis standing on their own, this seems unlikely. Is it possible, then, that the Iraq are simply not up to the task? According to data from Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen’s majesterial IQ and the Wealth of Nations (helpfully summarized by the indispensible Steve Sailer), the available data suggest an average Iraqi IQ of 87, significantly lower than the average American IQ, according to the book, of 98. However, prior to the recent recruiting shortfalls, the US military was careful to weed out the less intelligent (lower IQ) applicants through rigorous testing, so the American military still probably has a slightly higher average IQ than the general public (or did until the Iraq mess dried up the numbers of intelligent recruits) especially in its officer corps.

But Iraqi cultural practices also undermine the mutual trust and cooperation required for an effective military force – or a modern democracy. As Mr. Sailer notes, cousin marriage is common in Iraq, and throughout the Middle East.

In Iraq, as in much of the region, nearly half of all married couples are first or second cousins to each other. A 1986 study of 4,500 married hospital patients and staff in Baghdad found that 46% were wed to a first or second cousin, while a smaller 1989 survey found 53% were "consanguineously" married. The most prominent example of an Iraqi first cousin marriage is that of Saddam Hussein and his first wife Sajida.

By fostering intense family loyalties and strong nepotistic urges, inbreeding makes the development of civil society more difficult. Many Americans have heard by now that Iraq is composed of three ethnic groups -- the Kurds of the north, the Sunnis of the center, and the Shi'ites of the south. Clearly, these ethnic rivalries would complicate the task of ruling reforming Iraq. But that's just a top-down summary of Iraq's ethnic make-up. Each of those three ethnic groups is divisible into smaller and smaller tribes, clans, and inbred extended families -- each with their own alliances, rivals, and feuds. And the engine at the bottom of these bedeviling social divisions is the oft-ignored institution of cousin marriage.

Don’t expect to hear much made over IQ or cousin marriage in the popular media. The first topic can now be somewhat-safely mentioned, if obliquely, in science news stories (so long as it is not applied to any actual people), but would mean the end of a commentator’s career if advanced beyond the science pages and especially with regard to ethnicity. Cousin marriage won’t get much discussion either, since it suggests a systemic problem a non-Western culture – and that would, naturally, be racist (especially if true).

But the fact that the US can’t train a single Iraqi battalion should give US leaders grave pause. If the US can’t get paid Iraqi recruits to cooperate and interact effectively in a military unit, what hope is their for the broader Iraqi society to evince the levels of trust, cooperation, tolerance, patience and discipline required by even the most basic level of democracy?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Homeland Security?

The former spokesman for the US-deposed Taliban is now a student at Yale University. This is not a joke. Well, actually it is, but the joke is on the American people, and very much at their expense. Recall that the Taliban was the ultra-extremist Islamic government of Afghanistan that gave safe harbor and protection to Osama bin Laden, before and after September 11, 2001. Recall that the US invaded Afghanistan and dislodged the Taliban, at the expense of American lives. Recall that the Taliban, though driven from power, remains active along the Afghan-Pakistan border, conducting a low level insurgency against the new Afghan government – i.e., assasinations, robbery, bombings, rapes and the murder of innocent civilians who have displeased them. Yet, the Taliban’s former ambassador, who pleaded his regime’s murderous case abroad, apparently had no trouble gaining a visa to study in the US. What a fine tribute to the American and Allied soldiers who lost their lives bringing the Taliban down. This is what passes for "Homeland Security" under the Bush administration.

John Fund, writing in the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal, can’t hide his dismay.

Never has an article made me blink with astonishment as much as when I read in yesterday's New York Times magazine that Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, former ambassador-at-large for the Taliban, is now studying at Yale on a U.S. student visa. This is taking the obsession that U.S. universities have with promoting diversity a bit too far.

Something is very wrong at our elite universities. Last week Larry Summers resigned as president of Harvard when it became clear he would lose a no-confidence vote held by politically correct faculty members furious at his efforts to allow ROTC on campus, his opposition to a drive to have Harvard divest itself of corporate investments in Israel, and his efforts to make professors work harder. Now Yale is giving a first-class education to an erstwhile high official in one of the most evil regimes of the latter half of the 20th century--the government that harbored the terrorists who attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001.

"In some ways," Mr. Rahmatullah told the New York Times. "I'm the luckiest person in the world. I could have ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Instead I ended up at Yale." One of the courses he has taken is called Terrorism-Past, Present and Future.

Many foreign readers of the Times will no doubt snicker at the revelation that naive Yale administrators scrambled to admit Mr. Rahmatullah. The Times reported that Yale "had another foreigner of Rahmatullah's caliber apply for special-student status." Richard Shaw, Yale's dean of undergraduate admissions, told the Times that "we lost him to Harvard," and "I didn't want that to happen again."

It is just enough to be sickening. American universities won’t allow the military to recruit on campuses, or permit R.O.T.C., but will vie with each other for people who, if they had the political power, would destroy those very institutions. Can there be a better example of the intellectual self-loathing that hails itself as "multiculturalism"?

I don't believe Mr. Rahmatullah had direct knowledge of the 9/11 plot, and I don't think he has ever killed anyone. I can appreciate that he is trying to rebuild his life. But he willingly and cheerfully served an evil regime in a manner that would have made Goebbels proud. That he was 22 at the time is little of an excuse. There are many poor, bright students--American and foreign alike--who would jump at the opportunity to attend Yale. Why should Mr. Rahmatullah go to the line ahead of all of them? That's a question Yale alumni should ask when their alma mater comes looking for contributions.

President Bush, who already has a well-known disdain for Yale elitism from his student days there, may also have some questions. In the wake of his being blindsided by his own administration over the Dubai port deal, he should be interested in finding out exactly who at the State Department approved Mr. Rahmatullah's application for a student visa.

If the administration cannot keep – at a minimum - former Taliban officials from entering the US, not to mention taking up space at our premier universities, how can it expect to be trusted on any issue of national security? When President Bush asks Americans to trust him that our ports will remain secure even if managed by a company from the United Arab Emirates – one of only three nations to recognize the Taliban government – what can Americans do but look at Yale and wonder?