America and the Middle East After Saddam

(Foreign Policy Research Institute) Kenneth M. Pollack - * The Arab states are broken. They are absolutely stagnant, politically, economically, and socially. And their people know it. The vast majority of Arab schools don't teach anything useful to their students and don't produce students who have useful job skills. Most of the students specialize in humanities, many of them aspire to be lawyers and Islamic scholars: two-thirds of all of the Ph.D.s issued in Saudi Arabia every year are in Islamic studies. * The legal system in all the Arab countries is a disaster, which is one reason so few American companies invest there, except for the oil firms. In many of these countries rule of law is meaningless. The law is entirely arbitrary. * There are nearly 500 princes in the Saudi royal family, all of whom believe that they are entitled to live like princes. The Saudis are having a real problem because in the 1960s-70s, when they had massive oil revenues, they created a cradle-to-grave welfare system. But with the decrease in global oil prices, coupled with a massive rise in population, the Saudis can no longer live or support their people the way they once did. But after 40 years of no one's having to work, there is almost no work ethic left in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia probably isn't going to blow up tomorrow, but I wouldn't make a bet as to whether it's still in its current state ten years from now. * The people of the region understand that the rest of the world has taken off with globalization. How did East Asia go from being behind them to being so far ahead of them? The governments just feed them a steady diet of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism, creating an intellectual class that blames its problems on us. The only alternative out there is even worse: the Islamists. * In Jordan, the beloved King Abdullah presides over a population that's two-thirds Palestinian, and those people are very unhappy with their lot in life. They would like nothing better than to be able to control the levers of power inside Jordan. * In the last ten or fifteen years, another voice has been developing in the Middle East, the voice we should all be supporting. That's a group of liberal democratic Arabs who have been saying, "Our choice should not be Mubarak's Egypt or the Ayatollah's Iran. Why can't we start to democratize, open up our economies, and build a democratic system that is perfectly compatible with Islam and with traditional Arab values?" If we get Iraq wrong, that voice is going to die. The writer served on the staff of the National Security Council and is now Director of Research for the Saban Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the Brookings Institution.

2004-01-05 00:00:00

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