Noah Pollak takes on Matthew Ygliesias at Michael Totten’s blog:
Who is responsible for Gaza? A reply to Matthew Yglesias
Read the whole thing, but for here, the conclusion:
There is something very consistent about governance in the Arab world. Among the Arab countries today in which there is a modicum of internal stability, each is controlled by an Arafat-type figure — an anti-democratic strongman who is able to crush all challenges to his authority. Likewise, among those Arab countries that aren’t ruled by a despot, the political dynamic is also consistent: In Lebanon, Iraq, and now Gaza, sectarian violence is the dominant form of political expression. It’s true that Arafat’s authority was weaker in Gaza than in the West Bank, but in Gaza there was always another strongman present to keep a lid on things: the Israeli occupation. When Israel disengaged in the summer of 2005, suddenly Gaza was without any master at all, and that’s exactly when the territory started going full-tilt toward the Hobbesian state of nature it now finds itself in.
And so to blame recent Bush administration choices for this lawlessness — or more precisely, to invent stories about administration choices — is more than a bit much. Even if the PA elections in 2006 hadn’t occurred, I doubt the battle we are seeing today wouldn’t have happened. The fight is foreordained by Gaza’s demography, its political and religious extremism, Arafat’s death, and Israel’s unwillingness to police the territory. The Bush administration is simply along for the ride — as is Israel. And the reason why Abbas has never been able to emerge as a leader of the Palestinians is because his weakness is similarly foreordained. Consensus-based political leadership is anathema to the Arab world. We’re seeing that rather starkly today in Gaza.
All of that said, I think that Yglesias ends up being partially right (even though he doesn’t mean to be) when he lays the lawlessness in Gaza at Bush’s feet. The sad truth is that Gaza today is a testament to the failure of the entire 14-year project of creating the Palestinian Authority, retrieving Arafat from exile, and attempting to drag the Arabs of Palestine, against their will, into western political modernity. This process was started, and most forcefully pushed forward, by the Clinton administration, and today its corpse is still being dragged around the Middle East, Weekend at Bernie’s-style, by Condoleezza Rice.
Readers might be surprised to hear — Mr. Yglesias probably among them — that less than a year ago, Yglesias wrote the following: “I happen to think the White House made the right call on the question of Palestinian elections — even in retrospect, even knowing that Hamas won.” A couple of days ago, he called these administration officials “morons” for having supported the very same elections that he now condemns. I know it’s best to just hurry past the contradictions, especially when they involve the reshuffling of positions in order to condemn the Bush administration. But it is too enjoyable to avoid the conclusion that here, Yglesias is calling himself names.
This last point gets at a key issue: it is at least my impression that if anyone had said that democracy couldn’t work in Iraq because of cultural factors particular to Arabs a decade ago, they’d have been called racists by the same people who heap abuse on Bush for being so stupid as to think that democracy can work in the Arab world.
Also, don’t miss Michael Totten’s own photo-essay on Gaza: The Story of Gaza.