February 19, 2005

National Review At 1 AM

I see his point, I guess, but it's awfully odd for John Miller to declare Joseph Addison's Cato to be "America's Greatest Play." Influential or not, the thing was still written by a Brit, and produced long before America even existed. If we're going to play this game, we may as well call Montesquieu "America's Greatest Philosopher," but obviously we don't do that. (My pick for "America's greatest play", incidentally, is O'Neill's Desire Under The Elms. Ayup.)

Right, then. Elsewhere on NRO, Victor Davis Hanson babbles on about some force of history or other being unleashed. How totally exciting! Really, though, at this point the bullshit ratio in Hanson's weekly column is getting inexcusable. It would be one thing if he wrote on a wide range of topics and didn't have the time to go in-depth into each subject. But the dude writes the same exact thing every single week ("Freedom on the march! The Left hearts Islamo-fascism!"), and it would be so goddamn easy for him to just crack open a book on his off-days, learn some stuff, and tweak his output accordingly.

Oh, and while we're talking about freedom on the march. Leaving aside Iraq and Palestine—both of which are special cases and still obviously inconclusive—how strongly has freedom been marching across the Middle East lately? It's true, we've seen some marginally encouraging reforms since the September 11 attacks—Qatar's 2003 constitutional election, Saudi Arabia's recent municipal elections, Morocco's 2002 elections. But the region also saw equally significant moves toward democracy before September 11. Bahrain, for starters, started to "modernize" way back in 1999 with the accession of Hamid bin Isa. The Al Sabah regime in Kuwait brought back parliament after the First Gulf War, but it's more or less been backsliding since. You could argue that Qatar's big step towards quasi-democratic reform wasn't in 2003, but way back in 1999, when women were allowed to vote for the first time ('twas a big deal). And Saudi Arabia probably took a bigger reform step back in 1992, when it created the Shura Council, than when it staged those municipal elections last week.

So yeah, it's easy to cherry-pick the incremental reforms that have cropped up since 9/11 and chalk them up as victory points for Bush. But an alien peering down at the region from outer space all these years would be hard-pressed to say that reforms are now coming faster than they were before. Iraq and Palestine aside.

Oh P.S. I don't quite get Hanson's point on Palestine. Even if the U.S. had taken "Europe's advice" and engaged Arafat over the past four years, he still likely would've died when he died and we'd be seeing a situation similar to the current one, no? Hanson claims that the hawkish U.S./Israel stance against Palestinian terrorism made Arafat look "impotent" and hence when he died he wasn't "sanctified as a mythical strongman." Maybe, but wouldn't this have been the case no matter what? The young Palestinian movements were all sick of Arafat as far as I can tell, and it had less to do with his inability to stand up to Sharon and more to do with the fact that he and his cronies were running the Palestinian Authority into the ground. Dunno. "What ifs" of this sort are difficult to do, though Hanson's version seems stunningly reductive.
-- Brad Plumer 4:19 AM || ||