May 08, 2009

Mr. Ignatius, what do they really want??

Like a tingly spider sense behind his ears, Londonstani felt there was something amiss in the time-space continuum that would only be resolved by his posting on the AM blog today. And, lo, it all became clear; Abu M was off being important again. (or was it Abu Guerrilla looking into a mirror and saying; "Londonstani, Londonstani, Londonstani?)

Despite the slightly sarcastic tone of the title, Londonstani quite liked this article by the one-man institution that is David Ignatius. The idea was to explore the loss of the middle in the Middle East, and make the case for why all of America's most intractable foes in the region are in fact all amenable to dialogue. (And all hate al-Qaeda). What it also does, rather neatly, is to delve into meta-group-psychoanalysis for the entire region.

David (that's probably Mr. Ignatius to us) makes the point that the people on the region want dignity. This is a well-known concept but probably won't begin to be properly appreciated until someone from the region can articulate it in a way that doesn't sound shrill. Mr Ignatius gives it a solid swing when he says:

"You don’t bargain over a nation’s self-esteem any more than you would haggle over a man’s pride."

And then contextualises it with the line:

"It’s an odd concept for Americans, who have the wealth and self-assurance not to have to worry so much about saving face. But it’s at the heart of the Middle East conflict."

Mr. Ignatius makes another point; one that Londonstani and Abu M discussed at length in the 'Stow, but which only really properly comes to light when made by someone who's covered the region for decades.

"Nowadays, the Middle East’s leaders don’t seem to need the United States as much. With Arafat and Qaddafi, there was a palpable yearning to connect with Washington, and the assiduous courting of Western journalists that came with it. That’s less true today with Nasrallah, Assad, and the Iranians. They want Washington to come to them."

Without a doubt, the relative weakening of U.S. influence in the region has left millions from Casablanca to Karachi and beyond (at least as far south as Mali) rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of a humbled America and a surging China. Something Beijing is ready to exploit.

It won't surprise anyone to know that Londonstani thinks talking to everyone is a great plan. But wonders if Mr. Ignatius' idea that all the tough nuts (Syria, Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran) can be engaged because they also dislike AQ stops a little short. Isn't AQ's support in part a response to the fact that where these pillars of resistance run a country they are still corrupt, repressive, unjust and nepotistic? (all vices AQ promises to eradicate).

Londonstani thinks the real answer resides somewhere in Mr. Ignatius' line:

"What they want—respect, self-confidence, a sense that they have arrived—others can’t give them."