My Reason article is now availabe online...
It's part of a special "package" on Iraq and the Middle East which also includes articles by Michael Young and Tom Palmer.
You Can’t Bring Order to the Middle East
After a storm, be it political or meteorological, passes over the Middle East, the region returns to its eternal stillness. The people come out of hiding, remove the sand from their faces, and return to the desert’s routine: the daily struggle over water wells and grazing spaces. The desert’s tribes go back to the ritual of signing and breaking alliances, and their leaders meet at night before the fire to contemplate the next raid against their hostile neighbors.
If an American guest is there, he’ll be treated to another ritual of Middle Eastern hospitality. The tribe’s elders listen to his advice and nod with polite approval as the foreigner, the child of some faraway green pasture land, suggests that the time has come to replace despotic rule with liberal government and primal desert hatred with eternal peace. As the American guest outlines his vision of a new Middle Eastern order in a Power Point presentation, the Arab elders recall the foreigners who have passed through the region: the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, the British, the French, and now the Americans.
Those foreigners hoped to recreate the Middle East in their own image, only to retreat from the region humiliated and exhausted, leaving nothing more than their imprint on the archaeological record. (“And this is a relic of Baghdad’s Green Zone, which the Americans had constructed around 200 years ago, several decades before the start of the Chinese Era.…”)
Washington is finding that notwithstanding all the great expectations, the post-Saddam Middle East looks quite familiar. The stable, democratic Iraq that would serve as a shining model for the entire Middle East and its peripheries has failed to materialize.
Following the end of the Gulf War in 1991, Washington also expected a new American-led order would arise in the region. The Madrid Peace Conference and the ensuing Oslo peace process were supposed to lay the foundations for a New Middle East, in which Israelis and Palestinians would make peace and the region would be integrated into the expanding and prosperous global economy, with young and hip Israelis and Palestinians making money, surfing the Internet, watching MTV, and launching high-tech start-ups in Israel’s Silicon Wadi. That was the vision promoted by Shimon Peres and echoed by America’s leading fan of globalization and Oslo, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
Ten years later it is mostly the same old Middle East. Notwithstanding the neoconservative dreams of unleashing a democratic revolution in Iran, the ayatollahs are still in power in Teheran and the radicals there seem to be strengthening their grip. The Hashemites are still in control in Jordan with its Palestinian majority, and their traditional rivals, the Saudis, remain firmly in control of their oil-rich country. The military is still in charge in Egypt, and authoritarian regimes, “soft” and “hard,” are in power all over the Arab world.(More)