Tipping Point. Is it a New Era for the Middle East , American Politics and International Relations? Four UW Experts Consider the War in Iraq and Its Global Impact. By Tom Griffin
Some in Arab World Are Rethinking Their Society.

Ellis Goldberg
tipping point

Political Science Professor Ellis Goldberg has been director of the UW's Middle East Center since 1995. His latest book is about child labor and globalization in Egyptian society.

tipping point

Can you give us an overview of this war, why it happened?

I think it was clear in the last few years that the sanctions regime against Iraq was going to expire. The question was, should you lift sanctions (which is what France and Russia wanted), do you try to reinforce sanctions, or should the regime be toppled? If sanctions go away, it is possible that Iraq would reconstitute itself as a regional threat.

One word I like to use is "rescue." Here we had a regime that was so violent to its neighbors and its own people that it was no longer possible to accept it in the international community.

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There has been a lot of talk about "democracy in the desert." Do you think this is possible?

Look, there is a tendency to confuse democracy and elections with the rule of law and respect for individual rights. If we think about Iraq, we need to constitute a government with a respect for the rights of individuals first. We need to ensure that the state has a more limited role in shaping its citizenry. It's more crucial than moving to a routine and frequent election system.

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The Arab reaction in the Middle East has been extremely negative, despite the joy of the crowds in Baghdad over the fall of Saddam. Why is Arab public opinion so negative?

It is difficult to say without being there. I think what you are getting now is a profound sense of disappointment. People didn't expect the Iraqi government to collapse as quickly as it did. They saw yet another Arab government promising to fend off and fight the Western imperialist powers but being incapable of doing so.

The Iraqi people feel much more comfortable protesting the Americans than they ever felt protesting their own government.

On the other hand, what has been ignored is the degree of debate in the Arab world. We don't pay enough attention to it. There was a study done at Harvard of Arab public opinion that showed people in Arab societies have a healthy skepticism of what their governments are up to.

There is a small current of opinion in the Arab world that the tyrannical nature of the Iraqi regime invited the American attack and also made it impossible to withstand the attack. There is a small stream of thought that says, "We need to think about what kind of society we have here."

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After the first Gulf War there was talk about a breakthrough in the relations between Israelis and Palestinians, and we did have the Oslo Accords two years later. Is it possible we could have another breakthrough today?

Cartoon by Mike Thompson, © 2003 Detroit Free Press, Copley News Service.

Cartoon by Mike Thompson, © 2003 Detroit Free Press, Copley News Service.

It is a possibility but not a probability. We may have a prime minister for the Palestinians who is committed to some significant reforms and committed to lowering the threshold of violence. But is the Israeli government going to be willing to deal with these issues-settlements and a viable economy for the Palestinians? I think it is going to be very difficult for the two parties, especially their leadership.

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Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak warned that an invasion of Iraq would create 100 Osama bin Ladens. Do you think he was right?

Citing bin Laden is a threat that many Arab governments brandish before the U.S. They use it when they want us to do something, and they use it when they don't want us to do something. He may sincerely believe it, but I think it is less likely. I think Al-Qaeda has been far more damaged than we first thought.

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Are there aspects of the war and its aftermath that you think are underreported?

There are two things. One is the degree of debate in the Arab world. The other is that, until recently, the levels of repression and violence to which Arab societies have been held hostage was really underplayed and underreported. I guess it doesn't make good television. Look at the civil war in Lebanon or the terrible violence in Algeria. It is apparent to me that people underestimated how terrible the regime was in Iraq. They were far more aggressive, if not hostile, than most people realized. The Iraqi people feel much more comfortable protesting the Americans than they ever felt protesting their own government.

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