Saudi Arabia had no women in its Olympic delegation, but it just might at the Beijing Olympics if the political process struggling to take root in Iraq spreads there–or to Syria, Yemen or Jordan. And if the notion of an Arab constitutional democracy makes your eyes roll, as it does for William Odom and Francis Fukuyama in the current National Interest, perhaps we can let Iraqi soccer coach Abdul Kareem Hajim speak for at least laying the cornerstone: “Now we have freedom. Our chains are broken. We just need a stable government to make sure everyone has work and a salary.”

My apologies for ruffling the global fellow-feeling that lies officially beneath the summer Games. But for many of us it has become more than a little tiresome of late hearing how much the Europeans “hate us” and how the U.S. has “alienated” our “friends.” And how all this global ill will is because George W. Bush “invaded” Iraq to wage an “unjustifiable” or unnecessary war.

Here’s President Bush speaking this week: “A free and peaceful Iraq and a free and peaceful Afghanistan will be powerful examples in a part of the world that is desperate for freedom. Free countries do not export terror. Free countries do not stifle the dreams of their citizens.”

In the meantime, perhaps the athletes from Bosnia, Afghanistan and Ceausescu’s Romania will find their way to the Iraqi pavilion to hear familiar stories about living in a land of exterminations–of Shiite peoples murdered in southern Iraq and Kurds in the north. That has ended, thanks, as in many other places around the world, to American intervention, however unnecessary or poorly planned.~ Daniel Henninger,

Recently, neoconservatives and the Bush re-election campaign have discovered that the bad, old habit of excessively politicising the Olympics might just be useful in their never-ending quest to both lie about their actions and try to impose guilt on their opponents. Citing “free” (and happy!) Olympian athletes from “liberated” countries, Mr. Henninger hopes to distract us from the grinding misery and considerable violence of large swathes of at least two of the latest “liberated” lands. This is a perfect operation in a kind of Clintonian or Blairite spin: don’t mind the tens of thousands dead and the hundreds more innocents dying every month from the anarchy we have unleashed, but look at the happy athletes!

The normal, offensive chauvinistic bashing of France and Germany seemed almost bearable when compared to this most despicable sort of dishonesty. Needless to say, it has become “more than a little tiresome” for the rest of us to listen to and read the trash offered up by these warmongering pundits as if it were intelligent or serious. It is important to regularly denounce it as the intellectual prostitution that it is, as many have already done, so that no one can make the mistake that this commentary is in the least bit worthwhile.

The irony of the Iraqi soccer coach praising their newfound freedom and then expecting a “stable government” that provides work and a salary for all (which the old socialist order did provide, though with the necessary injustices and at poor levels) is completely lost on Mr. Henninger and his colleagues. One cannot have freedom and a government that provides all these things. Any people that does not understand it (and where would the Iraqis have learned this truth–from the state capitalist, welfarist neocons?) will not long possess meaningful freedom, much as Americans possess relatively little that could meaningfully be called political freedom.

After all, freedom is only a label to the neocons (as it really must be to most Iraqis–a word which they may reasonably expect to be associated with a good and prosperous life, but which guarantees precisely none of that), and it may be applied to countries where governments are abusively intrusive and dreadful as easily as it is applied to Switzerland, which might actually qualify as a genuinely free country. In this way, Bosnia is probably regarded in Mr. Henninger’s circles as a more or less free country instead of the crime-ridden, internationally-sanctioned despotism that it is. And Croatia and Serbia are now as free as you please–to elect suitably collaborationist politicians and bow before the “international community” in all things internal and external. There are suitable, “democratic” and “European” opinions to hold and which are held by a small clique of lackeys, and then there are the opinions that majorities in both countries actually hold–guess who gets to have real representation?

Afghanistan is, well, Afghanistan, and it is as free or unfree as it may ever be, given its proclivity to be divided into smaller fiefdoms of controlling warlords. I don’t know whether ordinary Afghans care much about freedom–assuming that they know what it means any more than Mr. Henninger does–but I suspect that they care rather more about peace, law and stability, none of which exists there now. I don’t know whether “liberators” are responsible for providing these things (maybe they’re just responsible for killing the previous rulers), but invaders–even invaders acting for a demonstrably just cause–are responsible. Using it as one of the “success stories” of American foreign policy demonstrates how desperate these people are for good news.

Arab constitutional democracy does not make my eyes roll (and the associated growing friction among some neoconservatives and their press lackeys is giving me more than a little satisfaction). Since such a constitutional democracy has never existed, and probably won’t exist in the future, it does not bother me in the slightest one way or the other. Because it seems to be fairly debatable whether even we possess a constitutional democracy any longer, and since I regard this as a very negative development, I wouldn’t begrudge any Arabs having one of their own. Good luck to them in keeping it longer than we did. If it is good enough to hope for such a government for Arabs, we might even consider trying it out.

Mr. Henninger’s remark about the future of Saudi Arabia and Iraq’s other neighbours is instructive. He seems to think that it is self-evident that the same dubious system of women’s suffrage and liberation ought to spread into other countries, and that this has something to do with freedom. It is far from self-evident, especially to a pious or deeply patriarchal society, that this is a positive development in any way, or that it is actually liberating. It is a kind of mental slavery to a set of ideological suppositions about men and women, society and life that are almost certainly not true, and which most Western conservatives (in decidedly less extreme ways) reject at some level. It assumes that women are more free in a social and political order that treats them no differently than men and which really expects nothing different from them than it would expect from men, when this is really a denial of their identity as women. This is not to exonerate the fanaticism and extremism of Saudi law towards women, but to suggest that the alternative fanaticism and extremism of the “liberation” is as morally and socially exploitative and brutal, and in some ways more pernicious because it portrays itself as empowering women.

This is the way that “modern” countries have gone, and so we assume that Saudi Arabia must go this way, even though social conservatives in America, at the very least, could point to the dangerous and anti-social radicalisation of women that has taken place since enfranchisement. Even granting that it has advanced nebulous freedom (which I don’t really grant), this process has been a cultural and social disaster. The disaster has become so normal now that we regard traditional societies as somehow abnormal for having failed to collapse in a similar way.

If elections and constitutional government ever come to Saudi Arabia–and why the people there should want to imitate the current charnel house of Iraq on its “road to democracy” is a mystery to me–they will probably enjoy profoundly socially conservative governments for decades and perhaps longer that will, just as liberal Westerners did for over a century, keep women out of the political and public sphere where they believed (more or less correctly) that they should not be. Even if the people of Saudi Arabia find that they do want a constitutional monarchy (it hardly seems fertile ground for republicanism), in a genuinely free order they would not be compelled by some logic of democratisation to abandon their social mores towards women. If anything, the weakening of the monarchical principle in Saudi Arabia in exchange for more representative and constitutional government will strengthen the social attitudes that lead to the extreme forms of subjugation of women found there, because in addition to religious authority public opinion will probably generally favour the same restrictions.

Of course, women are enfranchised in what is actually an officially democratic and secular Yemen. Yemen’s government is representative and democratic after a fashion, though the ruling party and its junior partner are assured dominance in the political makeup of the country after the suppression of the secessionist and socialist southerners of the Hawdrawmat. This balance prevails because the ruling party relies in part on the quiescence of the northern tribal highlands to remain in power at Sana’a, and because the south will continue to be excluded from positions of power as punishment for the attempt to break up the recently reunified country. This is obviously an unusual situation, but what it has been until very recently is fairly stable.

Including Yemen and Saudi Arabia in the same breath, as if they possessed comparable political or religious systems (Yemenis are predominantly moderate Zaydi Shi’is, to be very brief about it), betrays more of the same depressing ignorance that Mr. Henninger and his colleagues display about foreign countries all the time. Incidentally, it is probably this ignorance, more than anything else, that so deeply bothers and worries other nations about Americans. Americans might go anywhere in the world, within reason, and meet perfectly hospitable and decent people who bear them no ill will personally, but they are also unlikely to suspend judgement about the appalling indifference, in terms of a total lack of curiosity, to the rest of the world that Americans are taught to cultivate.

Finally, not all of the Iraqi athletes are so terribly happy. They are probably proud and excited to represent their country, and I imagine that they are pleased that Hussein is gone. It does not follow that they are especially happy with the state of their country or the war that brought it to this state. Mr. Henninger managed to overlook a notable piece of dissent from his grateful, liberated Olympian theory. As was reported in Sports Illustrated and subsequently picked up by bloggers (thanks to tex at, one Ahmed Manajid of the Iraqi soccer team objected to the Iraqi Olympic team being cited in a Bush re-election commercial and asked a fair question about President Bush: “”How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women?” All the smiling athletes in the world will not make up for that reality, Mr. Henninger, and neither will disingenuous prattling about freedom. Invading (sorry, no scare quotes on this one–it was an invasion, if it was nothing else) Iraq was simply wrong, and resulted in the murder of tens of thousands of people. It is just pitiful that apparently somewhat intelligent people cannot or refuse to see this basic truth.