Sectarian strife is the worst it's been in many years—and Syria isn't helping
Sectarian strife is the worst it's been in many years—and Syria isn't helping.
Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy. ALONZO KING is not a celebrity. He is virtually unknown outside the dance world, and even to insiders he is something of an outsider, a choreographer-monk working away with a small troupe of devoted dancers in San Francisco. It is not that his work has gone unrecognized: he has won dozens of awards and made ballets for companies as diverse as the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and the Royal Swedish Ballet.
I know that this is harsh. But I use the word pusillanimous in its ugliest meaning—which is the “unmanly” meaning—especially in relation to Saudi Arabia, having stockpiled weapons and trained soldiers for decades so that by now it is the only Arab country capable of taking on the monstrous regime in Damascus … and winning. I say “unmanly” because the kingdom has done nothing of the sort.
“In America, and in Iraq,” Vice President Joe Biden assured an audience in Baghdad last December, “the tide of war is receding.” For its callowness, this observation was noteworthy. (The tide of war was not receding from Iraq; Joe Biden was.) President Obama, introducing his plan to cut defense expenditures a few weeks later, offered up this analysis by way of justification: “The tide of war is receding.” Opponents of Obama’s foreign policy, unwilling to credit the president with coherence in any enterprise apart from campaigning for reelection, will get nothing from these words.
I. A year has passed since liberal America and the liberal opinion class, in particular, went ecstatic over the Arab debut into the modern world. I know that my standing in that class is suspect. So, being a bit flummoxed myself by the not altogether dissimilar developments in the vast expanse from the Maghreb to Mesopotamia, I conquered my doubts and made a slight stab for hope. But I quickly realized that I was wrong and left the celebration.
Lawrence Kaplan: America’s Silent Withdrawal From Iraq War is over. No, really. “Permanent” bases? Absolutely not. A decades-long partnership between Iraq and the United States? With the American officials who guide the fortunes of the world’s lone superpower and who, doing violence to their word, ordered the last of U.S.
Let us stipulate some ugly facts up front. Iraq remains a weak state. The political institutions are—charitably—immature. The business climate is not overly attractive and corruption is endemic. Were it not for oil, there would be no real economy. There is a serious terrorism problem. Relationships with all the neighboring states are problematic. Sectarian divides remain tense, with some key fault lines unresolved. The country’s armed forces remain incapable of defending its international borders.
Florence and Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science By Hans Belting Translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider (Belknap Press, 303 pp., $39.95) In many respects this is a bold book, first of all because of its premise: a veteran art historian dares, after half a century as an active scholar, to take another look at a classic art-historical problem—the formulation of linear perspective in fifteenth-century Florence.