TURNING THE TABLES….When it comes to reconstructing Iraq and modernizing the Arab world in general, we like to talk about democracy, human rights, tolerance, secularism, capitalism, property rights, and so forth. I am in favor of all these things, so I think this kind of talk is just fine.

But what does it sound like to Arab ears? Try to pretend that the tables were turned and America was a failed country that had just been overrun by an Arab army. Here is what a conversation between an Arab hawk and an Arab dove might sound like:

“Their Congress is little more than a group of corrupt fundraisers. Each one represents his own little fiefdom and the result is gridlock. Nothing gets done.”

“Yes, but remember that democracy is a local custom that has been in place for hundreds of years. A monarchy can’t be installed right away.”

“And those tribes of theirs are going to cause problems too. What are they called again? Republicans and Democrats?”

“We can probably work best with the Republicans. The Democrats are violently wedded to the notion of a secular society and there’s probably not much hope of compromise with them.”

“That’s the real problem, secularism, isn’t it? This was the root of Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany, and we need to put an end to its last failed hope in America.”

“But we can’t replace it with Islam. We have to respect local customs, so the theocracy will have to be Christian in nature.”

“Sure, fine, whatever. What about crime? It’s rampant, especially in their large cities.”

“Mecca wasn’t built in a day, and it will take time to win acceptance of a sharia-based judicial system. They will resist at first, but when they see the benefits they will start to come around. Their criminal justice system is actually quite advanced, so we should be able to use much of their infrastructure.”

“But it’s the breakdown of the home that is responsible for much of their civil unrest.”

“Yes: single mothers, abortion, permissive attitudes toward sex. These are difficult problems that will take many years to solve. Abortion can be outlawed fairly easily, but we need to start putting institutions in place that encourage women to stay at home where they belong. That’s the root cause of all this.”

“Root causes, root shmauses, I’m tired of hearing about that. They have no choice in this matter.”

That all sounds rather……naive, doesn’t it?

Anyone who thinks that political and cultural institutions in the Middle East are going to turn around quickly should think about how strongly Americans would resist a change in the opposite direction and how violent that resistance might be. Answer: pretty strongly and probably pretty violently. If we’re actually serious about encouraging change in the Middle East, we should be prepared for a very long road ahead of us.