Nothing succeeds like failure
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
Exactly 10 years ago today, Iraq's war for conquest of Kuwait ended in total failure. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was expected quickly to lose control of Iraq, but a decade later he remains very much in power.
How did he manage this? Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam's chief spokesmen, hinted, even before war broke out in January 1991, why his master had no worries. Middle Eastern regimes, Aziz told US secretary of state James Baker, have never "entered into a war with Israel or the United States and lost politically." Though somewhat exaggerated (Arab leaders did pay a price for losing to Israel in 1948-49), Aziz was basically right: military loss usually does not hurt a Middle Eastern ruler. Instead, he denies disaster on the battlefield and flourishes politically.
Consider some examples:
Today, those events are remembered as a glorious victory. For example, Hamas recounted a few years later that the Palestinians in 1982 "humiliated" Israel and "broke its resolve."
But what explains this surprising pattern? Three aspects of Moslem life help account for it.
Defeating an enemy on the battlefield is not enough to win in the Middle East; the ruler and his regime must also be eliminated. The policy implications for Iraq are obvious.
Aug. 28, 2006 update: Hasan Nasrullah's star status in the Middle East after by any objective standard having lost his war with Israel fits exactly into this pattern. Lee Smith points out the continuities today in "The Real Losers: Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah admits that the war was a mistake."
Nov. 21, 2012 update: The Israel Defense Forces may have executed many of the Hamas leaders, smashed up its infrastructure, and left Gaza reeling, but – true to form – Hamas has called for a holiday of celebration the day after a cease fire went into effect. Not just that, but it has declared Nov. 22 a day to be marked every year henceforth: "We call on everyone to celebrate, visit the families of martyrs, the wounded, those who lost homes." So serious were the revelries that one person was killed and three wounded by gunfire into the air.
Fatah official Bassam Zakarneh asked on his Facebook page, "My brothers, if the death 163 of martyrs including the leader Ahmad Jabari, with thousands of wounded and all [government] institutions destroyed is considered a victory, then by God what is defeat?"
Nov. 19, 2012 update: Barry Rubin makes similar points to mine at "The Israel-Hamas War and the Suicide Strategy: How Arab Forces Expect to be Weak, Start Losing Wars and Still Hope to Win."
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