Friday, May 26, 2006

Who fears to speak of '98?

It's the talking point that has been canned for preservation: the comparison of George W. Bush to Napoleon. You'd think that the actual historical trajectory associated with the latter might scare people off, but up pops Tom Friedman (who we last noted turning a Budapest airport trip into a column) with it again today (subs. req'd):

In such confusing times I find it useful to listen to someone steeped in the history of the Arab world, someone like the Egyptian sociologist and democracy campaigner Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who was visiting Washington with a human rights group from the Carter Center.

Mr. Ibrahim compares the U.S. invasion of Iraq to Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798, which punched the first big hole through which modernity could seep into the Arab world. It was the key ruler of Egypt after the Napoleonic invasion, Muhammad Ali, who started sending students to Europe, introduced secular education and ushered in a mini-Arab renaissance that culminated with the first Egyptian parliament, elected in 1866.

Ibrahim has been the single source for this comparison, but his ability to get the White House and the punditocracy to latch onto it is impressive. Leave aside the obvious problems with the Napoleon end of it -- what does the comparison with 19th century Egypt tell us Iraq is in for: -- a country falling victim to Great Power meddling in its affairs because of its strategic importance, prompting a nationalist backlash and years of instability? And in the long-term, an Israeli invasion? Won't that be fun!

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