In the absence of freely elected institutions and a free press to practice the right to monitoring and accountability, countries become arrogant and thus start suffering from costly illusions. The states are affected by what one can call the role complex. They want to grab the cards beyond their borders with the aim of influencing their neighbors’ security, stability and directions. Democratic regimes defend their politics in front of their parliaments. They try to compile numbers in order to convince the public opinion. Meanwhile, the other regimes defend themselves outside their borders. They magnify the image of the external enemy and they consider that the world represents an arena for a merciless clash with that enemy. They live in an atmosphere of virtual confrontation and they use that to hush any opposition voice on the internal level.
Countries are affected by the role complex for many reasons. One such reason is that these countries are nostalgic for the eras of empires. They feel that the external conspiracies dealt a blow to that golden age and that at least part of that age, if not all of it, must be restored. Another reason consists of the feeling of being in possession of a large population, a military machine or wealth that can be used to develop that machine, and the ability to make use of a strategic location and a neighboring environment, the components of which can be stirred against one another. There is also the feeling that there is a need to export a revolution or a model based on the illusion of owning the solutions to the others’ problems.
In the absence of democracy, and in the midst of Generals’ salutes, security reports, and consultants’ praise, the man who devoured authority along with his companions is turned into a historic leader whose ambitions expand beyond his own borders. This is how the game of the carrot and the stick starts. The point behind it is clear and simple: to control the decision making process in the neighboring countries and to annex these countries to the leader’s ambitions and adventures.
We are not hereby discussing chapters we read in history books, but rather what we experienced and heard. At the beginning of the Iraqi-Iranian war, I attended a press conference in Baghdad held by the majestic leader and president who showed up in very elegant military attire. The Iraqi army had infiltrated Iran as the president was dreaming to settle a historic score and make use of “a chance that may only occur once every one hundred years or more.” One journalist asked Saddam Hussein about the future of Iran as a state. The man replied with a slight arrogant smile by saying: “This is something to be decided by the Iranian people.” Clearly, Saddam was dreaming of dismantling Iran. Ten years later, the same man was going to dispatch his army to invade Kuwait without informing the minister of defense and the chief of military staff. Saddam wanted to lead the territory and he wanted America to acknowledge his right to be its main partner. In the context of this role battle, Saddam produced chemical and biological weapons and perpetrated the nuclear dream.
The leadership and role complex also pushed Muammar Gaddafi to waste enormous wealth on bittersweet adventures. He sent money and explosives in several directions and he perpetrated the chemical and nuclear dream. He dispatched forces to support Idi Amin in Uganda, and it turned out that these forces cannot fight in the woods. He dispatched forces to Chad and they got defeated. He blew up planes and paid amends later on. He lost hope in seizing the Arab leadership so he bought himself a crown and declared himself the King of Africa’s Kings. The rest of the story is well known.
I am well aware of the difference between Iran, Iraq, and Libya with respect to their status as countries, regimes, and decision makers. However, I sometimes wonder if, ten years from now, we will be writing that Iran has paid the price of the leadership and role curse? I don’t know why I have this feeling that Iran will grow weak under the weight of this large role, just like the Soviet Union; and that the threats made by the Iranian officials about the “last quarter of the game” with the west on Syrian land actually reflect a miscalculation of the threats and an obstinacy in the interpretation of the scene.
In front of the horrific Syrian scenes, a question comes to my mind: Is Syria currently paying the price for spending its energy and capacities in the pursuit of the regional role’s dreams and the external battles at a time where it needed to deal with the increasing poverty in the suburbs, the growing unemployment, the expanding anger over the corruption and the fact that the ruling party would not retire, and the insistence of the security forces to grab people’s throats, pens, windows, and computers? This region must rightfully be declared a disaster-stricken area due to all the experiences that it has gone through. This is a story of rulers, illusions, and rubble.
(This article was first published in Al-Hayat on August 20,2012)