An acute application of gynaecology to international relations, conjuring up visions of revolutionaries being led gently through birthing procedures is on display–again and again, and quite possibly, again–in Tom Friedman’s latest column in the New York Times. Apparently, the Middle East–especially Syria– is pregnant with possibility, fertile with newly planted seeds of political change. It needs midwives by the truckload. ‘ Well-armed’ ones preferably. Pistol-packin’ mamas’ aides, taking revolution from conception to birth–and presumably on to postpartum depression as well if the comparison with the US in Iraq is to hold water. (All the while, unassisted by doulas, but ready to hand off to obstetricians at a moment’s notice?)
First, the necessity of a midwife in extracting nations embedded in English philosophers (the mind boggles at the imagery conjured up here):
[F]or me, the lesson of Iraq is quite simple: You can’t go from Saddam to Switzerland without getting stuck in Hobbes — a war of all against all — unless you have a well-armed external midwife, whom everyone on the ground both fears and trusts to manage the transition. In Iraq, that was America. The kind of low-cost, remote-control, U.S./NATO midwifery that ousted Qaddafi and gave birth to a new Libya is not likely to be repeated in Syria. Syria is harder. Syria is Iraq.
Second, the explanatory power of the fearsome midwife (like those of yore, that struck fear into the hearts of busybody mother-in-laws and hospital staff everywhere):
The only reason Iraq has any chance for a decent outcome today is because America was on the ground with tens of thousands of troops to act as that well-armed midwife, reasonably trusted and certainly feared by all sides, to manage Iraq’s transition to more consensual politics.
Third, the absence of a suitably ‘armed and external’ midwife induces reticence and modesty into punditry:
I know columnists are supposed to pound the table and declaim what is necessary. But when you believe that what is necessary, an outside midwife for Syria, is impossible, you need to say so.
Fourth, the low probability of the presence of the aforesaid midwife should result in the maturation of nascent revolutionaries:
Since it is highly unlikely that an armed, feared and trusted midwife will dare enter the fray in Syria, the rebels on the ground there will have to do it themselves.
Lastly, the absence of midwives and Middle-Eastern Madibas has inflammatory potential:
Without an external midwife or a Syrian Mandela, the fires of conflict could burn for a long time. I hope I am surprised.
I think the primary occasion for surprise is already upon us: Why does Mr. Friedman not seize the opportunity presented to him by his last sentence and run with it? There is a midwife, a country, Syria, and a name, ‘Mandela.’ Endless recombinatory possibilities present themselves. In the spirit of charity, and because Mr. Friedman will surely revisit the smoldering Middle East again, I hereby gift one of these to Mr. Friedman for artful deployment in one of his future columns, :
What Syria Needs is a Mandelian Midwife