The Corner

Re: Kurdish Libel Tourism and Threats

Our friend, Michael Rubin, has been attempting to provoke a “good-spirited conservative debate” about Iraqi Kurdistan, following dispatches from that corner of the Middle East by Max Boot, Abe Greenwald, and myself. (I wrote this “Kurdistan Notebook” for NRO last week.)

I have not intentionally ignored him – I’ve just been traveling and busy. I still am, but let me take a moment to address what Michael calls his “two general points,” namely:

1)      The issue isn’t whether Iraqi Kurdistan is more democratic than the rest of Iraq, but whether its trajectory is still forward. Has democracy expanded or retracted in the past five or six years?

2)      And, while the Kurds can be pro-American, is the Kurdish leadership always so? Or can they be just as pro-Iranian when Iranian delegations visit?

I agree that (1) is an important question, and I’m not sure I’m competent to answer it definitively. However, my impression is that most Kurds are serious about building democratic institutions and habits – more so than any other people in the “Muslim world” at this moment. That doesn’t mean there have not been — and will not be — setbacks; that does not mean there are not those who have other priorities and/or other agendas.

As for (2), I don’t doubt that Kurdish leaders may be cordial to Iranian officials – especially given the distinct possibility that Iran will soon become a nuclear-armed Middle Eastern hegemon, while the Obama administration increasingly signals its desire to retreat from the region.

But I’m convinced that Kurds have no illusions about Iran. They know the Islamist regime is a threat to them and others. They are well aware that the Kurdish minority in Iran enjoys no rights – recently, five Kurds were executed because, one Kurdish journalist told me, “they are Kurdish.”

By contrast, I am convinced that most Kurds are sincerely pro-American – not just government officials but also ordinary Kurds, not least young people and students.

In an item today, Michael reports also on the filing of a law suit in the U.K. by the sister-in-law of Jalal Talibani against This certainly sounds like the kind of reprehensible “libel tourism” that the Saudis have made infamous. I’m not convinced, however, that it is evidence of what Michael calls an “all-out campaign on the free press and free expression.”

Michael then indulges in some finger wagging: “American conservatives, progressives, retired generals, congressmen, or anyone invited over to Iraqi Kurdistan on a familiarization trip needs to be very careful that they are not used as cover during what appears increasingly to be a prolonged and violent campaign that belongs more in countries like Syria or Saudi Arabia than in a region like Iraqi Krudistan.”

Here’s my take: The Kurds have made a serious commitment to freedom and liberal democracy. Their feet should be held to that fire. I think it’s good that Michael is doing that.

But Kurdistan is not Iran, not Syria, not Saudi Arabia, not Pakistan. I think that anyone who reads Michael’s writing and draws that inference would be mistaken.

Also, Michael seems to be suggesting that I, Max Boot, Abe Greenwald, and others need to follow his lead and focus primarily on the issues – the important issues — to which he has been calling attention.

I see no need for all of us to march in lock-step.

Clifford D. MayClifford D. May is an American journalist and editor. He is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative policy institute created shortly after the 9/11 attacks, ...


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