Wednesday, February 4, 2015

On Jordan

So Jordan is in the news recently. A Jordanian fighter pilot who had been captured by ISIS was burned alive on camera. So Jordan executed two prisoners whom ISIS had been purportedly talking about trading for the pilot.

Whatever you may think of this in terms of the rule of law (and let's face it, it's not exactly optimistic in terms of your likelihood of getting a fair trial if you commit terrorist acts in Jordan), this is definitely sound, if grim, foreign policy. Doing nothing in response to foreign provocations (such as, ooh, I don't know, Benghazi) looks weak and contemptible. Invading a country in response, however, seems more like throwing good money and lives after bad. This is an escalation, but not a big one, and a payment in kind. It sends two messages - one, that brutality will have consequences, and two, that we will not be squeamish about how we choose to retaliate. Both of which are pretty reasonable messages to send to ISIS in response to this kind of thing.

As far as Middle Eastern countries go, Jordan is pretty damn good. They've got a fairly stable government, which seems to be reasonably popular - at any rate, they managed to ride out the awful Arab Spring without the massive disruption of nearby countries, suggesting a certain level of popularity for the King. They made peace with Israel two decades ago (which was sensible) and gave up claims to the Palestinian territories (which, given they subsequently turned into basket case hellholes, was doubly sensible). Plus they have a totally hot Queen, and the neoreactionary in me is cheered by seeing a monarchy getting some good PR, even if for dubious reasons.

Look, Switzerland it ain't. I wouldn't want to try to run a newspaper there, nor find myself on the wrong side of their police force. But as you may have noticed, there aren't a whole lot of Switzerlands in the Middle East, certainly among the Arab Muslim countries.

Do you know the thing that recommends Jordan to me the most?

You don't hear much about Jordan.

And believe me, in that neighbourhood, that's a pretty damn good outcome. The same is true about Kuwait, incidentally. But in the case of Jordan, they happen to share borders with Syria, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. Be honest, can you imagine a list of countries you'd less rather be next door to in terms of promoting stability in your own country? Three of those places are essentially failed states, for crying out loud.

You may not like the country at an absolute level, but short of zombie Lord Cromer coming back to run it, it seems pretty likely than the Jordanian government is about as good as you're going to get any time soon from a government in that region. The perfect ought not be the enemy of the good.

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