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A little glance back at the 2002-vintage thoughts of Bernard Lewis, every conservative’s favorite Middle East expert. Speaking before the invasion of Iraq, he notes that “Parallels to the Iraq quandary can be found by looking at post-World War II Germany and Japan” which were turned into successful liberal democracies. And then:

I am particularly optimistic that the same can be done in Iraq, which has many positive features upon which it can build. For example, of all the oil-producing countries, Iraq made the best use of its oil revenues in terms of creating a real infrastructure, including a good secondary and university education system. Here I speak from personal knowledge. Earlier in my career, when I was teaching at the University of London, the overwhelming majority of my graduate students came from the Middle East. All of these Middle Eastern students were graduates of Arab universities and, before that, of Arab high school systems. I got to evaluate them well enough to know what sort of education and training they had received and, more particularly, whether their credentials really meant something. In the case of Iraqi students, their degrees were more reliable than those of students from other countries; the students from Iraq had received better training under more rigorous standards.

For this and other reasons, there is genuine hope. The main task is not creating opportunities, but removing obstacles.