Americans need to know who their friends are and now. That's been a tall order since long before Archie Bunker wondered what trick Nixon had up his sleeve pretending to make peace with the ChiComs. Our own State Department is standing proof that you can spend seven years at Georgetown, ace the Foreign Service Exam, and still not know your Assyrians from your asshole.
Today, the world's a ball of confusion, right? War in Iraq, Lebanon, Uzbekistan, Timor, Somalia, Gaza, Backwaterstan, and Toledo. The quickly shifting sands of foreign relations have increased the complexity of the U.S.'s ties, alliances, and uneasy truces from "merely knotty" to "what the hell are we doing?" If war is God's way of teaching Americans geography, are asymmetrical, urban, guerrilla conflicts with non-state actors God's way of making geography irrelevant?
Average Americans consistently demonstrate no understanding of expected return, octane ratings, and what the hell their legislators voted for last session. They're never going to get ahead of the foreign policy learning curve unless someone can simplify the process. That's why I try to distill all analysis of a foreign country's structure, culture, and prospects for success down to booze.
So without further ado, I give you the liquor freedom indicator.
Pakistan is one of the U.S.'s (and Britain's for that matter) most confusing "allies." The maxim "If you're not with us, you're against us" clearly needs an addendum that ought to read "or you're Pakistan." Pakistan only allows the sale of liquor to foreign, non-Muslims at specially permitted venues (basically hotels). And even then, it's illegal to drink in public. You can't bring your own booze in, but they will hold it at customs until you leave, and they probably won't kill or jail you for it. This is really all the average American needs to know about Pakistan. From that simple information, you can reasonably reliably predict that their culture and laws are all fucked up, and that they're really never going to be trustworthy allies in the near term and maybe never. But they're probably better than Saudi Arabia.
Another example: Gaza. Technically, there's nothing preventing you from having a drink at the local watering hole in Gaza, except that the last one closed due to recession and instability about a year ago. You could probably bring in your own, but why the hell would you want to go there? Not a good place for Americans, but if you think that the higher relative tolerance for booze correlates with a somewhat friendlier and safer environment for Americans than Pakistan offers, you'd be right.
Saudi: Even the average American knows that these guys really aren't our friends; so we'll go with a little anecdote. A couple of years ago, some Navy guys hitching a ride with my buddy's C130 squadron were bringing several cases of booze with them to their base in Oman or Yemen or somewhere like that. Bad weather plus old-ass airplane forced them to land for repairs in Riyadh. The Saudis found the booze, and one minor international incident later, the Navy guys were stateside with no jobs. What do we take away from this? I'm not even in favor of having an embassy in SA.
How does the indicator perform in divided countries? Let's look at Lebanon. The northern part of the country is cosmopolitan and diverse with one of the top historical party cities in the world. Beirut serves as the getaway of choice for Saudi royals weary of publicly supporting their own country's ban on liquor (and hookers). I've never heard anyone say, "What happens in Beirut stays in Beirut," but that's probably because it's so obvious.
Wait, Saudis? Does that throw off the indicator? Of course not. We're Americans. Hypocrisy we can stand; it's sobriety we must avoid. Northern Lebanon gets a tentative greenlight during at least during lulls in Syrian, Israeli, Iranian, or Jordanian bombing.
In contrast, the south of Lebanon is controlled by an Iranian client group called Hezbollah that came to prominence in the '80s with, you guessed it, a wave of liquor store bombings. Avoid.
Iraq. I don't even want to talk about it. The one, ultimate, most-convincing sign that things there might not turn out better than under Hussein is that at least you could get good and hammered under Hussein. This continued to be true shortly after the occupation with Baghdad's nightlife fully awash in liquor. But in what has to be the most disturbing and underreported story of the war, the liquor stores have become the targets of bombings. The liquor industry there has died. Needless to say, when your opinion on the municipal government of Medina 1300 years ago can get you beheaded, public flouting of Mohammed's teatotaling may not be really safe.
In a truly horrifying, un-American, ham-fisted, dim-witted, microcosm of our mistakes in Iraq, our own military prevents our troops from drinking there. Keep in mind that booze isn't even illegal in Iraq (yet). What kind of example are we setting for the Iraqi people who we keep exhorting to stand up against the extremists? Do we expect them to face being blown up or have their knees power drilled stone cold sober? Troop morale is waning? You don't say.
Anyway, I'm fully convinced that Pakistan and other dry countries will ultimately fail as states (not JUST because of no booze; that's my litmus test). If the trend line in Iraq continues toward greater sobriety, you can put me squarely in the pessimist camp.