January 29, 2005


The hard road to democracy (Victor Davis Hanson, 1/27/05, Jewish World Review)

Fostering elections in Iraq is a hard road, well apart from the daily violence of the Sunni Triangle. The autocratic Sunni elite of surrounding countries prefers democracy to fail, warning us that an Iranian-sponsored theocracy will surely follow in Iraq, legitimizing a new Arab Khomeinism.

Sunni Iraqis want exemption from, or a delay of, the election — even though they cannot or will not stop their own violence that imperils it. The United States earns very little credit abroad for its newfound dedication to democratic reform — even as realists at home warn that we should instead back the status-quo who better guarantee order that purportedly favors our own national security.

There are rarely supporters of the hard road of promoting democracies abroad until they are well established. We learned that well enough both before and after the Afghanistan war. Many swore that the Taliban could not be removed. After their demise, new critics warned that the fascists could not be replaced with democrats — and now suddenly they are mostly silent or indeed supportive of the new Afghanistan.

In the face of censure, the United States once bombed Christian Europeans in the Balkans to arrest an Islamic genocide, in hopes of stopping Milosevic and ushering in a democracy. Greeks and Russians were furious. The Arab world offered little thanks that we saved their fellow Muslims. Europeans who had watched the carnage on their doorstep for a near decade whined about our heavy-handed bombing. But perseverance in pursuit of principle — perhaps the Clinton administration's most controversial hour — saved thousands of lives and gave the Balkans a chance at consensual government.

America's calls for fair elections in the Ukraine only alienated a far more powerful Russia. The Putin administration remonstrated that Russia is the world's largest oil producer and a similar victim of mass terrorism and thus an ally in our war. Yet the Ukraine now has a fairly elected leader and we proved that America is not anti- Russian, but rather pro-democratic.

We are at last pressing Saudi Arabia for internal reform in the knowledge that their monarchy is a fertile ground for religious fascists who manipulate understandable popular discontent against the monarchy for their own Islamic agendas. These efforts at promoting Western-style democracy are either slurred as cultural chauvinism against Arabs or dismissed as criminally naive idealism that will ensure a far worse anti-American theocracy — supposedly a lose/lose proposition.

Yet a day will come when it is recognized that the American withdrawal of 10,000 troops from the Wahhabi state was a wise move — and should be followed by sober reassessment of American subsidies to the Mubarak dynasty in Egypt that is heading toward to a crisis of succession.

America was castigated for isolating Yasser Arafat. However, this ostracism ensured at Arafat's passing that he was not a messianic figure, but generally felt to have been an obstacle to open elections that are moving ahead. So the United States was attacked for shunning a dictatorial nationalist, but never thanked for opposing the corruption and authoritarianism that had ruined the Palestinian state.

In all these cases, the preference for the status quo offers short-term stability, while the principled insistence on consensual government proves risky and hinges on unproven reformers. Yet in the long-term, America has rarely gone wrong for being on the democratic side of history.

Considering we've only been at this for 40 months, and have had rather rapid and steady success, isn't it a bit early to call democratizing the Middle East a hard road?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 29, 2005 8:01 AM
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