March 6, 2005


What's in It for America? (ROGER COHEN, 3/06/05, NY Times)

For a long time, American policy toward the Middle East was guided precisely by such fears: democracy could be, and likely would be, dangerous. A blind eye was turned to authoritarianism because it kept the shop in order, quieted the Arab street and served American interests. But then the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, showed how treacherous the status quo could be.

"The traditional United States approach for the past half-century ignored what went on inside Middle Eastern societies so long as they cooperated on energy, security and diplomacy," said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. "The president has now rejected that. The question is: can he deliver an orderly transition?"

That question will likely not be answered for several years. But what is clear already is that a region long marked by inertia is in flux. Events from Saudi Arabia to Syria suggest that the invasion of Iraq and the election there have indeed had a catalytic effect, opening up debate, tearing down walls. Democracy is getting a toehold.

But terrorism remains a mystery. Nobody knows exactly what leads a young Muslim to blow himself up in the name of a holy war against the West. As Walter Laqueur, the historian specializing in political violence, has observed, "There can be no final victory in the fight against terrorism, for terrorism (rather than full-scale war) is the contemporary manifestation of conflict, and conflict will not disappear from earth."

In other words, democracy is no panacea, but nor is anything else. Terrorism will not crumble like Communism or Fascism, defeated by containment or force of arms or economic measures or the ballot box. Indeed, it is possible the greater proximity of Western ideas and practices may only redouble the jihadist urge, which has been driven in part by the desire to re-create an infidel-free caliphate. But it is also possible that a more open system may cool apocalyptic urges in the Middle East as it has elsewhere.

"Democratic governments in the Middle East are going to be much more difficult for the United States to handle because there will be more direct expression of sentiment, much of it hostile," said Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University. "But in the end it will be healthier and, yes, democracy could provide an outlet for the frustration that drives people to jihadism."

For many years, Islamism seemed the only such outlet.

The irony of democratization is that by turning these energies inwards it will allow us to disengage from the region, as we have done from Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 6, 2005 8:09 AM

Two points;

First, if only we had disengaged from Europe. The troops are still there, right?

Second, of course President Bush can't deliver an "orderly" transition, To ask that is to adopt the very viewpoint that prevent the transition in the first place.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at March 6, 2005 2:21 PM


Doing what? Bureacracy always moves slower than reality.

Posted by: oj at March 6, 2005 2:26 PM

The very concept of Bush delivering an orderly transition would be the exact opposite of a democratic transition. What Bush has said all along is that he just wants to proide the mechanism for the people to make their own democratic transition and develop their own concept of democracy. Sounds strange that a superpower would empower the potential to disagree with it but I think Bush has shown that he is OK with that. I think his approach is the only one that really will work there.

Posted by: dick at March 6, 2005 2:35 PM