November 8, 2005


Bush's Great Middle East Gamble: The Best Hope for Iran Is Winning in Iraq (Reuel Marc Gerecht, November 8, 2005, The Weekly Standard)

Since 9/11, President Bush and this most convulsive region of the Muslim world have become Siamese twins, inseparably connected in Iraq. If the Iraqi experiment takes--and we will certainly know whether a new democratic Iraq is alive and kicking by the end of the Bush presidency--then President Bush will likely rank with Ronald Reagan, the last president American liberals and "realists" truly disliked, as one of the boldest and most far-sighted American leaders. The hoo-ha over the CIA official Valerie Plame will not likely have the magnitude of the Iran-contra scandal, which, whatever its improprieties, barely dented the historic achievement of Reagan against the Soviet Empire. If Iraq collapses, however, then President Bush will be disparaged more savagely by both Democrats and Republicans than was LBJ, the grand architect of America's failure in Vietnam. It's reasonable to guess that a majority of Americans now would not give the Bush administration a passing grade in the Middle East. If a private straw vote were taken among neoconservatives, they, too, might fail this presidency, given Bush's toleration of incompetence at the Pentagon, the State Department, and the Central Intelligence Agency in Iraq and elsewhere. [...]

Tyranny and Democratization: Progress here looks encouraging compared with the Bush administration's efforts on Iran. However, the central animating idea of President Bush's foreign policy--the democratization of the Greater Middle East--isn't going well outside Iraq. President Bush should get enormous credit for eliminating a debilitating anomaly in U.S. foreign policy whereby Washington exempted the Muslim Middle East from any pro-democracy rhetoric and censure. But the administration is having considerable philosophical and practical difficulty in moving beyond the president's inspiring speeches.

It's probably fair to say that the dictators and kings of the Middle East, whose dysfunctional autocratic rule has done so much to foster ever more virulent forms of Sunni Islamic extremism, feel American pressure less acutely today than they did 12 months ago. This trend can be reversed. American efforts to nudge and pressure Ilham Aliyev, the leader in the Republic of Azerbaijan, to open up the country's politics have been commendable if not always consistent. (The U.S. embassy's efforts to get Aliyev to accept inked fingers as a means to stop voting fraud is a significant achievement; the Bush administration's outreach to Senator John McCain, who is going to visit Azerbaijan during its upcoming elections, was also the right thing to do at just the right time.) On the ground in Baku, Azeri dissidents are quick to compliment America's helping hand. At this writing, Aliyev's ruling party looks primed to cheat in the November 6 parliamentary elections, but the Bush administration is at least trying to do a better job in the Caucasus than in Egypt, where it did virtually nothing to support democratic dissidents and censure President Hosni Mubarak for stealing the recent presidential election. (American ambassador Frank Ricciardone's praise of Mubarak after he got 88 percent of the vote was shameful.)

We are moving in the direction of what might be called an Atatürkist approach to democratization: With American nudging, dictators will see the light and advance their societies to a more liberal order. There are, however, two enormous problems with this approach: No one currently ruling in the Middle East, with the possible exception of Aliyev, remotely resembles Atatürk, who recognized quite openly European civilization as the ideal (and Atatürk didn't exclude fascism from that ideal). And Arab history since World War II strongly inclines one to believe that dictatorships in the Arab Middle East don't tend to ameliorate over time. In most cases, they've gotten worse.

The Bush administration has not yet had the great internal debate over whether really to push Arab dictatorships, especially Egypt's, to democratize, knowing that Islamic activists are likely to do well in any free election. Secularism, long wedded to ever-worsening dictatorships, has developed a very dirty name in much of the Middle East. Talk in the administration about "generational" change is an intellectual dodge: There is no such thing as a 25-year plan to bring democracy to Egypt. (Egypt's ruling elite would, however, welcome such a thing as eminently sensible.) Until the Bush administration holds this debate--and there are certainly signs it is beginning--and decides whether its policy will embrace some sustained fiscal, strategic, and rhetorical coercion, then America's democratization program in the Arab world will remain stalled.

Here's a thought that never crosses your mind if you're a neocon, that it was your own estimates of post-war Iraq that were incompetent, not just government implementation of the aftermath.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 8, 2005 6:34 PM

given Bush's toleration of incompetence at the Pentagon, the State Department, and the Central Intelligence Agency in Iraq and elsewhere

By what standard?

Posted by: tgn at November 8, 2005 7:28 PM

Thing is, this is not the Age of Ataturk. Today democracy is in the air, and countries are democratizing at a rate of 1.5 per year.

If dictators get nudged towards democratic reforms now, they are likely starting something they can't stop...

Posted by: John Weidner at November 8, 2005 8:01 PM

Democracy in the middle eastern nations? Where? Well, maybe in Afghanistan for a while, if the US presence remains and Karsi can hold on. Where else?

Posted by: oldkayaker at November 8, 2005 9:19 PM

Israel. Soon Iraq.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at November 8, 2005 11:40 PM


Lebanon, Palestine, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt...

Posted by: oj at November 8, 2005 11:54 PM