3/09/2005

RE: The spin on Middle East "democracy"

From the Center for American Progress:
Recent positive democratic developments in the Middle East have prompted pundits to ask, "Was President Bush right?" The clear, emphatic answer – on Iraq, on the war on terror, and on democracy promotion – is No. As President Bush stated yesterday in a speech to the National Defense University, a "thaw has begun" in the broader Middle East, and that is undeniably a good thing. But many of the recent reforms have occurred despite, rather than because of, the administration's policies. Notwithstanding, during the past several weeks, the right wing has attempted to twist the latest Mideast developments into a vindication of the last four years of the administration's reckless policies. Only through tortured exaggerations and revisionist history is President Bush transformed into the prime catalyst of Middle East democracy. Below, we set the record straight:
WHAT ROLE DID IRAQ'S ELECTION PLAY? The elections in Iraq were a tremendous victory for Iraqis. Remember, however, that the White House "resisted the idea of holding elections [in January] and only succumbed under pressure from Iraq's most powerful cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani." Iraq expert Juan Cole charges, "It was Sistani who demanded one-person, one-vote elections. So to the extent it's a victory, it's a victory for Iraqis. The Americans were maneuvered into having to go along with it." Moreover, in most of the Mideast countries now experiencing signs of democracy, it was a traumatic domestic event – in Lebanon, the assassination of a former prime minister; in the Palestinian Territories, the death of Yasser Arafat – that triggered the initial reforms.
DEMOCRACY AND TERRORISM: President Bush's stated democratization goals in the Middle East have been undermined by his misguided strategy to combat terrorism. In a report two months ago, the CIA-affiliated National Intelligence Council stated that "Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of 'professionalized' terrorists," providing "terrorists with 'a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills.'" An official associated with the report stated the "best scenario": that "some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries.'" And as former White House security adviser Richard Clarke has pointed out, democracy "is not the cure for terrorism.'' Growing resentment is breeding terrorism, Clarke states, "but it is chiefly resentment of us, not of the absence of democracy.''
ROSE-COLORED MIDDLE EAST: While acknowledging and supporting positive developments in the Middle East, it is also important to be realistic. In yesterday's New York Times, conservative columnist David Brooks lavished praise on the White House, pointing to the "change burbling in Beirut, with many young people proudly hoisting the Lebanese flag (in a country that was once a symbol of tribal factionalism)." Of course, that same day, the "country that was once a symbol of tribal factionalism" became a country actually beset by factionalism, as "hundreds of thousands of pro-Syrian protesters poured into a central Beirut square...in a demonstration called for by the militant group Hezbollah that vastly outnumbered recent rallies demanding that Syrian forces leave Lebanon." Likewise, recent hopeful steps in the region should be supported but also viewed soberly. The recent Saudi municipal elections, for example, took place only in Riyadh and the surrounding villages and completely excluded women.
IGNORING THE COSTS: The same right-wing pundits trying to manufacture ties between the Bush administration's Iraq policy and burgeoning Middle East reforms often ignore the costs of our policy in Iraq. Already, the Iraq war has claimed the lives of more than 1,500 American troops and $200 billion, damaged military readiness by creating a recruitment crisis not seen in years, divided the United States from its allies and shifted global public opinion against us. Whether these costs are justifiable is debatable. Yet, remember, it wasn't our effort in Iraq that infused the Middle East with a "favorable view of American freedom and democracy," or opposition to its own authoritarian governments. People in the region held those sentiments before the Iraq war, particularly in those places where reforms are now taking place, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria/Lebanon.

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