A Long Way Off From Arab Democracy

generic bush iraq war bomb bombing
Myths Of Arab Democracy

Paul Mirengoff at powerlineblog.com made a very persuasive and concise argument that I caricatured the administration's advocacy of democracy in the Mideast. Basically, Mirengoff's point is that while there is some smoke and mirrors about how much the commitment to democracy in the Mideast has motivated the administration, the administrations actions there have consistently the pragmatically pushed for democratization. I think Mirengoff is right and his is the first item below.

Dick Meyer has a characteristically thought-provoking piece on what he considers the myths pertaining to Arab democracy. Each of the alleged myths deserves discussion, but I want to focus on this one — "the Bush administration is a consistent, committed advocate for democracy in the Middle East."

Meyer is correct that there is much myth surrounding the extent to which the Bush administration's actions in the Middle East policy have been driven by a commitment to democracy. But while many overstate the role of that commitment, Meyer errs in the other direction when he treats our advocacy of democratization as nothing more than a post hoc rationalization for an otherwise indefensible military action in Iraq. In reality, if one modifies Meyer's proposition to read this way — the Bush administration is a consistent, committed but pragmatic advocate for democracy in the Middle East — any mythical quality disappears.

Let's get specific. Where, as in Iraq, no government is in place and the U.S. appears to be in a position to dictate the form of government that will fill the vacuum, the administration opted to insist on democracy. Where, as in Lebanon and the Palestinian areas, the situation is clearly unfavorable to the U.S. but we're not in control, the administration opted to push for democracy. Where, as in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the situation is not clearly unfavorable to the U.S. particularly compared to likely alternatives, the administration opted to provide mild encouragement of gradual democratic reform.

This policy is consistent. In each instance, the administration tilts towards democracy, with the degree of the tilt dictated by its perception of our ability to control events and the viability of the status quo. Moreover, the commitment, though pragmatic, is real. In each instance, the administration is eschewing the path of least resistance. In Iraq its commitment to democracy dictates a deeper, more bloody involvement than would be necessary if we were indifferent to the form of government that emerges there. In Lebanon and the Palestinian areas, the administration incurs a small risk that an unstable situation will become even less stable. In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it incurs a very small risk that an apparently stable situation will become less so.

In short, the administration's policy in the Middle East is to attempt to promote democracy to just the extent that doing so makes sense in light of facts on the ground. Since these facts vary from situation to situation, so too do the manifestations of our policy.

One can argue that we should not be concerned with promoting democracy at all, or one can argue that the administration is misreading the facts on the ground. But one should not deny that the administration has a coherent and rational approach to the matter.

Paul Mirengoff

Your comments about Arab Democracy are thoughtful, however, I would like to point out a few facts that few people seem willing to discuss.

Democracy is inimical to theocracy, and vice versa. If you mix the two, there will always be trouble. Democracy is about counting the "will of the one," but theocracy is about suppressing the "will of the one." That's why our founding fathers were adamant about the separation of Church and State.

When you have a system where 20 million "Bible thumping" halfwits are voting, you end up with a moron like Bush in the Oval Office. How could we possibly expect anything better when "Koran thumping" halfwits vote in the Mid-East?

In our own country, we have millions of voters that don't know the difference between a microscopic "lump of stem cells" and a human being. Perhaps they don't know the difference between an acorn and an oak shade tree either. Dick, these people vote in a democracy!

The only way that a democracy can have a chance to succeed, anywhere, is within a well educated society that maintains high standards of reason and logic, in a broad based "non-religious" educational system.

I can speak with authority about the "non-sense" of religion, because I was raised in a fundamentalist religion and had it pounded into my head from birth to the age of 23. I am well familiar with all the dogma and scriptural intimidation that is foisted upon otherwise naive and ignorant people. These people are literally taught "not to think," but merely to "believe." Again, Dick, — these people vote in a democracy.

James Paris

I love your commentary "Myths Of Arab Democracy".

I completely agree that our (America's) greatest error may be assuming that democracy is good for everyone.

I also can't help but wonder if Saddam Hussein was not better for Iraq than anything going on now. A ruthless dictator was able to keep more Iraqi's alive and at peace.

However, we can't forget that even strong Democracies in the West were born in Blood. Our democracy has its roots in the English civil war with Oliver Cromwell and even the American civil war.

David Bouriaque

The current round of violence was partially but substantially caused by America's campaign for Arab democracy.

You miss a couple of key points:

1. We were told that the war in Iraq would lead to a new era of democracy which in itself would defend Israel, which is in large part why so much effort was focused there and not on forging a new Middle East Peace plan as Bush's predecessors have done. That gamble failed and is in part responsible for the current crisis

2. Iraq and Saudi Arabia have long been the counterbalance to Iran in the Middle East. The war in Iraq has left Iraq weak, removing the counterbalance to Iranian power in the region. Without that counterbalance, Iran is more free than ever to press its agenda regionally, which is what is going on in Lebanon.

Arab and Muslim nations and peoples are not "ready" for democracy.

Most of your analysis is spot on, but your conclusion doesn't logically follow. If self determination, free will, equality and liberty are prerequisites for democracy, and Middle Eastern nations don't have those values, then they aren't ready for democracy. It doesn't mean they're incapable of having democracy, but it cannot be thrust upon them and expected to work. This is the critical flaw in the democratic peace theory pressed by Bush and the neocons, they believe liberalism (small l) follows democracy, when in fact it's the other way around. Without these values, democracy is not a means of empowering the people and improving society through open debate and choice, it's merely about empowering factions and legitimizing warlords. Elections don't make democracy, true power residing with the individual makes democracy, and the Middle East isn't close to
having that.

Anchorage, AK

"'What we are seeing in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon is an effort by Islamist parties to use elections to pursue their long-term aim of Islamizing the Arab Muslim world.' This is clearly correct. He concluded, 'The whole democracy experiment in the Arab-Muslim world is at stake here, and right now it's going up in smoke.'"

"Democracy" is simply a system of government. Democracy puts in place — by the majority of those granted the right to vote — a government. Logically, this government enacts laws that reflect its (the people's) ideas/values. This article points out the difference in ideas (worldview) between the Middle East and the United States, whatever the source. The difference in worldviews means that there will be differences in how "democracy" looks in the Middle East. This poses a very difficult question for the multicultural, post-modern, post-Christian United States that in 2006 is desperately trying to shed its "imperialistic" and "racist" labels. Are we prepared to approve/embrace a Middle East that chooses to place itself under the laws of Sharia (or something else)? The bigger question with which we are struggling is: who are we, anyway, to "approve"?

Jackie Zipp
Edina, MN

To your point one.

"...consistency is the hobgobliln of small minds."

I could have written a much better essay along the same lines concerning Lincoln and the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. "Lincoln has never been a consistent advocate of the abolition of slavery..."

Your points are just about as silly.

Madison, WI

If you still want to send in an e-mail, you'll have to read a real column to find the address.