On Native Ground
DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST? NOT YET
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Now that the spread of democracy has replaced the elimination of what proved to be non-existent weapons of mass destruction as the rationale for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, we're supposed to believe that freedom is busting out all over the Middle East.
Don't believe the hype.
What's going on now in Lebanon may be seen as a direct result of the Iraq war. It can also be seen as a nifty piece of collusion between Israel and the United States to weaken the Syrian and Iranian-backed Hezbollah, the political party/terrorist force with the most support in Lebanon.
However, this is not a flowering of democracy.
In Lebanon, the anti-Syrians are Maronite Christians and Druze, minority citizens in that country. The Shias, Lebanon's largest ethnic group, support Hezbollah and Syria, as evidenced by the huge counter-demonstrations in Beirut. Considering these groups fought a civil war from 1975 to 1990 that nearly destroyed Lebanon, the United States may inadvertently be helping to spark a rematch.
There isn't a country in the Middle East that wants to see what happened to Iraq happen to them. When they hear President Bush say the word "freedom," they hear just another version of the same old tune of American control over the Middle East, only with pseudo-democratic governments replacing the dictators.
Do you really believe there will be open, multi-party elections in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Libya or Syria? Of course not. Considering the United States helped to install many of these regimes, there isn't much chance on a change in leadership.
For example, it may sound great that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the U.S.-backed military dictator who's been masquerading as a democratically-elected leader for more than two decades, is receptive to the idea of open, multi-party elections. The reality is that the polls will be rigged as they have been for years, and Mubarak's son will likely continue the family business of running one of the most repressive Arab nations in the Middle East.
Given a shot a free and fair elections, most Arab nations will vote for anti-American, Islamist governments. That's what happened in Algeria in 1991, and the U.S. and French-backed military government that called the election annulled the result and jailed the Islamist leaders, sparking a bloody, exceedingly ugly civil war that continues today.
Just look at the sham that was the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq, where pro-Iranian Shia parties and the Kurds dominated despite the best efforts of the U.S. to get its own puppets in charge. Even though it appears that the Americans have tweaked the election results to insure the Shia and Kurds won't have control, it would be a profound irony that more than 1,500 (and counting) American soldiers died to install an anti-American and less-than-democratic government in Iraq.
Democracy is a good idea. The world can use more of it (and for that matter, our own nation could use more of it too). But we know that when the United States promises to bring democracy to the world, usually the opposite happens. We also know that the United States likes democracy only when it elects leaders that will serve its interests.
Leaving aside the contradictions of a leader that is proclaiming the spread of democracy around the world while trying to dismantle it at home, maybe it's time to take President Bush at his word. If he really wants all the nations of the world to be able to determine their own destinies without foreign interference, he should start pushing for real democracy in the Arab world.
Tell Mubarak and the Saudi princes to hold real elections. Take off the U.S.-imposed restraints on the Iraqis and let them decide their own destiny, one that includes the end of U.S. occupation. Stop backing the dictators and feudal regimes that serve U.S. interests in the Middle East and give the people the political and economic self-determination they deserve.
If the result of this flowering of democracy is a group of governments that are anti-American, so be it. Then the Bush administration might have to rediscover the lost art of diplomacy. It will need to work to win back the trust of peoples who have been manipulated and held down for generations as part of the West's strategy to control of the oil wealth of the Arab world.
Sure, it would be great if the ultimate legacy of the U.S. invasion of Iraq is a freer, more democratic Middle East.
Considering what has happened to this point as we enter year three of America's misadventure in Iraq, it's unlikely to happen.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.