US Spreading Democracy in Middle East


I said: The Spanish Conquistadores were a nasty, greedy crowd, whose main interest was finding gold.  Then came the missionaries preaching the message of love, and their deep impact is evident in the deep Catholic religiosity prevalent today. Can there be a parallel with Iraq? Without question black gold (oil) was a dominant factor in the US decision to use brute force in Iraq.  Now it will be the turn of the secular missionaries preaching democracy in the Middle East.  Will they have the success of the Catholic missionaries in Latin America and convert the people there into fervent believers in democracy? 

Ed Jajko comments: During the 1980s and 90s, the United States government tended to express pride in the march of democracy around the world, pointing to notable successes in Latin America (with the exception of Cuba), Asia, and finally in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.  One area of the world was always excluded from consideration: the Middle East.  The old mantra of Israel's being the only democracy in the Middle East was and still is frequently chanted while the idea of spreading democracy among the authoritarian and totalitarian regimes of the area was near-anathema.  The protection of Israel and of access to Middle East oil were paramount interests, along with containment -- unsuccessful -- of Iranian influence and of Iraq.  The tyrants and despots were given free hand, as long as the oil kept flowing and the masses were not too restless.  Underneath this, the poison of al-Qa'idah and of anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Christian, and anti-Jewish teachings was allowed to spread and fester. 

George W. Bush, for the wrong reasons, struck one of the historic centers of the Arab world, started a war, deposed a ruler, and then began changing his justifications for his actions, ultimately settling on the furtherance of the democratization of the Middle East.  This has had some slight domino effect, with Egypt's Mubarak announcing that the next presidential election will actually have opposition candidates (if they survive) and Saudi Arabia holding municipal elections in which women presented themselves as candidates (although barred from voting).  But, although I welcome Bush's push for democratization in the Middle East and consider it shamefully overdue -- I discussed the topic in a talk before the Gulf Cultural Club in London some years ago -- I have had some misgivings about it.  Not about the preaching in favor of democratization, but about the possible Chou Enlai effect.  In 1963-1964, the then premier of the PRC, Chou Enlai, made a tour of numerous newly-independent African states.  At some stop on the way, Chou proclaimed to the assembled press that in his view the entire African continent was ripe for revolution.  My recollection is that he began to be dis-invited to his later stops by governments that were suddenly nervous about their stability, and he went back to Beijing in some embarrassment. 

Bush is treading a very delicate line, as an advocate for democracy who wants to change the politics of the region without destabilizing it.  He is not helped by his secretary of state, who was recently reported as saying that the US government is not particularly concerned if the push for democratization leads to instability, or not.  If this is indeed what she believes, she is a fool and an incompetent.  One hopes that someone in the upper reaches of the administration has greater sense.

Randy Black disagrees with Ed Jajko, a respected authority on the Middle East. Randy:Mr. Jajko said,
Bush is treading a very delicate line, as an advocate for democracy who wants to change the politics of the region without destabilizing it. 
 
The facts of history show that the Middle East is not stable and has never been stable for more than a few hours between dusk and dawn. Invasions, assassinations, starvation, famine, dictatorships, the drug trade, the slave trade, illiteracy among the masses numbering in the hundreds of millions, mass executions, nerve gas attacks, espionage, you name it, it exists in the Middle East, from Casablanca to Kabul, from the Sudan to Turkey. And I’m just speaking about the last fifty years.
 
And: He (Bush) is not helped by his secretary of state, who was recently reported as saying that the US government is not particularly concerned if the push for democratization leads to instability, or not.  If this is indeed what she believes, she is a fool and an incompetent.
 
I find it puzzling that, when one respected WAISer disagrees with the position of another person who is in a higher position of power, aka Condi Rice, Mr. Jajko labels the latter a “fool and an incompetent.”
 
But equally puzzling is that Mr. Jajko’s position is based on unsubstantiated accusations: He is not helped by his secretary of state, who was recently reported as saying that the US government is not particularly concerned if the push for democratization leads to instability, or not. My emphasis on the word reported.
 
Reported by whom, when, where? In what context was this statement reported?
 
I did find this recent Condi Rice quote on stability in the Middle East:
"We are going to build a different kind of Middle East, a different kind of broader Middle East that is going to be stable and democratic and where our children will one day not have to be worried about the kind of ideologies of hatred that led those people to fly those planes into those buildings on Sept. 11."
Condoleezza Rice, to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, March 17, 2005
And this:
Rice has been forthright about the need for political reform in the Muslim world. She has said repeatedly that the United States is serious about helping Arab societies become more open and democratic, especially a post-Saddam Iraq. She has been an important voice in the administration's support of nation-building efforts in Afghanistan. "If you get a democratic Afghanistan, a reformed Palestinian Authority and a democratizing Iraq," the official said, "they will send a powerful signal across the Muslim world."
 
Sources: http://www.fareedzakaria.com/articles/newsweek/121602.html
 
Miles Seeley writes:  I agree with Ed Jajko that this is a risky game the Administration is playing in the Middle East. I doubt it really wants the masses to rise up in Saudi Arabia, or in the Gulf, demanding democracy, (whatever that might mean for them). The so-called "instability" in Iraq has stretched our resources, and if radical Islamists take over in more countries, they might want to take anti-American measures like cutting off oil supplies to us. We might be unable to handle that. It is of course proper, even noble, to push for democracy throughout the world. Human rights, too. But the real situation on the ground in the Middle East requires much more than oratory and military threat. Patience, persistence, a deep knowledge of the people and cultures, and diplomacy seem to me the only practical road to travel.





Ronald Hilton 2005

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last updated: June 8, 2005