Democracy seems to be fermenting in the Middle East, a welcome development for a region long noted for its political and economic backwardness. But human liberty, not just an election, is the ultimate goal. The road to build liberal societies remains long, twisting, and fraught with danger.
The pursuit of liberty has resulted in human dramas both exciting and tragic. Ancient republics descended into despotism; medieval Europe endured endless bloody struggles for both political and religious freedom.
Britain deposed kings on its way to parliamentary democracy. The French Revolution replaced despotism with despotism. Europe’s liberal revolutionary wave in 1848 quickly receded, leaving authoritarian monarchical shoals. World War I destroyed autocracy, yielding vulnerable democracies that in turn succumbed to totalitarianism.
The post-World War II “iron curtain” sealed hundreds of millions of people into brutal national prisons. Newly independent colonies tended to hold one election before adopting dictatorship. Many of the democracies emerging from the end of the Cold War, such as Russia, have proved to be flawed and fragile.
Now autocracy is shaking in the Mideast. Iraq has held elections; Egypt is promising political pluralism; the Lebanese have risen up against domination by next-door neighbor Syria. Saudi Arabia has held local elections, while Palestinians have chosen a more moderate leader to replace Yassir Arafat.
These are all positive, and possibly wonderful, developments. They are positive since they offer the hope of genuinely free societies at the end of the rainbow. They are wonderful if such systems eventually develop.
THE PARTISAN DEBATE OVER President George W. Bush’s responsibility has shed more heat than light. The administration obviously deserves credit for the Iraqi elections; its efforts almost certainly advanced reform in Egypt.
Elsewhere the president’s rhetoric might have affected the political atmosphere, but its impact should not be exaggerated. Yassir Arafat’s death and popular weariness with years of unproductive violence triggered change among the Palestinians. Saudi reforms follow the regime’s recognition that royalist rule is vulnerable to jihadist violence.
Sparking the “Cedar Revolution” in Lebanon was the horrid assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Citizens of Lebanon, which long has held elections, looked more to the nonviolent protests in Georgia and Ukraine than to anything in Iraq. Most Lebanese doubt the contrary claims by opposition leader Walid Jumblatt, until recently busy applauding the killing of Americans and Israelis.
Moreover, the trend towards democratization, though a very welcome side effect of the Iraq war, does not necessarily justify the invasion. The costs remain too high: More than 1,500 dead and 11,000 injured Americans. More than 1,000 children who lost a parent.
And no end to casualties in sight. Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, observes that insurgencies elsewhere have typically lasted from seven to 12 years.
The war will have cost more than $200 billion by the end of this year. According to congressional estimates, the total over the next decade could run two to three times that. America’s freedom values also are risked by the military and security measures necessary to prosecute foreign wars.
Moreover, terrorism threatens even more. “Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti- U.S. jihadists,” CIA Director Porter J. Goss recently warned Congress. The military is suffering enormous strain, finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain the personnel necessary to garrison Iraq and guard against other threat. America’s international credibility with regard to other dangers, including Iran and North Korea, has suffered severe damage.
YET THE BATTLE BETWEEN the President’s acolytes and antagonists should not obscure the fact that the Mideast’s democratic sprouts might turn into regimes that respect the life and dignity of the human person. However the Iraqi experiment turns out, it would be difficult for the result to be worse that Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. But we still must be concerned about the result. Popular desires for democratic governance and freedom from foreign domination are basic and vital. Unfortunately, they do not guarantee protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And if the early democratic blooms die off, or become deformed, yielding majoritarian tyranny, the result will be a tragic lost opportunity.
Many signs are negative. In Iraq thousands of Christians have fled, most to neighboring Syria, one of the administration’s “outposts of tyranny.” Iraq’s frontrunning Shiite candidate for prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, has promised to introduce Islamic sharia law. Paul Marshall of Freedom House worries that “Islam undefined” might become “the constitution behind the constitution” in Iraq. And irrespective of what the constitution ends up saying, the real question is how Iraqis ultimately govern themselves.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online