Another Perspective

Is the Neocon Dream Dead?

Don't write off Middle Eastern democracy yet.

By 3.8.06

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These are hard days for the neocons. There are defections left and right (well, mostly right). Those who remain on board seem as wobbly as Kate Moss after an all-night coke binge. Last month Francis Fukuyama -- always an irresolute neocon -- formally severed all ties: "Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support." At home the Venerable Buckley pronounced the Iraq War a lost cause. Andrew Sullivan offered a mea culpa to his readers in Time. ("The shock of 9/11 provoked an understandable but still mistaken over-estimation of the risks we faced.") Abroad, the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections gave critics more ammo. Given the choice in a free and open election, Palestinians opted for a terrorist organization. Iraq, the cliche-mongering press reminded us, "teetered on the brink of civil war." To some it appears the neoconservative moment is over.

Critics maintain that Islam and democracy are incompatible; that Arab democracy is an oxymoron. In his new book America at the Crossroads, Fukuyama chastises neocons for the apparent double standard in opposing social engineering at home, but taking it on the road to the Middle East. "By definition, outsiders can't 'impose' democracy on a country that doesn't want it," he writes. "Demand for democracy and reform must be domestic." The Cato Institute's Leon Hadar seconds this: "The U.S. push for democracy in the Middle East has been a self-defeating strategy that has made the region safe for nationalism and other radical forms of ethnic, religious, and tribal movements....It's difficult for American neoconservatives who fantasize about a global multicultural community committed to liberal democratic values to admit that perhaps the Muslims are not 'like us' after all."

The childish temper-tantrum over the Danish Khartoons would seem to support Fukuyama and those who insist that Muslims do not share our values. Then again the U.S. media doesn't appear to share them either, for only a handful of media outlets showed the drawings. And as for free speech and diversity, when was the last time you heard a conservative balance NPR's Daniel Schorr's far-left screeds? Imagine if the Detroit Free Press or some such paper ran an editorial cartoon highly offensive to some American ethnic group. Would not all hell break loose?

WE ARE TOLD THAT Muslims despise liberty and freedom and relish the sound of their own chains rattling. This conveniently ignores that fact that half of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims live under democratically elected governments in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey. The U.S. is home to 4 to 7 million Muslims. Every day hundreds cross legally and illegally into the U.S., Canada, Australia, the EU and South Africa. If these nations were to open their borders today, there wouldn't be enough people left in the non-democratic countries to field a soccer team.

President Bush has said (and it bears repeating) that our security depends on the spread of democracy to unfriendly nations. The question remains how best to achieve this? A recent report by Freedom House states that nonviolent "people power" movements are the strongest force in most successful transitions to democracy. The report focuses on 67 countries where dictatorships have fallen since 1972. To that end, the Bush administration has announced it would increase funding for dissident groups in Iran. Fukuyama likewise suggests this route, beefing up USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the State Department. Sure, and maybe we can "dialogue" Osama bin Laden into giving himself up. On this point in particular, neocons, like the military historian Victor Davis Hanson, disagree:

More often than not, democracies arise through violence -- either by threat of force or after war with all the incumbent detritus of humiliation, impoverishment, and revolution....[T]he birth pangs of democracy are often violent, and we should pay little attention to critics who clamor that the United States cannot prompt reform through regime change. Instead, let skeptical Americans (who were not given their own liberty through debate) adduce evidence that freedom is usually a result of mere petition or always indigenous.

It is true a minority will always oppose freedom. However, those Sunnis who bombed the Samarra mosque are but the remnants of Saddam's dying fascist regime -- thugs who believe they can regain their lost power by provoking a sectarian war. Yes, there will be sectarian violence. And it will not be limited to Iraq. The Shiites and the Sunnis have been beating each other over the head since the Prophet ascended into paradise in 632. Sectarian violence is common in India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, and until recently Ireland. The fascists do not speak for the Iraqi people, nor can they be allowed to win.

Do not write off the Iraqi people. The alternative is a return to Taliban or Baathist rule. And nobody, save the Taliban and the Baathists, wants that.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.