Let’s once again check the score:
The development of the Afghan state is going surprisingly well (S. Fredrick Starr details the correction of problems that he and other experts once warned of in the current issue of the National Interest), and now some other spots in that neighborhood bear watching. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan each held parliamentary elections on February 27, both fraught with irregularities favoring the leadership — including the muzzling of the press. While the Tajik opposition is for now too fractured and weak to seriously challenge strongman Imomali Rakhmanov’s dominance, in Kyrgyzstan, where run-off elections for many parliamentary seats will come on March 13, democracy activists talk of a Kyrgysz “Lemon Revolution,” modeled on last year’s successful Orange Revolution in Ukraine (which was itself inspired in part by the Rose Revolution in Georgia). There have been large protests, but so far they seem mostly limited to the southern part of the country — but if there is no Lemon Revolution this month, it may still come with the presidential election in October.
In Lebanon, too, the Orange Revolution has had its influence, as protesters have borrowed Ukrainian techniques for their effort to push the Syrians out; they’ve already succeeded in forcing a pro-Syrian government to resign. Iraq’s successful election was another important catalyst: “It’s strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq,” Druze Muslim leader Walid Jumblatt told David Ignatius of the Washington Post last week. “I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”
It seems pretty safe to bet that Syria will pull out of Lebanon soon; they may try withdrawing troops and leaving the intelligence network behind, but even that gambit is unlikely to take the heat off. And if Syria loses Lebanon — a critical pillar of the Baathist regime’s economic power — there’s a fair chance of a government collapsing in Damascus as well as Beirut.
Saudi Arabia, sensing the direction of the wind, held its first municipal elections yesterday (albeit with only men participating), and has now called for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon — “The End,” according to Beirut Daily Star opinion editor Michael Young. In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak has decided, under American pressure, to amend the constitution to allow someone to actually run against him; he may try to keep the process under his control, but as Egyptian democrat Saadeddin Ibrahim puts it, the “democratic genie is out of the bottle.”
For partisan Democrats, this invites all sorts of mixed feelings and hand-wringing about what credit, if any, George W. Bush deserves for these developments. One of Andrew Sullivan’s emailers tells of a Democratic friend, upon being told of developments in Lebanon, looking like “I told him his dog had died.” One suspects that history will smile upon this administration, just as the view that Ronald Reagan was just in the right place at the right time for the Cold War’s end is now marginalized. (“If someone else had been in his place, I don’t know if what happened would have happened,” no less than Mikhail Gorbachev has said.) But for now, the question is hardly worth engaging. Remember the sign that Reagan famously kept in the Oval Office: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go, if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”
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