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A blog on terrorism, democracy and international politics

Monday, February 21, 2005

Winds of Change in the Middle East 

Critics of American policy make a number of claims or predictions:
  • American and allied policy in the Middle East will lead to a deterioration of the regional and global security situation
  • Democracy in the Middle East is impossible, as it is alien to Arab culture
  • America's war in Iraq, like that in Vietnam, was doomed because it was a struggle against a local nationalist insurgency supported by the population
  • America is demonstrably hypocritical because rather than supporting democracy in Latin America (its own back yard), it propped up right-wing dictators.

    Two new articles on Perspectives on World History and Current Events examine the basis of these claims in more detail.

    David Bennett's article about John Negroponte, America's new National Intelligence Director and until recently the US Ambassador to Iraq, illuminates a career that has involved standing up for democracy against totalitarianism, despite these principled stances sometimes damaging his career.

    Beginning his career in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, Negroponte stood up for the South against the machinations of Ho Chi Minh and his own less principled countrymen. Despite media misreporting of the conflict, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army were not representative of the will of the South Vietnamese people, just as those who tried to derail the 30 January election in Iraq were not representative of the Iraqi people - the great majority of whom defied the threats and voted.

    Negroponte was later Ambassador to Honduras, where he worked against Soviet and Cuban attempts to impose Marxist government. As David Bennett points out, Latin America is now largely democratic thanks in part to idealists such as John Negroponte.

    Negroponte's adherence to his beliefs led to some setbacks in his career - at one time he even held the unenviable title, 'Ambassador for Fish'! However, his eventual role in Iraq utilised the experience he had acquired working against totalitarianism in Southeast Asia and Latin America, as well as the character and ideals he demonstrated.

    Mr Bennett argues persuasively that John Negroponte's example demonstrates that it has been those who struggled for democracy and against totalitarian tyranny, rather than those who denigrated them, who most deserve the epithet 'idealist'.

    The second article, Winds of Change: Democracy and Security in the Middle East, examines the positive trends that are emerging across the Middle East. Looking at events since 2001 in eleven important Middle Eastern countries, this study finds that recent elections, clampdowns on terrorism and/or alterations in foreign policy lead to positive prognoses in nine (Libya, Israel, Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan).

    The exceptions, Iran and Syria, have worsened because their governments can see that life is going to become more difficult for tyrants and easier for democratic reformers in the Middle East. They fear these winds of change because they know that they themselves would not last a moment if the people they rule over had a say in their own destinies.

    Although some people have doubted the wisdom or motivations of the United States and its allies in the Middle East, we should all be pleased to see a breeze of hope blowing through this stagnant and tense region.
  • Sunday, February 13, 2005

    Iraqi Petition Condemns 'Negative' French 

    Those who oppose the liberation of Iraq have given a number of reasons for that opposition.

    One specious claim is that the invasion is an attempt to impose 'our' system on Arabs who apparently choose to live under Ba'athist tyranny. These same people proceed to inform their incredulous audience that Arabs have no democratic history, so democracy in Iraq is impossible. The sentiments of the 'resistance', they claim, are the rule in the Arab world, and the democrats the exception.

    These claims, which attempt to paint supporters of the war as culturally ignorant, in other words bigoted, in fact expose the condescending racism of those making the claims. What seems to be forgotten is that much of Europe laboured under tyranny throughout significant parts of the 20th century. Arabs are not a separate species, incapable of seeking genuine freedom and a say in their own destiny. When they live in tyranny it is because of unfortunate historical circumstances, not through choice.

    In recent weeks we have seen truly groundbreaking events in the Middle East that have struck a blow against the bigotry of those who believe Arabs are incable of being democrats. The first was the election of a new Palestinian President who is expressing the will of his constituents by working to end the long conflict with Israel. The second is the enormous number of Iraqis who turned out in the recent election, smiles across their faces, holding their ink-daubed fingers in the air in triumph, despite the ever-present threat of violence from their former overlords and foreign jihadis.

    These two elections double the number of countries in the Middle East whose governments are elected by the people - the others being Israel and Turkey.* These events are now permanently part of world history.

    What do proponents of the "Arabs can't be democrats" line say to these two elections? The predictable response is that elections do not a democracy make. Sure, these may be examples of budding democracy, but without a tradition that incorporates the many other essential democratic institutions, democracy will never blossom.

    Iraq now has hundreds of political parties, independent media outlets, bloggers and many other aspects of a nascent democracy. Large protest marches against terrorism, although rarely publicised in the West, are reported on Iraqi blogs. The Iraqis have also begun to utilise the petition, a democratic institution which pre-dates democratic elections in Europe, to tell us exactly what they think of those who oppose their liberation.

    The following is from a petition from "Iraqi civil society organizations [and] Iraqi and Arab intellectuals" sent to Kofi Annan.

    We, the undersigned, [...] are gravely concerned at the continuing attempts of certain governments to undermine the democratic process in Iraq. In the vanguard of these governments stands the French government. Since the start, this government has opposed the endeavours of the international community to help the Iraqi people end the despotic rule of Saddam Hussein, a rule that posed a threat to international peace and security, under the pretext of protecting the integrity of the Iraqi people. It threatened to resort to the veto in the UN Security Council to thwart any resolution which could help the Iraqi people rid themselves of the dictatorial regime.

    After the liberation of Iraq under United States leadership and supported by many countries in the world, the French government called for the participation of the Baath party in the transitional government in spite of that party's totalitarian thought, nationalistic fanaticism and sanguinary past. These efforts were repeated in different forms including the persistent call for the withdrawal of multinational forces from Iraq, forces which Iraq needs in order to ensure security. The last such effort was the French government's demand to convene an international conference in Egypt to include governments and representatives of what it calls factions of the "Iraqi resistance". We wish to confirm to you that this "resistance" is none other than an alliance of remnants of the ousted regime in Baghdad and non-Iraqi Islamist and extremist terrorist groups affiliated to the Al Qaida organization led by Osama Ben Laden whose Iraq branch is headed by the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, as well as organized crime gangs previously released by Saddam Hussein before his fall.


    The whole petition can be read http://www.petitiononline.com/ocsi/petition.html (scroll down for English translation).

    Link from: Omar at Iraq the Model

    * Some definitions of 'the Middle East' include Afghanistan. This would bring the number of countries whose governments were democratically elected to five - three more than in 2001.

    Petition link for those reading this through text-only e-mail:
    http://www.petitiononline.com/ocsi/petition.html

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