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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.
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