Bayou Calvinist

A Somewhat Eclectic Discussion by a Law Student Concerning All of Today's Major Topics, as well as, a Few Not So Major Topics

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Iraqi Election Hi-lights Inconsistency in Perceptions

I have found it strange that despite the fact that the essential situation in Iraq has changed only in a positive direction, the commentary on the struggle in Iraq has been almost exclusively pessimistic. My own personal opinion is that this is caused by one of three things: 1) the Western World's relatively short term memory and lack of a sense of proportion; and 2) the unwillingness of many to recognize a shift in the paradigm through which they comprehend the modern world (namely US and Military/War = bad); and finally 3) political opportunism (can't beat the President by supporting him...also need the votes of those whose views on Iraq are shaped by 1 and 2). The following article by Duncan Currie does a much better job of pointing out these inconsistent opinions (that is opinions inconsistent with the realities in Iraq):

Bush's New Arab World
The president's Mideast-democracy project is faring better than you might think.

by Duncan Currie
12/15/2005 12:00:00 AM

REMEMBER THE "Arab Spring"? That ephemeral blip of, oh, six or seven weeks last February and March when scattered Bush critics second-guessed their opposition to the Iraq war and the president's Mideast-democracy project? Given that most Americans now deem the war a mistake, it's easy to forget that, only 9 months ago, conservatives and liberals alike were hailing George W. Bush as the 400-pound gorilla of a nascent transformation in Arab politics.

Those were heady days for the administration. During the infant stages of Beirut's "Cedar Revolution," Lebanese Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt--hardly a pro-American stooge--remarked that the January 30th Iraqi elections had torn down a "Berlin Wall" of autarkic sclerosis and midwifed "a new Arab world." Spurred by the killing of their popular prime minister, thousands of Lebanese took to the streets in an astounding spectacle. The stock character in Jumblatt's "new Arab world" was a youthful demonstrator baying for responsive governance. Lebanon's Assad-backed puppet soon resigned, and Syria's occupying troops began packing their bags. Meanwhile, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's president-for-life, sanctioned multi-party elections, Iraqi crowds gathered to denounce terrorism, and notable swathes of Palestinians rebuked the Arafat-linked kleptocrats running their affairs.

Amidst the progress in Iraq, the spate of 1989-style "people power" protests, and Mubarak's unprecedented call for a free vote, many American liberals--along with a host of their counterparts in Canada and Western Europe--found themselves wondering if the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent push for Iraqi democracy might have been worth the trouble after all. One by one, like falling

dominoes, a veritable "Who's Who" of Bush bashers stepped forward to request a sizable helping of crow.

Toronto Star columnist Richard Gwyn went first. "It is time to set down in type the most difficult sentence in the English language," Gwyn wrote after watching Iraqis trek to the polls. "That sentence is short and simple. It is this: Bush was right." Well then. The New York Times editorial page gave Bush his due--the administration could "claim a healthy share of the credit" for having "boldly proclaimed the cause of Middle East democracy at a time when few in the West thought it had any realistic chance." Not to be outdone was Comedy Central's philosopher-comic, Jon Stewart. "What if Bush . . . has been right about this all along?" he asked on his Daily Show. "I feel like my worldview will not sustain itself and I may . . . implode." One day, Stewart joked, "my kid's gonna go to a high school named after [Bush]."

Across the pond, Claus Christian Malzahn wrote a remarkable cover story for Germany's Der Spiegel. "Germany loves to criticize U.S. President George W. Bush's Middle East policies--just like Germany loved to criticize former president Ronald Reagan," Malzahn wrote. "But Reagan, when he demanded that Mikhail Gorbachev remove the Berlin Wall, turned out to be right. Could history repeat itself?" Nor were French and British leftists immune to the contagion. "The merit of George Bush is to have held firm to his discourse from the day after 9/11," acknowledged an editorial in Le Monde. "He developed the idea that the Muslim peoples have the right to freedom, to democracy, to prosperity." London's Independent captured the baffled sentiments of many Europeans with its front-page headline, "Was Bush Right After All?"

GOOD QUESTION. Here's another: What exactly has changed since then? The Iraqi political process continues apace. For those keen on "timetables," America has yet to miss a single deadline in managing Iraq's post-Saddam transition. The Sunni Arabs, who now realize how foolish their election boycott proved last winter, turned out in droves to vote in the October 15th constitutional referendum (albeit, in most cases, to cast a "no" ballot) and are expected to vote in even greater numbers in this week's parliamentary poll. After a recent visit to Iraq, Sen. Joe Lieberman wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he "was thrilled to see a vigorous political campaign, and a large number of independent television stations and newspapers covering it."

Elsewhere in the Mideast, Egypt held its first multi-candidate presidential election this past September, which, though tainted by the ruling party's shenanigans, nevertheless marked a watershed. "The country's old authoritarian system has broken apart," reported Washington Post columnist David Ignatius from Cairo. Absent the Bush administration's "nagging," opined the Economist, "Mr. Mubarak would never have considered for a second that he should let himself be challenged at the polls for the top job. However clumsy in its promotion and debatable its motives, America's campaign for democracy in the Middle East is making progress."

Indeed, we've also had parliamentary elections in Lebanon, baby steps toward reform in Saudi Arabia, amplified pressure on Syria, and liberal sproutings in Morocco, Palestine, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar. On the hearts-and-minds front, a July 2005 survey by

the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that "large and growing majorities" of Moroccans (83 percent), Jordanians (80 percent), and Lebanese (83 percent) "say democracy can work well and is not just for the West." Meanwhile, more than 200,000 irate Jordanians responded to last month's Amman hotel bombings by pouring into the streets to protest. Chants of "Burn in hell, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!" and "Death to al Qaeda!" could reportedly be heard.

Admittedly, the progress has at times been uneven. For example, Egypt's recent parliamentary elections were marred by bloody clashes between voters and riot police, which resulted in several deaths. This smacked of the old order, with Mubarak's goons blocking or attacking polling places in many opposition strongholds. Still, those elections yielded historic results for Egyptian pluralism. (Whether or not the Bush administration will like those results--which included major gains for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood party--is another matter.)

"To venture into the Arab world," observes Johns Hopkins professor Fouad Ajami, "is to travel into Bush Country." Ajami--who earlier this year spent several weeks in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, and Iraq--reports encountering "people from practically all Arab lands" engaged in "a great debate about the possibility of freedom and liberty." He also "met Syrians in the know who admitted that the fear of American power, and the example of American forces flushing Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, now drive Syrian policy. They hang on George Bush's words in Damascus, I was told: the rulers wondering if Iraq was a crystal ball in which they could glimpse their future."

So what explains all the pessimism stateside? It could be that many Americans expected ballots, purple fingers, and Muslim people power to summarily quell the Iraqi insurgency. If so, they were disappointed. Car explosions, suicide bombers, mortar blasts, and kidnappings remain a pervasive reality in the Sunni Triangle. And more than 2,000 U.S. servicemen have now made the ultimate sacrifice. That this number is comparatively low by the standards of prior American wars offers no comfort to families who've lost a relative or friend.

But what if U.S. intervention did create "a new Arab world," as Walid Jumblatt claimed? What if it did vanquish the Middle Eastern "Berlin Wall"? And what if it saved untold Americans--and Arabs--from far deadlier wars in the future? While we mourn each and every U.S. casualty, we must never lose sight of what the American military has accomplished. Despite all the setbacks, Iraq's budding democracy continues to move ahead. So does the training of Iraq's fledgling security forces, a prerequisite for any significant withdrawal of U.S. troops.

As for the Bush Doctrine's loftier goal--to reform Arab politics and drain the swamp from which Islamic terrorism draws its chief ideological firepower--that no longer seems a fool's errand. Even the most determined naysayer must acknowledge what American policy--coupled with felicitous circumstances--has wrought. George W. Bush deposed Saddam to remove a dangerous tyranny and promote U.S. interests in a vital region. He may wind up creating the first Arab democracy and changing the political culture of the Middle East--which would deal a severe blow to the forces of militant Islam.

But Bush's is a rearview-mirror presidency: We won't know the final verdict on his radical foreign policy until farther down the road--not for years, perhaps not even for decades. Of course, the preliminary vindication or repudiation of the Bush Doctrine hinges on Iraq. As Joshua Muravchik has argued in Commentary, losing Iraq to the jihadists and Saddamists today would be far more disastrous than losing South Vietnam to the Communists was in 1975. "Vietnam was always a distant corner of the cold war, whose epicenter lay in Berlin," Muravchik writes. "But Iraq is right in the heart of the Arab world, and it is now the central front of World War IV. Defeat there would be more akin to a cold-war defeat in Germany than in Indochina."


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