Democracy promotion in the Middle East: Good idea, wrong place and time

By BARRY RUBIN Jpost.com
Democracy is a great idea; open elections are ideally the best way to choose governments; dialogue with everyone is wonderful in theory. But in the Middle East, unfortunately, as a policy this would be a disaster.

It is not Western policy but local conditions which are going to determine whether there will be democracy in the Arabic-speaking world. In my book, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), I analyze both the debate and the existing groups. The assessment must be pessimistic.

Would we like to see liberal democracy and moderation prevail with rising living standards and more freedom? Of course, but the real question is what effect certain policies would have.

The Western debate gets stranger and stranger. Among the policymaking classes, there’s a prevailing view that the Bush administration was a disaster. The rather misleading description for those who advocated a US policy of promoting democracy and overthrowing dictators – “neo-conservative” – has become among such people a curse word implying stupid and evil.

WHATEVER BECAME of good old-fashioned realism, the breakfast of champions in diplomacy for centuries? Realism, a term that has been hijacked lately far more than Islam, means to base a policy on the actually existing situation rather than one’s wish-list, building alliances on the basis of common interests. It does not mean embracing your worst enemies while kicking those with common interests in the groin. Nor does it mean acting like the nerdy kid groveling in the hope that it will make the popular guys like him. And it also doesn’t mean ignoring adversaries’ ideologies and goals.

Is it really so hard to understand that US policy should be based on working closely with Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Iraq, Lebanon (moderates, not Iranian-Syrian agents), Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf emirates? Is it really so hard to understand that US policy should also be based on combating Iran, Syria, Sudan, Hizbullah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhoods, as well as al-Qaida?

We saw what happened in Iran after experts predicted in 1978 that anything would be better than the shah and that moderates would inevitably prevail.

We saw what happened with the Palestinian elections, for while Fatah was no prize, Hamas is far worse and eager for bloodshed. We are about to see what will happen with Lebanese elections which are nominally democratic but influenced by Iranian-Syrian money and intimidation, as a government emerges likely to lead Lebanon into the Iranian bloc.

In Turkey, the several-times-elected AK regime, although still presented internationally as a model moderate Muslim government, is engaged in systematically Islamizing institutions and taking the country down a road leading closer to Teheran than to Washington.

I DO NOT LIKE saying this because I know many courageous liberal dissidents and would like them to win. US and Western policy should always press for their rights, against their imprisonment.

But why should the United States pursue a policy that we have every reason to believe will be catastrophic: namely, pushing for a situation in which radical Islamists are more likely to take over.

Examples have been given of people who might be expected to be liberal preferring to back Islamist parties. But Egypt is virtually the only place this seems to be happening. Elsewhere, people who might be expected to be liberal are supporting the existing regimes out of fear of Islamists. I think that Egypt is a misleading case for that reason. And in Egypt, the leading “liberal” group has now been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood and spouts a very radical anti-American line.

Do we really want to contribute to subverting the Egyptian regime, with all its faults, and making the Brotherhood more powerful? The reaction is arrogance on the part of the radicals and despair among the moderates. The liberals conclude, you hear this all the time in Turkey, that America wants the Islamists to win.

I don’t prefer this situation. I don’t like it. But in a world where Islamists seek to overthrow nationalists, in which an Iranian-Syrian led alliance is trying to gain hegemony in much of the region, I feel that Western policy needs to back the regimes against the revolutionaries.

There are some ethnic or religious communities which have an interest in supporting a moderate democratic approach. At present, this includes Iraqi Kurds and Shi’ites; Lebanese Sunni Arabs, Christians and Druse; and the Berbers of the Maghreb. These are, however, special cases.

There are also very systematic campaigns to fool well-intentioned, gullible Westerners. These are often carried out by having moderate statements in English directed to a foreign audience and revolutionary extremist ones in Arabic directed at one’s own society. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has created a very nicely done English-language Web site that would make it seem the organization is something between the Democratic Party and the March of Dimes.

If the West engages with Hamas, Hizbullah and the Muslim Brotherhoods, while working to create a situation in which these groups can compete for power more effectively, the results will be disastrous both for the West and for the Arabs who become victims of the resulting Islamist regimes. No argument, no matter how sincerely heartfelt or superficially clever, alters that fact. That is a tragedy, but in policy terms it is also a necessity to deal with the reality of Middle East polities and societies.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center at IDC Herzliya and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal.

Yes, sometimes the Head Heretic gets a bit hot under the collar

(I wrote this shortly after the surge began last year. It has been slightly edited due to the fact that I am not quite as pissed off now.)

O.k. I am getting very upset at the hard-core Liberals now. I have to admit it was getting to be a bit boring being angry at the neo-cons while simply being contemptuous of the spineless liberals. But this is too much people.

Let me be clear as to what I mean by hard-core Liberal. To be liberal in almost anything is not usually bad. Just about all social progress since the beginning of man has sprung from the liberal side of our hearts.

But that does not mean that to be conservative is bad either. It is the conservatives of history who held things together and usually saw the worst threats to their societys first. Of course they made up quite a few threats as well, but that’s for another article.

By Liberal I mean someone who runs everything through a political sieve that is not particularly “liberal” but conforms to an unrealistic “ideal” against which the real world OF THE OPPONENTS must be tested. Their own inconsistencies are never examined. but because they are supposed to be in support of the underdog and have warm-fuzzy hearts we are just supposed to assume their motives are pure and their menas the best.

Take Bi-lingual education. It just is not nearly as effective in getting a person through the transition to a new language as immersion. In fact it is shown in study after study that children that are bilingually educated have a much harder time becoming fully fluent in the new language.

Now if the Liberals want to champion the little guy while making sure his kids can’t do more than clean their pools I guess they picked a good tactic. On the other hand if they want the kids of non-English speaking parents to assimilate and have the best opportunities they should put them in an immersion class for one year then mainstream them. Children are so plastic in their language even just mainstreaming them is highly effective.

Within a couple weeks they acquire a basic working use of the language and in a year they are fluent. Which method is more “compassionate”?

Now on to why I am so angry.

I think everyone would like to see Iraq concluded as soon as possible, with the possible exception of Haliburton. But if we learned anything from Vietnam is has to be that to cut and run instead of winning is a crime against both the people of that nation as well as our own. To simper away like cowards is to betray every promise of what America is about. We messed in that place now WE MUST FIX IT! That means we MUST STABILIZE IT BY WHATEVER MEANS POSSIBLE. In other words, we have to WIN.

I have watched and said nothing for far too long about the Left of the left and their garbage because of the clear and present excesses of the Right. But no more.

You had no problem yelling and whining about too few troops in the beginning, and you were right, THEN.

This is Vietnam all over again alright; a bunch of clueless cowards sabotaging any effort to win while demanding a quick resolution!

You know what I have learned in my 43 years of watching the circus we call politics? The worst things that people like that fat ass Limbaugh have said about liberals is TRUE…about the HARD Left.

Of course it is equally true that the just as fat opportunististic Michael Moore is right about the hard-core Neo-cons.

but neither is right about the whole “opposing” philosophies being evil. They are not even natural opposites, just different aspects of how we look at things.

It is obvious to anyone with half a mind that more troops would be a good thing toward making things secure. How do you tell your son in uniform that he is safer as we withdraw in humiliation before an arrogant bunch of fanatics with fewer and fewer people behind him.

The sooner we can get to a point where we can gracefully depart the better. ANY other resolution would be a national disaster for us and THEM you bleeding hearts! Think about that! If you are so freaking worried about Iraqis you should be asking for MORE troops! We still should be trying to hang everyone in the particular chain of command of things like Abu Graib (right up to the VPres. Mr. Cheney) but you need to stop being hypocrites and support a RESOLUTION to the war that is good for everyone, not just a hook you can use to gouge the opposition in the next election.

O.k. it is a civil war, so we put it down!!!!! If you actually look at sources on all sides you will see that depending on where you look people hate us or are hopeful that we might actually get off our butts and keep them safe.

Last year there was a demonstration in the streets of Baghdad with over ten thousand people. Guess what they were protesting. The violence, the killing OF IRAQIS BY FACTIONALISTS!!!! The majority of Iraqis want things to stop blowing up, little more.

We need to act decisively against military targets and PROTECT THE PEOPLE and win the war. For criminy’s sake it is a flippin’ desert, how hard would it be to secure the borders (the killer problem with Vietnam militarily) with MORE TROOPS?

The hard Left whined and moaned about inadequate armor and troops in the beginning, now the Hard Lefties want Your sons and daughters to die, well equipped but too few to survive so they can reap the political fallout here!

When are the moderates of both sides going to stop letting evil minds and hearts control their thoughts? When are the military people going to stop playing the politics game and tell everyone what they need and how they need to use it. The government should put limits on what they can do, THEN GET OUT OF THEIR WAY!

Things like Abu Graib and Guantanamo didn’t come from a professional soldier’s mind I guarantee that! They came from an evil, political worm. And those worms eat the apple from both sides! And we and the Iraqis’ keep bleeding!

Update: the Surge has worked and things are much more stable.

Let start this blog off with a Bang!

Bomb, Iraqi currency lure FBI into stolen-car case

The FBI is now involved in the theft of a car after it was found in Los Lunas with an explosive device and Iraqi currency inside
FBI agents say that they have ruled out terrorism
The car was reported stolen last week. After the theft, the car’s owner was fueling his motorcycle when he spotted his stolen car. …

When police arrived, they found the explosive device and less than $1,000 worth of Iraqi cash.
“We don’t know what their intentions were,” said Nuanes. “We don’t know what they were planning on doing with any of this.”
>>HH here; now I don’t know about you but I think the FBI agent who made this stunningly stupid assesment should certainly be reasigned to stopping the interestate smuggling of bubble gum and other projects worthy of his intelect.< <