great changes, greater risk

One of the central conceits of the neocon architects who drove the war on Iraq was their "domino effect" theory, which suggested that a wave of democratic revolution would sweep the region after our successful toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime.

As I've argued before, where I differ with the neocons is not in the goal of bringing democracy to the Middle East per se, but rather in how the democracy is achieved. Using the American Revolution as a starting point and looking at the high fidelity of the gradual awakening in Iran, I consider democracy to only be truly achieved when it springs from within - a manifestation of the desires and hopes of the people themselves. That is the essence of democracy - something that finds its voice within the grassroots, not some elegant structure to be imposed upon a society from a higher caste.

And of course the definition of Democracy is "the will of the people" - not moderated by political and strategic interests of a "benefactor" nation. The response of the Bush Administration towards Turkey, whose elected legislature refused rights of passage to our troops because of massive opposition by the people of Turkey themselves, was to call Turkey "perfidious" (a word that means deliberate betrayal). The use of the word perfidy itself was a smear, to mask the true nature of the reason that Turkey refused us: honest disagreement.

As we have seen on the domestic politics front, honest disagreement is not something that the Bush Administration tolerates well.

That a massive military invasion of Iraq would indeed empower the dissidents within the Arab world who have been striving for decades to bring freedom to their people, was obvious. But given that the oppression in the Arab world is a direct outgrowth of our own support for dictatorial and autocratic regimes in the first place, it's reasonable for teh Arabs themselves to (putting it mildly) mistrust our motives.

The entire approach to foreign policy by the Bush Administration can indeed be characterized by the Administration's glowing narrative about the need for American security after 9-11, the global fight against terrorism, and the desire to bring freedom to the oppressed. However that isn't the only narrative that fits the facts and the policies - another might well read: 9-11 gave America an excuse to aggressively pursue regional hegemony in the Middle East.

But the fact that there are two narratives doesn't mean that one must have primacy over the other - there are actually elements of truth to both. And in fact there are indeed signs that there are positive effects on the atmosphere of political opposition to the various regimes:

Although some skeptics questioned the depth of the reform possible, there was general agreement that the invasion had created the biggest political opening in the Arab world in decades. Among the changes underway:

� Syrian opposition figures are publishing two newspapers that criticize the regime of President Bashar Assad. Similar attempts in the past have resulted in jail terms.

� Lebanese are forming a Christian-Muslim political alliance whose goal is to expel Syrian military and political influence. Syria controls political activity in Lebanon, thanks to the 15,000 troops that it maintains as part of a deal to ensure stability in its next-door neighbor. Past opposition efforts have been punished with mass arrests.

� Some Egyptian groups recently came together to protest the succession of President Hosni Mubarak's son as the country's next president � long a forbidden topic.

� Saudi Arabian reformers are criticizing the royal family in newspapers and on Arab-language television channels such as Al Jazeera. Past attempts have resulted in arrests, the suspension of travel privileges and jail sentences.

Despite the burst of activity, nobody is predicting any immediate political shift in the Arab world where opposition movements have flourished periodically, only to be crushed.

Rather, there is hope of small, gradual changes to allow such basic rights as freedom of speech or assembly.

"This is a historical moment. Nobody knows how it is going to go. You have to be prudent," said Mohammed Mattar, a lawyer in Lebanon who is part of the effort to form a Christian-Muslim political alliance.

These are wonderful developments - and Bush deserves credit for helping to bring them about. But there is no sign that these nascent signs of freedom will be treated with any more respect than the Turks received once it suceeds - something that the Arabs themselves are very much aware of:

At the same time, most opposition leaders said the push for democracy in Iraq had also complicated their efforts. In a region where the U.S. is deeply distrusted, dissidents must now struggle for democratic changes without appearing to be allies of an enemy.

They expressed strong doubts about U.S. motives in the region, noting that the U.S. has long backed repressive regimes in countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even tacitly Syria, which the State Department designates a state sponsor of terrorism.

"We are going our own way. We are not against the American agenda, but nobody here trusts American policy," said Essam Erian, a member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, one of the oldest Islamic fundamentalist movements. "We are struggling for our democracy, not American democracy."

the bottom line is that we are enmeshed in Iraq. Any candidate for President who advocates withdrawal must not be elected (and if the Democratic nominee turns out to be Kucinich, I'd have to vote Bush on that rationale alone). The experiment - performed so rashly, impulsively, and disingeniously, putting us at so much risk - must now succeed.

But to do this, we have to have support from the comunity of nations. We need more troops. We need to avoid bleeding our reserves and overworking our volunteers. We cannot have a draft.

The bottom line is that Bush is incapable of rallying the world to this cause. As long as Bush is in office, the Iraq Experiment will continue to be bogged down, by simple lack of boots on the ground, and by simple lkack of experience with nation building.

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