Monday, February 28, 2005
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Two steps forward, one step back in the Middle East
In the past 72 hours, there have been a number of developments in the Middle East -- suicide bombings in Iraq, Egyptian announcements about political reform, Lebanese people power bringing down the government, half-brothers being captured, reformist cabinets being named.
I was going to post something about how in the political change in the Middle East used to follow a one step forward, two steps back mentality, but as of late the trend has been more of a two steps forward, one step back nature of -- but Greg Djerejian and David Brooks beat me to it, so go check them out.
The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe happened after reformists first attained power through elections in Poland and Hungary. It happened rapidly, with no one comprehending the speed with which the old, corrupt edifices of power crumbled. Could the example of elections in one Muslim country in the Middle East have a similar ripple effect?
[You forget the backward steps--ed. True, true, I'm probably engaging in the error of analogy. Still it's interesting that such an analogy is even conceivable now.]posted by Dan on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM
People need to remember how suddenly the events in 1989 unfolded. Solidarity was legalized and the Polish government set up elections that were to be held in June of 1989 that were guaranteed to leave the Communists in power. Solidarity was criticized for accepting this compromise. However, the Communists were so thoroughly routed in the elections that some of the minor parties that were part of the PZPR umbrella left. In August, Tadeusz Mazowiecki became prime minister. Events just kept accelerating. East Germans were flocking to to embassies, Czechoslovakia, anywhere, just to get out. On November 3, the wall came down. By the end of the year, all the Soviet satellite countries had broken free, the final shots of the year fired into the Ceausescus on Christmas.
This was not a scenario that anyone would have dreamt of on June 3, the day before the Polish elections.posted by: Martin on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
Yep, I was astonished at how quickly the Soviet bloc fell apart. With Gorby running around trying to stanch the bleeding, I read a quote to the effect that "revolutions, once started, seldom stop half way".
Has a democratic revolution began in the ME? Perhaps the acid test will involve an old-style autocrat losing an election, and accepting the results - or being forced bloodlessly to do so by people-power. That was the remarkable thing about the Polish elections.
Now, I don't want to blow my horn as some sort of soothsayer, but I also remember telling a social sciences teacher in high school, in 1980, that the initial Solidarity uprisings were the beginning of the end of Soviet communism. He thought I was nuts.
BTW, June 3, 1989 was a really big day in history. The Polish elections, Khomeini's death, and the Tiananman Square massacre all occured on the same day. I remember at the time listening to the news in the car and thinking "this is one of those big moments in history we usually only recognize in hindsight."posted by: Bary P. on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
I think the 1989 analogy is a false one. The old Soviet bloc was a centralized authoritarian system where ultimate power rested in the Kremlin. The satellite regimes depended heavily on the Soviets to prop them up. It mattered hugely that Gorbachev was pushing his own political reforms and that he abandoned the Brezhnev Doctrine and didn't use military force to crush the democratic revolutions.
In the ME the various authoritarian regimes are much more self-sufficient and there is no scope for a single reformist like Gorbachev to tranform the situation. My guess is that the larger regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia will make cosmetic changes to keep the US happy but not make fundamental progress towards genuine multi-party democracy.
It's also important to note that ending authoritarian systems isn't the same as building democracies. In the case of Eastern Europe there were strong cultural,historical and geographical forces as well has the huge influence of the EU which pushed them towards becoming more like Western Europe . The farther you go from the EU the less successuly the post-Communist regimes have been. I suspect that the fall of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East won't bring genuine democracy any more than the fall of Communism brought genuine democracy to ,say, Central Asia.
I think the step backward in this case is that we might end up with an Iraqi government that is less of an ally than we might hope, that is less secular than we might hope. And it will take some time to get over that, but the fundamental fact that these people are standing up for their freedom says something.posted by: Brian on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
Lets look ahead 10 years'ish after the events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, potentially Syria and eventually Egypt & Saudi. All moving towards democracy. Then remember that the EU is a slow or no growth economy. Throw in the fact that almost all growth in the EU comes from immigration - from where? The very states where we are dramatically improving the standard of life through affecting their political systems. I conclusively agree with the recent CIA report suggesting that the EU will have serious problems 10-15 years from now. Falling demographics, no growth economics, aging population, emigrating professionals. Big Trouble. For the US and the middle east however, the future is very bright. Our duty to forward this along is to continue to stand with the very brave people in the middle east fighting for their freedoms now, to encourage reforms and democratization by throwing our diplomatic weight around and selective use of the threat of force, so as to eliminate their sources of unrest. All of which would be totally impossible without the foresight and wisdom of President Bush, who will join Reagan, Roosevelt, Wilson, Lincoln and Washington as one of the great presidents, and the strength, bravery and dedication of our fabulous men and women in the armed forces. Join me at americansforfreedom.blogspot.composted by: jp on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
Can we ever stop using analogies as a substitute for reasoning through the specific histories and details at hand?
The differences between Eastern Europe and the largely Arabic-speaking region stretching from the Mediterranean to Pakistan are so numerous and obvious that it's not worth the time to list them.posted by: Ozoid on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
By my calculations, we are still losing soldiers in Iraq at the same rate as before the election which was supposed to lend legitimacy to the occupation. That is the only statistic that matters. Americans were not sold the war in which 1500 of our troops have died in order that Egypt can hold elections. Nor, even if these elections are free, does that mean the US will be secure. After all, a large percentage of Islamic terrorists seem to come from Britain and France, places with elections.
A year from now Iraq will still be a bloody mess, elections in Egypt will not have changed material conditions in the country, and (if the Syrians leave Lebanon) we will see a return to ethnic conflict in that country. I'll put some US dollars behind those statements, (of course, they'll be worth a lot less by then.)posted by: stari_momak on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
Kudos to Bush on pressuring Mubarak. IMO, this is the democracy building project we should have started after Afghanistan. We give Egypt $2 billion a year in aid. There's no reason why Clinton/Bush couldn't use this as leverage to get Mubarak to hold real elections.posted by: Carl on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
The Berlin Wall opened on November 9. As long as we're gettin all world-historical an everything, we might as well aim for accuracy, too. This is a reality-based blog, right?posted by: Doug on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
East Europe is vastly different from the ME. There we had a largely pro-American populace held in thrall by regimes collaborating with Communist Russia. We had several instances of the pro-Soviet regimes putting down uprisings brutally (East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956). Historically, most of those peoples and governments had been torn between Germany and Russia and would welcome the US as a counterweight.
History, geopolitics, religion, patriotism all worked for us. Furthermore, in most East European countries, ethnic separations were not serious enough to lead to problems (the one exception is Yugoslavia, and we all know what happened there). Many had some experience with democracy before.
In the ME, we have largely pro-American despotisms . Religion, patriotism etc. works against us. We have a huge destablizer in the Palestinian issue and another one in the Iraqi insurgency (also Chechnya and Kashmir). Except Lebanon and possibly Tunisia, the ME has little experience with democracy. Ethnic strife and divisions run amok. Furthermore, there isn't one enemy here -- Soviet Communism and its satellite dictators, but many of different types.
Now I believe Lebanon may truly have slippped out of syria's grasp. And lets give Bush credit where it's due -- the invasion of Iraq has undoubtedly put enough pressure on Syria to not even think of doing another Hama. But this doesn't mean the newer government is likely to be pro-American -- JUmblatt was saying just a year back that he thought Wolfowitz should have been assassinated in Iraq, and Hezbollah remains powerful in Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia -- to call its moves baby steps is to insult a baby. Egypt --- very preliminary baby steps at this point. Both countries have a way to to go apporach Iran's level of democracy, let alone that of Turkey. One prime complaint against Egypt and Saudi Arabia is that they allow anti-Israeli propoganda in the mosques -- how would a democracy stop that [and will Mubarak let the Muslim Brotherhood run ?]posted by: erg on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
Someone must have been seeing Pollyanna. Even under the most optimistic scenarios, it would take decades for the Middle East to attain economic and political freedoms comparable to West Europe. Furthermore, the flip side of not having a declining population is that the Middle East will have a rising population of angry young men. Much of the Middle East doesn't have oil. Egypt has no oil to speak of, for instance. Egypt and other such countries cannot possibly compete in manufacturing with China, or in services with India. One big source of revenue for these countries is expat workers in the Gulf countries, but that would probably stop as those countries saw their own populations increase. Some of the small Gulf countries have build alternatives around trading and financial markets, but they can support only a few people and were fueled by oil money.
The situation could become much worse for the ME i the US and other Western countries do develop alternative energy resources.
For West Europe, the real challenge is going to be to integrate a large, increasingly alienated MUslim immigrant population.
And the real grown spots in the world are likely to be China and India. That will probably be the main story of this century.posted by: erg on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
I would not count the suicide bombing in Iraq as a step backward. Horrible as it is, those are pretty common.
Egypt -- one doesn't know what Mubarak is going to allow at all. It looks like a step forward, but this could be another Musharaff style stunt (and Pakistan is much more democratic than Egypt).
Saudi Arabia -- nothing really yet to see there.
Lebanon -- looks like solid progreess.
On the other hand, I remember the last genuine peoples revolution in the Middle East. People took to the streets in millions, throwing down a hated dictator. Then they democratically selected a new constitution. This was in Iran.posted by: Malik on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
When it comes to the middle east, anything that isnt definately bad news is a good thing.posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
I do not know much about the Mid East, but in an area I do know something about, Latin America you often see roughly 20-30 year swings from relatively democratic to relatively dictatorial governments. I would think the Mid East would be more like Latin America then Eastern Europe.
Id just like to say that one unintended consequence of all this historic activity is how it is affecting the political and idiological dialog in the West, particularly America. How people actually feel about the sausage making known as Democracy is being discussed on a level rarely seen before. Instead of the surface level empty rhetoric we see how the different idiologies address the actual practice, imperfect as it is. And the result is certainly not what an intuitive look at conservatives and progressives would dictate. Personally I agree with Clint Eastwood, if you go far enough right and far enough left you bump into the same people (he called them idiots which i happen to also agree with). The amount of skepticism and outright hostility to democracy being shown by right and left is nothing short of disturbing to me. But at least its out in the open and on the record.posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
'By my calculations, we are still losing soldiers in Iraq at the same rate as before the election which was supposed to lend legitimacy to the occupation. That is the only statistic that matters. Americans were not sold the war in which 1500 of our troops have died in order that Egypt can hold elections. '
Your statistics seem flawed:
"As of Monday [21 February], the 28 coalition forces killed from hostile fire or roadside bombs in February represented the lowest fatality rate since last March, according to iCasualties.org. The daily average of 1.33 soldiers killed in hostile actions after the election compares to 2.42 during the previous 10 months, based on Philadelphia Inquirer calculations."
Have you been following this story on Instapundit? Glenn has posted some rather striking pictures from those Lebanese protests.
Why can't our protestors look like that? These women are Salma Hayek caliber! Any comments, Dan?posted by: Xavier on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
I'd be glad if people pulled back from making analogies for a while. Analogies -- to Latin America, to Eastern Europe, to the Chinese Era of Warring States -- are useful chiefly as debating points in our arguments amongst ourselves. We can't expect them to mean as much to Arabs, or to other people either for that matter.
It would be unfortunate if Western and especially American reaction to encouraging events in Arab countries was limited to a round of self-congratulation. I'm glad and slightly amazed that Arabs on the West Bank and in Lebanon have gotten as far as talking about elections and not settling every dispute through violence, but democracy is more than that. A lot of things can still go wrong; there are many people in the various Arab countries who could try to use democratic means for profoundly undemocratic (and from our perspective unhelpful) ends.
The United States shouldn't assume so early that a liberalizing trend is irreversible. We should be clear about the kinds of institutions and procedures we think Arab countries will need to establish to sustain democracy, and be clear as well about the things we think are important and those which are less so.posted by: Zathras on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
I agree with Zathras, absolutely. These are just a small steps on a long road. Its time to put aside the premature "i told you so's" and keep the nose to the grindstone. One important lesson to draw is that rhetoric from the West _is_ important. Its time for us to close ranks as much as possible and send a united message on the one thing most of us agree on, we support the people of the Middle East and we support democracy. That may well be the most potent tool we have at our disposal. Lets keep our eye on the ball.posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
About the casualty situation here is Iraq Coalition Casualty Count:
Your claim of engaging in the error of analogy is very appropriate. However, at least you're not alone; for several weeks I've seen a great number of American commentators draw parallels between the rejection of communism in Eastern Europe and the current situation in the Middle East. Indeed, several of these hacks are falling victim to an indulgence in their own hyperbole by claiming that there exists a "Berlin Wall" in the Middle East and that it's crumbling fast.
The reality, however, is quite different. Communism was sustained in Eastern Europe solely through the intervention and support of the Soviet Union and her governing mechanisms: Eastern European communist countries were essentially maintained through outside control, primarily coming direct from Moscow. The Middle East is quite different in that regimes are sustained through internal, domestic, control and a limited degree of cooperation between states. There is absolutely nothing to guarantee that a nascent democracy in Iraq will have any effect on other states in the region apart from galvanising the will of the ruling parties against yielding to democracy.
The other major difference is the manner in which labour unions and workers' parties helped to spread the seeds of revolution in Eastern Europe. To the best of my knowledge, no such apparatus exists in *any* Middle Eastern country that can both foment revolution and keep it in check when the ruling structures collapse.posted by: davidoff404 on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
Well, that is not the only major difference. Another is Islam.
A good debate could be had on the subject of compatibility between the Islam practiced in the Arab countries and democracy. I don't mean to start that debate here; though I've written before about my skepticism on this point, some recent developments could certainly be called a challenge to that skepticism. Be that as it may, I think it would be hard to argue, based on the region's history, that Islam is helpful to the development of democracy in the Arab countries. It may not be a bar to it, but is at best a complicating factor.posted by: Zathras on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
"There is absolutely nothing to guarantee that a nascent democracy in Iraq will have any effect on other states in the region apart from galvanising the will of the ruling parties against yielding to democracy. "
There is nothing to guarantee it. But it has happened. I was just reading something interesting somewhere about a Chinese philosophers warning about trying to understand events purely by a chain of causality. It is impossible and making predictions this way is equally impossible. Context is required, and the bottom line is there are fundamental forces at work in the Middle East that required a massive event such as the Iraqi elections to be unleashed.
As to your notes on unions and the Soviet influence, be careful to heed your own warning on analogies. An analogy is useful until it stops being useful. In 1992 there was nothing in the history of unions, for instance, to lead us to believe they would be a powerful force in democratic revolution. Draw point by point comparisons at your peril. There is only one constant that is important here and that is the fundamental human desire for self-determination. Betting against it never won anybody anything.
posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
That is simply incorrect. We had the example of Solidarity dating back over a decade. Similarly, union movements had been quite significant and relevant in independence for many former colonies. Agrarian unions have been huge factors for reform in several countries as well.
But unions aren't really unique. What is needed is grass-roots organizations. Democracies are built from the ground up, not the top down.
Final point: the path to democracy is often agonizingly slow and often has reversals as well. Lebanon had a democracy, then went backwards. Iran had some reasonable elections in 1997, then went backwards. Pakistan has been flirting with democracy for 50 odd years without even closing the deal completely. Turkey is a little better than Pakistan, but even there the military maintains control -- plus there is the impact of the secular Aaataurk.
posted by: Josh on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
I don't know what the Philadelphia enquirer was smoking, but seems they got it wrong, or the insurgency kicked it up a notch at the end of the month. Compared with January, minus the 37 killed in the C-130 crash (outlyer events are usually discounted in stat analysis) the rate is just about even. However, this is bad news no matter what. Great, lets say Bush was right, the middle east is going democratic, i was wrong, and get our troops out of there. After all, the events of Eastern Europe didn't require US troops, (except for my favorite place, Bosnia, but that was a situation of too much democracy), so let's skeedaddle.posted by: stari_momak on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
I agree with Zathras, absolutely. These are just a small steps on a long road. Its time to put aside the premature "i told you so's" and keep the nose to the grindstone. One important lesson to draw is that rhetoric from the West _is_ important. Its time for us to close ranks as much as possible and send a united message on the one thing most of us agree on, we support the people of the Middle East and we support democracy. That may well be the most potent tool we have at our disposal. Lets keep our eye on the ball.
One very big question for which I've yet to hear a solid response is this -- what if new Middle Eastern democracies turn out to be anti-American ? Its certainly plausible that free elections in Egypt and Jordan (let alone Saudi Arabia) will lead to a far more anti-American government.
I'm also a little skeptical of this commitment to democracy on the part of US interventionists, when they were so quick to denounce European or other publics that opposed the war in Iraq (and in some cases, governments went along with us in opposition to the will of their people). If democracies tend to be ambivalent or even hostile to the US or Israel, will some of the same groups that were loudly praising this so-called march to freedom start calling them cheese-eating surrender monkeys ? Surely, a respect or desire for democracy abroad should include respect for democracies that disagree with you ?
posted by: Susan on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
Americans tend to have an incredibly short attention span. I doubt if many of the people here have paid much attention to Lebanon since the Marines were blown up back in Reagan's day. Since then, Lebanon has become a much more peaceful and prosperous place thanks ironically to the order imposed by the Syrian occupation. What Israel our "ally" did their doesn't much come up anymore.
Everything about what happened in Lebanon, or in the Ukraine or Georgis for that matter, is the total antithesis of the Bush doctrine of military confrontation with oppressive regimes. What it showcased was the tendency of democracy to evolve, its source in grassroots and local organization, the key role played by communication and public expression of speech, and in the end critically when a society is ready to transition to democracy it will do so without widespread violence and using the techniques of non-violence.
Indeed the only role miltiary force can play is to be used to deter military force being used to crush the Democracy.
In short, the events in Lebanon have been quietly brewing without any American assistance for close to two decades and when it catalyzed around the death of a popular leader suddenly the neocon crowd wants to take all of the credit.
Bah humbug I say. What the events in Lebanon show is that democracy is not any different really in the Middle-east than the Ukrain than in Georgia than in Europe. That it cannot come from the barrel of a gun or a culture of violence and it mocks every sentiment that those who favor eliminating unfavorable regimes militarily hold.
We would be far better fostering the social conditions that eventually lead to democracy than attempting to forcefully impose it.
Yet those who are in favor of mindless war will take this not as the rebuke it is but as a confirmation of their own delusions of grandeur.
America with all its might did not win this victory for our me-too-ism and it-was-us-all-along, it was due to the Lebanese which would be obvious to anyone who had sufficient attenton span to realize the gradual incremental changes that have been taking place for a long time there.posted by: oldman on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
I agree with oldman, but would add the Syrians themselves contributed, as their security forces have led to the atmosphere of peace in Lebanon for the last 15 years or so that let the country recover. Long before this 'cedar revolution' there were news stories about how Beirut was back, Lebanon was flourishing, etc. All thanks to Syrian 'peacekeepers'.posted by: stari_momak on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
I cant believe some of the things i am hearing here.posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
The idea of the Syrian Army as an incubator of democracy is certainly a novel one.posted by: Zathras on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
Thats one way of putting it...posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
It is amazing in a way, but the Syrian army did play a largely positive role in Lebanon for a while. Syria played a crucial role in stopping the civil war in Lebanon (doubtless for self-serving reasons, but it was a positive role).
But thats long in the past. There is really no justification for a Syrian presence any more, especially after Israel has withdrawn. I suspect that Syria will probably withdraw to some crucial strategic areas relatively soon and draw down troops a little more. Then its up to the Lebanese to ensure that they don't blow their chance -- again.
It would be interesting to see how the US would react if JUmblatt were to gain power in the election -- after all, this is the guy who essentially called for the assasination of Paul Wolfowitz ...
Unfortunately it's true. That's the problem with relying on belief rather than empirical evidence. Even the army of a foreign tyrant - so long as it kept the peace, allowed prosperity, and made non-violent political cooperation more productive than violence - yes it unwittingly acted as an incubator of democracy.
Mind you the Syrians did not intend this to be so, but ironically democracy does not have to fit into our convenient notions of good guys or bad guys. Democracy flourishes when the political and economic conditions are fostered by an environment of security, gradually and often spontaneously as cultural transitions are made on the order of a generation.
While I'm sure that Bashar and the Syrians had absolutely no intention of doing they, ironically they have provided a genuine example of how to create a democracy rather than the example of the United States.
I should point out that this is not the first time this has happened. The British East India company had no intention of fostering a sovereign democratic India. Nonetheless over approximately four generations it did precisely that even if it was completely inadvertantly.
The problem is that the people who are "shocked" that this is the case are the ones who do not believe their own rhetoric about democracy being a universal right of mankind.
IF it is universal in character, then it goes to reason that given a sufficient level of social evolution then cultures spontaneously transition to democracies given objective conditions.
In other words whether it is us who foster those conditions, or the Syrians, or the British East India corporation, or who is supposed to be the "good guys" or the "bad guys" then it doesn't matter - when it's time for democracy it will come about of its own accord barring military crackdown.
The reverse collary is that just because if we are the "good guys" if we fail to foster the conditions for democracy to develop then we will fail.
This is why it is easy to see that Iraq will if left on its present course fail as a democracy. Any person who has studied failed nations such as Yugoslavia or the history of genuine democratic development around the world will find it easy to see that the conditions are simply not in place.posted by: oldman on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
Believe it Mark, or rather set aside your corny pariochial ideas of what to believe or not and open your eyes to facts and evidence. We grant that Syria never intended it to be so, but that does not matter. Whoever fosters the objective conditions for democracy produces one over time, and whoever fails to do so - even if they are the "good guys" - will fail if they do not foster these conditions.posted by: oldman on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
We've been backing the wrong horses all along. If only the Germans still had the old martial spirit, they were always good at keeping people in line. Too bad we slowed down Hussein back in 91, for that matter. He was well on his way to 'democratizing' the entire region. And to think we wasted all the money on the Marshall Plan when letting the Soviets run wild over Western Europe would have saved us a lot of time and effort.
What a crock of shit.posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
"Believe it Mark, or rather set aside your corny pariochial ideas of what to believe or not and open your eyes to facts and evidence."
Who's the one whos out of touch? Lebanon is a disaster for 30 years, Syria runs the place with the iron boot for 20, and yet ONE MONTH after Iraq has elections the Lebanese are flooding the streets and demanding Syrian withdrawal. Yeh, its all a coincidence. Who's eyes are shut?posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
And for those keeping track we have buzzed right past skepticism of democracy to outright admiration for fascism. How time flies.posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
The resentment against Syrian occupation in Lebanon had been present for quite a while. The death of Hariri, instigated by Syria or elsehwere, helped to light the fire. These were the 2 crucial events, one of which was serendiptious.
On the other hand, the elections in Iraq certainly put pressure on Syria and encouraged Lebanese demonstrators. An even more important factor cited by several Lebanese demonstrators was the Ukraine.
So the reason it happened now was because the key event (the death of Hariri) happened just now. That was totally unrelated to the Iraqi elections, but the elections certainly had an impact on what happened in Lebanon (although they were not the crucial factor).posted by: Janak on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
Assuming the assassination of Hariri was unrelated to what was happening in Iraq, which is a strange assumption. The reason Syria felt threatened by Lebanese opposition might have had something to do with the threat of Iraqi democracy (not to mention American troops). Syria was trying to shore up their left flank. But again, the chain of causality is impossible to diagnose. What we do know is that Syria has killed many Lebanese over the years, but never before has anything remotely like this happened.
People made (and make) the same groundless argument about the Cold War, proposing that the Iron Curtain just happened to spontaneously fall after 50 years immediately following Reagans work. You cant prove it one way or another, but how far do you wish to draw coincidence? The only question you have to ask yourself is whether this could or would have happened 3 years ago, and the answer is no.posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
I'll repeat here what I said on another Djerejian post:
Giving Bush credit for the benefits that followed from those events [Arafat and Hariri's deaths] is just like giving Clinton credit for the tech boom. You have to be petty or partisan to do one but not the other. I prefer to do neither, because frankly, neither makes much sense.posted by: fling93 on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
Syria did always allow a surprising amount of freedom in Lebanon (certainly far more than that in Syria proper). Lebanon had a somewhat free press, a somewhat open culture. I'm not sure why that was so: I suspect it was because Assad Sr. thought that would serve as a useful safety valve.
This is about as sensible as the Bush administration's claiming that Iraq would become a full democracy. The real answer is -- we don't know, and we won't know for a long time. The crucial elections in a country have always been the second elections (note that in Iraq we haven't even reached the first real election stage --- since this election wasn't for a permanent government, but just a government to write the Constitution). There are several hopeful signs, and there are not-so-good signs. But anyone who claims to know the answer is delued.
I for one am most concerned about Egpyt. The country is a demographic time bomb, it has no oil wealth, it has a very virulent streak of anti-Americanism in the populace. Irregardless of whether Mubarak allows partly free elections or a pure sham, these inescapable facts aren't going away.
posted by: erg on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
As you can read for yourself, Lebanon is still not a sure thing. However it is fairly certain that things are evolving and developing there mostly for reasons not related to the USA. In fact many of the pro-democratic factions are bitterly anti-American.
As as Mark's bitter comments reflect the ideology that America is the "lamp of democracy" for the entire world, we are so only when we do so and not just because we are so.
As for erg's comment that we do not know so, we unfortunately do indeed know so. Arguing we do not know so is defending willful ignorance. The present course is not one that will bear the real fruit of democracy in Iraq, any more than it has in Afghanistan albeit for different reasons.
This is not some sort of complicated question. A century has gifted us will all sorts of examples of how genuine democracies develop. While it is conceivable that some new manner will develop, Iraq is already violating many of the basic principles involved in most of the democracies that have developed.
As for the Soviet Union falling, their people had started becoming tired of it for some time. There had been several breakaway attempts such as Poland that needed to be forcibly put down. Then too Afghanistan and the exhaustion it created in Russia was also a key factor.
Was Reagan crucial in forcing the issue at the opportune time to break their will when they were exhausted and weakened? Why yes. He did so. But only because he acted at the opportune moment of social development in historical terms.
If he had been one or two Presidencies previous then in fact it is highly unlikely that he could have prevailed. If we substitute Reagan for Carter or Nixon it is not likely we would have seen the iron curtain fall then.
Unfortunately I am not deluded. On matter of import from the economy, WMD existence, military dispositions, etc. I unfortunately have a track record that has been proven over time. This is not to say that a democracy in Iraq is impossible or unworthy of an attempt, only that the present framework if continued will not result in such.
Contrary to most of the commentators here I have been watching Lebanese matters for a long time and have been involved with Lebanese here and their families in Lebanon. There was good and hopeful reason to believe that this would come about before Bush's first term began much less now.
Erg's psuedo-moderate stance is that we cannot know yet. Yet this contradicts both recorded history and the belief that democracy is a universal human aspiration. If you accept both recorded history and the concept that democracy is universally appicable then it leads one to conclude that there are certain objective conditions which tend to led based on experience toward democracy and others that do not.
Once we come to that conclusion and examine the histories, then it is easy to see that Iraq does not fit the models and moreover closely matches the models for Yugoslavia.
I note that when people like Thompson argue that Cronkite almost singlehandedly broke the American people's will to go to war there is no outcry. I note that when others argue that the Sunni's in Iraq will be genocided by the Shiites there are few voices except mine raised to dispute this.
But for arguing that based on recorded history and the concept of universal democratization - for these I get accused as praising fascism or being deluded.
Well I am not deluded. The only thing I am guilty of is pricking the pride and beliefs of those present here - those who believe that by always splitting things down the middle they are somehow going to get it right and those who cannot and will not reject an infantile notion that since we are the "good guys" that all goodness must come from us.
In this case, it didn't. In Iraq, it won't. Read em and weep, for it is your pride you argue for and not the truth.posted by: oldman on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
Oldman, it would be nice if instead of continuing to berate us with your expertise in democracy you actually told us exactly what you are talking about.
And yet many of constituent Republics of Yugoslavia have build small, hesitant democracies. There are other examples of diverse countries building successful democracies.
Oldman, you sound like Winston Churchil circa 1947 saying that India could never be democratic, that Indians were unsuited for democracy, yet they were able to build a thriving democracy. You cannot just proclaim beforehand that democracy is certain to fail. In the worse case, we could still end up with Kurdish democracies and Shia somewhat democracies.
Just over a year ago....
_If_ this document is genuine, it is incrediably important. If any of this is true, we have been far more successful in Iraq than we think we have. Better yet, some of the aspects that have been most critical, yet most doubtful are coming to fruition, to the consternation of our enemies.
"When the Americans withdraw, and they have already started doing that, they get replaced by these agents who are intimately linked to the people of this region."
We couldnt produce better propoganda than this (so if we have produced it, kudos boys). It is something to remember about war, perhaps the most important thing to remember. War is always a battle of wills, and you can rarely know how your enemy is holding out. If this sentiment is indeed widespread in Iraq, and elsewhere if this guy is right about this:
we may be on the verge of a real breakthough.
Posted by Mark Buehner at February 9, 2004 05:24 PMposted by: history_buff on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
I don't get it. Isn't that a copy of Zarqawi's memo supposedly from last year ? I was skeptical about it then, and I remain skeptical now. In fact, the general role ascribed to ZArqawi in the insurgency has always seemed greatly exaggerated to me. BOth sides find it convenient to use him -- when there's a bloody attack as the one in Hilla, Sunnis groups can say -- its not us, its that pesky Zaraqawi. Americans also like to introduce him as an outside bogyeman.
In any case, the insurgency seems to have become stronger since the time that memo was written.
The idea of the Syrian Army as an incubator of democracy is certainly a novel one.
I don't have time to give you sites right now, but I have a very good memory and I recall a fairly consistent stream of articles to the effect that 'Beirut's back', 'the pearl of the levant again' and on and on from the mid 90's going forward. I am sure a lexis-nexis search will confirm this. Now, the Syrians were in charge of the security that made this possible. Unlike a certain country to the south
Hariri was prime minister under Syrian occupation, so it he is such a saint, at least the Syrians should be given credit for tolerating him and even letting him go about his business in peace -- up until these last months , if they did in fact kill him (still no proof that I am aware of).
I don't know how you can argue the point that, given the shambles the Palestinians and Israelis left in Lebanon, coupled with the mess the Lebanese made themselves, the period of Pax Syriacus in Lebanon led directly to the point where they could have these interconfessional anti-government demonstrations.
Another tidbit -- one report said 'the opposition party applauded, while the ruling party sat stunned' when the government announced its resignation'. Opposition party, opposition party. How can you have an opposition party if there are not at least some structures of democracy.
I don't know much about the mid east, but I have read
A wonderful collection of essays on Arab nationalism. Virtually all the themes touched on in the book and the general background gives great insight into problems today. In short, the Arabs seems to really have developed a system that worked for them (the Saudi's being perhaps the only real exception).posted by: stari_momak on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
Im not sure what that blast from the past was meant to convey, although things seem to be working out that way. If the Sunni are moving to join the democratic process, the forign insurgents are doomed and AQ has suffered a humiliating defeat that has rippled out to Lebanon and put Syria on the brink.posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
According to the Bush appointed CIA director, the insurgency in Iraq has led to the rise of several new terror leaders in regional cells. Just as the Afghan war helped to create a generation of militants, the Iraq war may create a small group of "elite" terrorists.
[ It need hardly be added here that AQ proper has little in common with Syria, a secular dictatorship]
Final question for neocons, motivated by the pitifullly short sentence given to the Indonesian cleric today. Will you respect the democratic Indonesian government's apparent decision to back down for political reasons on punishing this man who richly deserves it ? Or would you long for the kangaoro courts of Egypt or Saudia Arabia, where someone like him would probably have ended up shot trying to escape.posted by: Janak on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
Stari, why are the Saudis an exception? It is true they have a discontented, violent minority, but Saudi Arabia has prospered for well over a quarter century since the first boom in oil prices, and prior to that had less political instability than most other Arab countries. So why should not the Saudi royal family have as much claim on your admiration as the Syrian army or the Sunni Arab insurgency in Iraq?
Incidentally, I'm a little surprised that the defenders of the Syrian army's role in Lebanon have not mentioned the possibility that that country may have reached a state of simple exhaustion after more than 15 years of civil war. Such a state has frequently been the necessary precondition for peace settlements in the past, for example in the former Yugoslavia. Moreover the duration of the Lebanese civil war owed a great deal to Syria in the first place, something it is possible many Lebanese remember now. This may help explain why their gratitude to their benefactors in Damascus is less evident that some posters on this board appear to think it should be.posted by: Zathras on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
"According to the Bush appointed CIA director, the insurgency in Iraq has led to the rise of several new terror leaders in regional cells."
Doubtlessly. And killed off several others. Lets be clear here, when we say 'the rise of' it wasnt like these guys were home in Syria peacefully watering their date trees. Have terrorists attracted the like minded and managed to mobilize to a higher degree? Doubtlessly, although that has been partially offset every time a US or Iraqi soldier puts a bullet through one. But again, war isnt about numbers, its about psychology. Islamo-fascism has taken some very disturbing head shots of late. Remember, they pride themselves on being a popular movement, as the Afghanis were in the Cold War. Seeing millions of Iraqis streaming to the polls and thousands of Lebanese flashing peace symbols and seeing Syria acting like a kicked puppy is bad for morale. Its one thing to go take pot shots at Americans in Baghdad believing they will run with their tails between their legs any day now, quite another knowing they are going to stay and worse, the Iraqis want them there to help set up their democracy.
"[ It need hardly be added here that AQ proper has little in common with Syria, a secular dictatorship]"
It need hardly be mentioned the Syria has made a cottage industry of propping up Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, a Shiia and a Sunni terrorist organization respectively. Or that they have allied themselves with the Iranian Mullahs, a Shiia theocracy.
"Will you respect the democratic Indonesian government's apparent decision to back down for political reasons on punishing this man who richly deserves it ?"
I can respect it without agreeing with it. He probably wouldnt have gotten any heavier of a sentance in Belgium, and i dont advocate a coup in Brussels either. Democracy is in our long term interest, period, even anti-american democracy. Bumps along the road are inevitable.posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
"Moreover the duration of the Lebanese civil war owed a great deal to Syria in the first place, something it is possible many Lebanese remember now."
This may well be true -- although I am not sure what evidence you base it on. If they had a side they wanted to win, or at least not lose, then I suspect it is true, just was we would not want to see Anglophone Canada lose in a war with Quebec, if things ever came to that, and would naturally help 'our' side. Your point about exhaustion is well taken, and indeed is the exact same situation as in Bosnia, but still an outside force was needed to restore a peaceful stability rather than a stability of attrition. In the Lebanese case that was the Syrians. I am not saying they are committed liberal democrats, or uninterested parties, but merely that the enforced peace, and judging from the economic recovery and the presence of an opposition, and indeed from the Hariri phenomenon itself, the Syrian yoke seems to have been relatively light.
As for the Saudi's, I don't know . I excepted them because I was thinking about Arab civilisation and economy along the 'fertile crescent'. Reading about these in the prewar (WWII) era really opened my eyes to the Middle East situation. For example, there used to be a cyclical migration (both seasonal and life cycle) of Arabs from Damascus and Baghad, and Egypt to the Levant ports, Tripoli, Haifa and back.
The Hijaz doesn't seem to be part of that system -- at least in my limited reading. The Arabian peninsula really was a backwater.posted by: stari_momak on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
The Syrian role in Lebanon civil war was always complicated. They aligned on one side against the other, then changed sides and so on. The same happened to practically every group in Lebanon. Several Lebanese groups welcomed the Israeli arrival at first as a bulwark against the Palestinians, but that changed very quickly. Even the US was welcomed at first, before it made the mistake of getting involved in a battle between rival groups. No country or groups hand is clean in this war: not JUmblatt, not Syria, not Israel, not the PLO, not the Maronites, not Hezbollah. Civil wars are nasty, bloody things.
On the general issue of terrorism and elections: India has half a dozen terrorist movements despite having honest elections even in the aggrieved areas. Sri Lanka has had elections several times. The UK has had elections, but it still too decades to finally put the IRA terrorism menance to bed. Many European countries have elections, but they've seen terrorist cells grow in them. So the notion that elections will kill off terrorist groups is unproven at best.
"This was not a scenario that anyone would have dreamt of on June 3, the day before the Polish elections."
Try explaining this to all the people who insist on crediting Reagan with ending the Cold War.posted by: x on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
"Try explaining this to all the people who insist on crediting Reagan with ending the Cold War."
All those lunatics like Thatcher and Gorbachov.posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
I found it to be the most thorough piece I've yet read on the war, and agree with 90 or more percent of it.
If i hear one more person denounce analogies and then invoke one im going to throw up.posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
The first real test for the democratization routine will come when the next round of Palestinian elections are held in a few months. Hamas did very well in local elections in the Gaza strip in January. They are likely to do very well in election in general. Abbas will almost certainly have to negotiate with them. Hamas is seen to be non-corrupt and that is a big advantage (although Abbass may be able to circumevent that).
It is not wholly bad if Hamas becomes a major political player in Palestine too -- that might lead it to shut down its military wing and focus on politics.
The real touchy issues on the Palestinian matter: Jersualem, the right of return and others still remain in the air. No Israeli or Palestinian PM can negotiate those away. However, I will say that anything that doesn't involve actual blood shed in the ME is a good sign. We may be able to return to the status quo circa 1995, which is a GOOD thing given the last 10 years.
To adjudicate this debate, we should turn to Fafblog, the definitive source on Middle East politics:
"One might argue that the progress in Palestine and Lebanon would never have taken place without the death of Yasser Arafat and the assassination of Rafik al Hariri, but why didn’t Palestinians and Lebanese simply say, “Let’s give old corrupt tyranny another go, it’s worth one more shot” when given the opportunity? Because this time they were aware of an alternative: an alternative called freedom. And that alternative would not have been there for them had the American military not been there to invade, occupy, and torture a neighboring country."posted by: chazbet on 02.28.05 at 10:08 PM [permalink]
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