War on Iraq involves threat to democracy
One of the most appealing thoughts about a possible war with
Iraq is that it could help spread democracy, transforming a rotten political
order in the Middle East.
But more likely, such a war would render the Middle East more repressive and
unstable than it is today. Democracy cannot be imposed through military force,
even if force is used successfully to oust anti-democratic dictators.
And America's vital aims in fighting terrorism, securing oil supplies and
protecting the lives of American soldiers will, in the context of the Middle
East, almost certainly ensure that the spread of democracy will again take a
back seat to its national priorities.
Aside from the significant challenges in Iraq itself, the picture in the rest of
the region will be troubling. Regardless of America's real objectives, most
Arabs and Muslims will see in the war American imperialism.
Governments in the region may support the war for fear of being on the losing
side, or may simply stay neutral.
Because support goes against the overwhelming sentiment of their citizenry, they
will likely endorse the American course through political repression. If King
Abdullah of Jordan, like other rulers in the Middle East, has to face a choice
between supporting the war while repressing his people and yielding to Jordanian
public opinion by opposing the American effort, it's clear what America's
preference will be.
For that its people need not dig deep into history: their commitment to fighting
al-Qaeda has understandably defined their current relationship with Pakistan in
a way that has caused them to put aside democratic values in order to achieve a
more vital goal. These values will likely be sacrificed in America's
relationship with other nations in the Middle East, even with the best of
At the same time, America would not be comfortable if democratic change in the
region resulted in the victory of radical Islamist groups, as happened in
Algeria a decade ago. Nor is it likely that it would be willing to accept
democratically elected militant Islamist groups to run the Saudi government and
control the world's largest oil reserves as well as the pulpit of Mecca.
The political order in the Middle East is bankrupt today, and if stability means
the continuation of the status quo, that would not be appealing. Change is
necessary for the good of the people of the Middle East and for the good of the
world. But not any change, and not through any means.
The use of military force may be necessary for other reasons, but it is more
likely to stifle than to nurture democracy movements in authoritarian Arab
America's political success has undoubtedly been bolstered by its superior
military power. But its military power itself is a product of a successful
economic and political system.
Those around the world who sought change of their political and economic systems
did so in large part on their own _ and in many cases with America's political
and economic success as a model. Those who want to achieve that success will
have to emulate the model. And those who don't will likely fail.
Powerful ideas are willingly accepted because they inspire, not threaten. Even
those who are reluctant to embrace democracy, like the leaders in Beijing, have
understood the need to emulate much of America's economic approach. And in
embracing a new economic approach, they have also unleashed a political process
they will not be able fully to control.
Ultimately, America's role is to assist in the spread of democracy and, above
all, to inspire.
Wars may simultaneously open up new opportunities for change, as in Afghanistan,
and close others, as in Pakistan. But democracy cannot be dictated through war,
especially when war is opposed by people of the region.
The thought that, because America has unequalled power, it knows what is best
for others _ even better than they do themselves _ would not be comforting to
most Americans. Certainly, such a notion is not compatible with the very ideal
of democracy the United States seeks to spread.
uShibley Telhami, professor of government and politics at the University of
Maryland and senior fellow at the Saban Centre at the Brookings Institution, is
author of the forthcoming book, ``The Stakes: America and the Middle East''.
How can we manifest peace on
earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both
sexes) in our vision of Peace?
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