Friday, March 11, 2005

Freedom On The March

From PERRspectives:

In triumphant and self-congratulatory tones, the President and his allies are taking credit for the sweeping reform throughout the Middle East. President Bush proclaimed, “Freedom is on the march.” The National Review’s Rich Lowry crowed “Bush has put the United States in the right position to encourage and take advantage of democratic irruptions in the region.” And in Time, while “history has yet to yield a verdict on the final outcome”, Charles Krauthammer was not so cautious: “three cheers for the Bush Doctrine.”

It’s too bad there’s no such thing.

More from Juan Cole:

I don't think Bush had anything much to do with the current Lebanese national movement except at the margins. Walid Jumblatt, the embittered son of Kamal whom the Syrians defeated in 1976 at the American behest, said he was inspired by the fall of Saddam. But this sort of statement from a Druze warlord strikes me as just as manipulative as the news conferences of Ahmad Chalabi, who is also inspired by Saddam's fall. Jumblatt has a long history of anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiment that makes his sudden conversion to neoconism likely a mirage. He has wanted the Syrians back out since 1976, so it is not plausible that anything changed for him in 2003.


Blogger Management said...

These are pretty heady days for the White House and its fellow travelers. In Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Ukraine, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia, movements for popular, democratic change seem to rule the day. The wisdom, rightness and prescience of the Bush Doctrine, they say, have been vindicated.

In triumphant and self-congratulatory tones, the President and his allies are taking credit for the sweeping reform throughout the Middle East. President Bush proclaimed, “Freedom is on the march.” The National Review’s Rich Lowry crowed “Bush has put the United States in the right position to encourage and take advantage of democratic irruptions in the region.” And in Time, while “history has yet to yield a verdict on the final outcome”, Charles Krauthammer was not so cautious: “three cheers for the Bush Doctrine.”

It’s too bad there’s no such thing.

For conservatives, the Bush Doctrine is the Rorschach Test as foreign policy paradigm; apparently, it is whatever you see in it. Unfortunately, what the Bush Doctrine has become in the popular imagination is not what how it started life, and certainly not anything that its neoconservative champions would recognize as their own.

The Bush Doctrine has come to have three central tenets. First, “No Safe Havens” states the United States will equate terrorist groups with the states that sponsor, shelter or provide them safe haven. Second is the concept of preemption. The United States will attack nations or groups posing an immediate threat to America, its citizens or interests. Last, the expansion of democracy worldwide is critical to winning the war against terrorism. Freeing the repressed from the yoke of despotic regimes, the argument goes, removes the root cause of terrorism. Besides, democracies never attack each other.

Those three ingredients – no safe havens, preemption and democracy promotion – represent a stunning evolution of Republican foreign policy and an impressive feat of historical revisionism.

Whither Democracy?

The transformation of George Bush is the most striking. In 2000, candidate Bush decried the role of nation building in American foreign policy. In the October 12, 2000 presidential debate with Al Gore, Bush sounded a cautious tone about American unilateralism and its role as global policeman, “If we're an arrogant nation they'll resent us. If we're a humble nation but strong they'll welcome us.”

After the September 11 attacks, Bush’s worldview changed dramatically. In his September 20, 2001 address to Congress, Bush declared the first principle of the Bush Doctrine.

We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

The full articulation of Bush’s second pillar of national security strategy, preemption, did not come until later. On June 1, 2002, President Bush addressed the cadets at West Point and made clear the role preemptive action would play in the future of American foreign policy and national defense:

We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long…Our security will require transforming the military you will lead -- a military that must be ready to strike at a moment's notice in any dark corner of the world. And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.

The U.S. claim of right to preemption, with its Pearl Harbor Harbor connotations that so worried Robert F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, quickly became entrenched in American defense doctrine. Preemption was codified in September with the release of The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (2002). The Brookings Institution was quick to highlight the sea change for both American security strategy and international law:

Preemption, defined as the anticipatory use of force in the face of an imminent attack, has long been accepted as legitimate and appropriate under international law. In the new NSS, however, the administration is broadening the meaning to encompass preventive war as well, in which force may be used even without evidence of an imminent attack to ensure that a serious threat to the United States does not "gather" or grow over time. The strategy also elevates preemption in importance, and visibility, within the tool kit of U.S. foreign policy.

The global promotion of democracy, however, was nowhere to be found in administration thinking prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. This third pillar, currently equated with the Bush Doctrine, played only a bit part in the 2002 NSS. The document declares an American “war of ideas” that includes “supporting moderate and modern government, especially in the Muslim world, to ensure that the conditions and ideologies that promote terrorism do not find fertile ground in any nation.” The President also dedicates a section on “building the infrastructure” of democracy, but the discussion is essentially confined to the context of foreign aid. Aside from admonishments of China and Russia regarding the need for democratic reforms, that’s it.

In fact, the word “democracy” is for all intents and purposes missing from the Bush administration’s rhetoric regarding the War on Terror prior to the invasion of Iraq. There is no mention of “democracy” in President Bush’s address to Congress and the nation on September 20, 2001. Aside from a reference to Russia, it cannot be found in the June 2002 West Point speech. Democracy was absent from Bush’s September 12, 2002 address to the UN and his October 7, 2002 Iraq war justification in Cincinnati. And in the run-up to the invasion, democracy promotion remained essentially invisible in the 2003 State of the Union (ironically, it is mentioned regarding Iran), March 17 press conference, and even during Bush’s March 19 address to the nation declaring the commencement of hostilities. The closest the President could come was one of his favorite platitudes:

Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity.

In 2003, God’s gift simply had not become an American national security requirement.

Better Lucky Than Good

The Bush administration’s conflation of American national security with the expansion of democracy in the Middle East does not come until much later, when evaporating war justifications and conditions on the ground in Iraq required serious attitude adjustment. President Bush, the man who as a candidate called for a “humble” America face to the world, backed into freedom as his calling. With Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, his supposed 9/11 link, his Al Qaeda partnership and all other rationales for the Iraq conflict refuted, democracy promotion was left as the ex post facto causus belli. We did not invade Iraq to promote democracy; we promote democracy because we invaded Iraq.

Fast forward to 2005. President Bush shows it is better to be lucky than good. In Iraq, Ayatollah Sistani saved Bush from himself, insisting on direct national elections rather than U.S. controlled regional caucuses. In Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai is elected president of greater Kabul. Despite the administration’s inaction, the situation in the Palestinian territories is transformed with the death of Arafat and the election of Abu Mazen. In Ukraine, Bush ally Vladimir Putin’s heavy hand, and possibly poisoned soup, helps lead to the Orange Revolution that makes Viktor Yushchenko a global hero. And in Lebanon, it is Syrian bungling in the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, not American policy, which ushers in the Cedar Revolution and the possibility of democracy in Beirut.

All of which brings us to George Bush, born-again democrat, Wilsonian idealist on steroids. His Second Inaugural, 2005 State of the Union address, and March 8 speech describe a new American vision that is “determined to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” Whether viewed as transformation, revisionism, opportunism or sheer hypocrisy, the Second Inaugural offers perhaps the clearest statement of the third pillar of the latest incarnation of the Bush Doctrine:

The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

The Amen Corner

Like President Bush himself, conservative pundits, propagandists and academics have been transformed into born-again advocates of democratic expansionism. Their history shows that democracy, like fine scotch or caviar, is an acquired taste.

Take neoconservative doyenne Jeane Kirkpatrick. No friend of democracy promotion, it was Reagan’s UN ambassador who in 1979 drew the distinction between totalitarian states like the Soviet Union and merely authoritarian states, which included a host of U.S. allies. In articles like “Dictatorships & Double Standards” (Commentary, November 1979), Kirkpatrick justified American support of repressive, dictatorial regimes as part of the larger struggle against the Soviets and global communism. John Negroponte, Bush’s nominee for the post of National Intelligence Director, was clearly an adherent, turning a blind eye to Honduran death squads while serving as American ambassador there in the early 1980’s.

Much of the neocon brain trust showed little interest in prioritizing the expansion of democracy prior to our difficulties in Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz’s famous redacted and retracted draft 1992 Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) was a blueprint for American unilateralism that set as its first objective “to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival.” On January 26, 1998, the best and brightest of the team at the Project for a New American Century (including Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, Elliott Abrams and William Bennett) sent a letter to President Clinton calling for regime change in Iraq. Their mission certainly was not to bring democracy to the Iraqi people:

We urge you to seize that opportunity, and to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power…We urge you to act decisively. If you act now to end the threat of weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. or its allies, you will be acting in the most fundamental national security interests of the country.

And where did the conservative punditocracy stand on democracy promotion? In July 2003, Charles Krauthammer didn’t even give one cheer for the Bush Doctrine. In his July 21, 2003 piece, “Why Did Bush Go to War?", Krauthammer cited the “grave and gathering threat”, one that “had not yet even fully emerged, Bush was asserting, but nonetheless it had to be faced because it would only get worse.” As for Rich Lowry, he poignantly expressed his concern for the freedom and democratic aspirations of the people of the Muslim world on September 12, 2001, a day after the attacks on the twin towers:

The American response should be closer to something along these lines: identifying the one or two nations most closely associated with our enemies, giving them 24-hours notice to evacuate their capitals (in keeping with our desire to wage war as morally as possible), then systematically destroying every significant piece of military, financial, and political infrastructure in those cities.

Hedonism as Foreign Policy

The short and happy life of the Bush Doctrine, then, is one of political expediency, intellectual dishonesty, and strategic confusion. The United States will punish states providing safe haven to terrorists, except in those countries like Lebanon where we don’t. The U.S. will act preemptively against gathering threats from rogue states possessing weapons of mass destruction, especially if they don’t in fact have them, as in Iraq, but not when they shortly will, as in Iran and North Korea. And the U.S. will not merely protect free, democratic states as it has it the past. America will spread democracy around the globe, and end tyranny in our world, unless the world includes China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, and a host of others.

In a nutshell, there is no “Bush Doctrine.” Or more accurately, there are many Bush Doctrines. It is whatever you need to it to be. It is the foreign policy hedonism of President Bush and the conservative ascendancy: if it feels good, do it.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Lebanon Realignment and Syria

It is often pointed out that presidents get too much praise and blame for the economy, since the domestic economy has its own rhythms. We are now going to see everything that happens in the Middle East attributed to George W. Bush, whether he had much to do with it or not (usually not).

What is now Lebanon consists of relatively hilly territory along the eastern Mediterranean coast. The mountains allowed small and often heterodox religious groups to survive, since the mountain inhabitants were relatively isolated and central governments had a difficult time getting hold of them. On the broad plains of Syria, governments could encourage conversion to Islam, then to Shiism, then to Sunnism, and most of the population went along. In the mountains near the coast, the population stuck to its guns. Thus, the Maronite Christians resisted conversion to Islam, as did many Eastern Orthodox Christains. The success the Ismaili government of medieval Egypt had in converting Muslims to Shiite Islam was long-lived, though most of these Shiites went over to the rival "Twelver" branch of Shiism that is now practiced in Iraq and Iran. Likewise, Egyptian Ismailism spun off an esoteric sect, the Druze, who survive in the Shouf Mountains and elsewhere in Lebanon. In the coastal cities and in the Biqaa valley near Syria, the population adopted Sunni Islam with the Sunni revival of Saladin and his successors in the medieval period in Egypt, which continued under the Sunni Ottoman Empire (1516-1918 in Syria). (Egypt has been since the 1100s staunchly Sunni).

In the 1600s and 1700s, the Druze were the most powerful community on the Levantine coast. But in the 1800s the Druze were eclipsed by the Maronite Christians, both because the latter had a population boom and because they grew wealthy off their commercial ties to France and their early adoption of silk growing and modern commerce.

When the French conquered Syria in 1920, they decided to make it easier to rule by dividing it. They carved off what is now Lebanon and gerrymandered it so that it had a Christian majority. In 1920, Maronite Catholics were probably 40 percent of the population, and with Greek Orthodox and others the Christian population came to 51 percent. The Shiites were probably only about 18 percent of the population then. Both under the French Mandate (1920-1946) and in the early years of the Lebanese Republic, the Maronites were the dominant political force. When Lebanon became independent in 1943, the system was set up so that Christians always had a 6 to 5 majority in parliament.

Lebanon had a relatively free parliamentary democracy 1943-1956. In 1957, I have been told by a former US government official, the US CIA intervened covertly in the Lebanese elections to ensure that the Lebanese constitution would be amended to allow far-right Maronite President Camille Chamoun (1952-1958) to have a second term. As the Library of Congress research division ("country studies") notes:

In 1957 the question of the reelection of Shamun [Chamoun] was added to these problems of ideological cleavage. In order to be reelected, the president needed to have the Constitution amended to permit a president to succeed himself. A constitutional amendment required a two-thirds vote by the Chamber of Deputies, so Shamun and his followers had to obtain a majority in the May-June 1957 elections. Shamun's followers did obtain a solid majority in the elections, which the opposition considered "rigged," with the result that some non-Christian leaders with pan-Arab sympathies were not elected. Deprived of a legal platform from which to voice their political opinions, they sought to express them by extralegal means.

This account agrees with what I was told in every particular except that it does not explicitly mention the CIA engineering of the election. Chamoun was unacceptable to the Druze and to the Sunni nationalists newly under the influence of Gamal Abdul Nasser in Egypt. A small civil war broke out. Chamoun lied to Eisenhower and told him that the Druze goatherds were Communists, and Ike dutifully sent in the Marines to save Chamoun in 1958. Thereafter the Maronites erected a police state, with much power in the Dueuxieme Bureau or secret police. Since Washington had already overthrown the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953, and is said to have helped install the Baath in power in Iraq, it may well be that the Illiberal Age in the Middle East of the second half of the 20th century was in important part the doing of Washington and was for Cold War purposes. (Those namby pamby democracies were just too weak to forestall sly Communists).

The Christian-dominated system of Lebanon fell apart for a number of reasons. The Israelis expelled 100,000 or so Palestinians north to Lebanon in 1948. The Christians of Lebanon refused to give the Palestinians Lebanese citizenship, since the Palestinians were 80 to 85 percent Muslim and their becoming Lebanese would have endangered Christian dominance. Over time the stateless Palestinians living in wretched camps grew to 300,000. (In contrast, the Maronite elite gave the Armenians who immigrated citizenship so fast it would make your head spin.)

In the second half of the 20th century, the Lebanese Shiites grew much faster, being poor tobacco farmers with large families, than did the increasingly urban and middle class Maronites. Maronites emigrated on a large scale (it is said that there are 6 million Lebanese outside Lebanon and only 3 million inside), to North America (think Danny Thomas and Salma Hayek) and to South America (think Carlos Saul Menem of Argentina and Shakira of Colombia).

By 1975 the Maronites were no longer the dominant force in Lebanon. Of a 3 million population, the Shiites had grown to be 35 percent (and may now be 40 percent), and the Maronites had shrunk to a quarter, and are probably now 20 percent. The Shiites were mobilizing both politically and militarily. So, too, were the Palestinians.

The Maronite elite found the newly assertive Muslims of the south intolerable, and a war broke out between the Maronite party-militia, the Phalange (modeled on Franco's and Mussolini's Brown Shirts) and the PLO. The war raged through 1975 and into 1976 (I saw some of it with my own eyes). The PLO was supported by the Druze and the Sunnis. They began winning against the Maronites.

The prospect of a PLO-dominated Lebanon scared the Syrians. Yasser Arafat would have been able to provoke battles with Israel at will, into which Syria might be drawn. Hafez al-Asad determined to intervene to stop it. First he sought a green light from the Israelis through Kissinger. He got it.

In spring of 1976 the Syrians sent 40,000 troops into Lebanon and massacred the Palestinian fighters, saving the Maronites, with Israeli and US approval. Since the Baathists in Syria should theoretically have been allies of the Palestinians, it was the damnedest thing. But it was just Realpolitik on al-Asad's part. Syria felt that its national interests were threatened by developments in Lebanon and that it was in mortal danger if it did not occupy its neighbor.

The Druze never forgave the Syrians for the intervention, or for killing their leader, Kamal Jumblatt. Although the Palestinians were sullen and crushed, they declined as a factor in Lebanese politics once they were largely disarmed, since they still lack citizenship and face employment and other restrictions. The UN statistics show almost 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon, half of them in squalid camps. But some social scientists believe that because of massive out-migration to Europe, there are actually less than 200,000 in the country now.

In 1982 the Israelis mounted an unprovoked invasion of Lebanon as Ariel Sharon sought to destroy the remnants of the weakened PLO in Beirut. He failed, but the war killed nearly 20,000 persons, about half of them innocent civilians. Ziad Jarrah had a long-term grudge about that. The Israelis militarily occupied southern Lebanon, refusing to relinquish sovereign Lebanese territory.

The Shiites of the south were radicalized by the Israeli occupation and threw up the Hizbullah party-militia, which pioneered suicide bombs and roadside bombs, and forced the Israeli occupiers out in 2000.

One foreign occupation had been ended, but the Syrians retained about 14,000 troops in the Biqa Valley. The Israeli withdrawal weakened the Syrians in Lebanon, since many Lebanese had seen the Syrians as a bulwark against Israeli expansionism, but now Damascus appeared less needed.

Over time the Maronites came to feel that the Syrians had outstayed their welcome. So both they and the Druze wanted a complete Syrian withdrawal by the early zeroes.

In the meantime, Syria gradually had gained a new client in Lebanon, the Shiites, and especially Hizbullah. Likewise many Sunnis supported the Syrians.

The Syrians made a big mistake in growing attached to Gen. Emile Lahoud, their favorite Lebanese president. When his 6-year term was about to expire last fall, the Syrians intervened to have the Lebanese constitution amended to allow him to remain for another 3 years. Across the board, the Lebanese public was angered and appalled at this foreign tinkering with their constitution.

Rafiq al-Hariri resigned over the constitutional change. He was replaced as prime minister by another Sunni, Omar Karami of Tripoli in northern Lebanon.

The assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the popular multi-billionnaire Sunni prime minister (1992-1998 and 2000-2004), angered a broad swathe of the Sunni community, convincing them it was time for the Syrians to go. Despite the lack of any real evidence for the identity of the assassin, the Lebanese public fixed on the Syrians as the most likely culprit. The Sunnis, the Druze and the Maronites have seldom agreed in history. The last time they all did, it was about the need to end the French Mandate, which they made happen in 1943. This cross-confessional unity helps explain how the crowds managed to precipitate the downfall of the government of PM Omar Karami.

If Lebanese people power can force a Syrian withdrawal, the public relations implications may be ambiguous for Tel Aviv. After the US withdrawal from Iraq, Israeli dominance of the West Bank and Gaza will be the last military occupation of major territory in the Middle East. People in the region, in Europe, and in the US itself may begin asking why, if Syria had to leave Lebanon, Israel should not have to leave the West Bank and Gaza.

I don't think Bush had anything much to do with the current Lebanese national movement except at the margins. Walid Jumblatt, the embittered son of Kamal whom the Syrians defeated in 1976 at the American behest, said he was inspired by the fall of Saddam. But this sort of statement from a Druze warlord strikes me as just as manipulative as the news conferences of Ahmad Chalabi, who is also inspired by Saddam's fall. Jumblatt has a long history of anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiment that makes his sudden conversion to neoconism likely a mirage. He has wanted the Syrians back out since 1976, so it is not plausible that anything changed for him in 2003.

The Lebanese are still not entirely united on a Syrian military withdrawal. Supporters of outgoing PM Omar Karami rioted in Tripoli on Monday. Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah still supports the Syrians and has expressed anxieties about the Hariri assassination and its aftermath leading to renewed civil war (an argument for continued Syrian military presence).

Much of the authoritarianism in the Middle East since 1945 had actually been supported (sometimes imposed) by Washington for Cold War purposes. The good thing about the democratization rhetoric coming out of Washington (which apparently does not apply to Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, Uzbekistan, and other allies against al-Qaeda) is that it encourages the people to believe they have an ally if they take to the streets to end the legacy of authoritarianism.

But Washington will be sorely tested if Islamist crowds gather in Tunis to demand the ouster of Bin Ali. We'll see then how serious the rhetoric about people power really is.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Democracy - by George?
By Juan Cole

Wednesday 16 March 2005

President Bush and his supporters are taking credit for spreading freedom across the Middle East. Here's why they're wrong.

Is George W. Bush right to argue that his war to overthrow Saddam Hussein is democratizing the Middle East? In the wake of the Iraq vote, anti-Syrian demonstrations in Lebanon, the Egyptian president's gestures toward open elections, and other recent developments, a chorus of conservative pundits has declared that Bush's policy has been vindicated. Max Boot wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "Well, who's the simpleton now? Those who dreamed of spreading democracy to the Arabs or those who denied that it could ever happen?" In a column subtitled "One Man, One Gloat," Mark Steyn wrote, "I got a lot of things wrong these last three years, but looking at events in the Middle East this last week ... I got the big stuff right." Even some of the president's detractors and those opposed to the war have issued mea culpas. Richard Gwyn of the Toronto Star, a Bush critic, wrote, "It is time to set down in type the most difficult sentence in the English language. That sentence is short and simple. It is this: Bush was right."

Before examining whether there is any value to these claims, it must be pointed out that the Bush administration did not invade Iraq to spread democracy. The justification for the war was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaida -- both of which claims have proved to be false. And even if one accepts the argument that the war resulted, intentionally or not, in the spread of democracy, serious ethical questions would remain about whether it was justified. For the purposes of this argument, however, let's leave that issue aside. It's true that neoconservative strategists in the Bush administration argued after Sept. 11 that authoritarian governments in the region were producing terrorism and that only democratization could hope to reduce it. Although they didn't justify invading Iraq on those grounds, they held that removing Saddam and holding elections would make Iraq a shining beacon that would provoke a transformation of the region as other countries emulated it.

Practically speaking, there are only two plausible explanations for Bush's alleged influence: direct intervention or pressure, and the supposed inspiration flowing from the Iraq demonstration project. Has either actually been effective?

First, it must be said that Washington's Iraq policy, contrary to its defenders' arguments, is not innovative. In fact, regime change in the Middle East has often come about through foreign invasion. Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser intervened militarily to help revolutionaries overthrow the Shiite imam of Yemen in the 1960s. The Israelis expelled the PLO from Lebanon and tried to establish a pro-Israeli government in Beirut in 1982. Saddam Hussein briefly ejected the Kuwaiti monarchy in 1990. The U.S. military's invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein were therefore nothing new in Middle Eastern history. A peaceful evolution toward democracy would have been an innovation.

Has Bush's direct pressure produced results, outside Iraq -- where it has produced something close to a failed state? His partisans point to the Libyan renunciation of its nuclear weapons program and of terrorism. Yet Libya, hurt by economic sanctions, had been pursuing a rapprochement for years. Nor has Gadhafi moved Libya toward democracy.

Washington has put enormous pressure on Iran and Syria since the fall of Saddam, with little obvious effect. Since the United States invaded Iraq, the Iranian regime has actually become less open, clamping down on a dispirited reform movement and excluding thousands of candidates from running in parliamentary elections. The Baath in Syria shows no sign of ceasing to operate as a one-party regime. When pressured, it has offered up slightly more cooperation in capturing Iraqi Baathists. Its partial withdrawal from Lebanon came about because of local and international pressures, including that of France and the Arab League, and is hardly a unilateral Bush administration triumph.

What of the argument of inspiration? The modern history of the Middle East does not suggest that politics travels very much from one country to another. The region is a hodgepodge of absolute monarchies, constitutional monarchies and republics, characterized by varying degrees of authoritarianism. Few regimes have had an effect on neighbors by setting an example. Ataturk's adoption of a militant secularism in Turkey from the 1920s had no resonance in the Arab world. The Lebanese confessional political system, which attempted to balance the country's many religious communities after independence in 1943, remains unique. Khomeini's 1979 Islamic Revolution did not inspire a string of clerically ruled regimes.

Is Iraq even really much of a model? The Bush administration strove to avoid having one-person, one-vote elections in Iraq, which were finally forced on Washington by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Despite the U.S. backing for secularists, the winners of the election were the fundamentalist Shiite Dawa Party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Nor were the elections themselves all that exemplary. The country is in flames, racked by a guerrilla war, a continual crime wave and a foreign military occupation. The security situation was so bad that the candidates running for office could not reveal their identities until the day before the election, and the entire country was put under a sort of curfew for three days, with all vehicular traffic forbidden.

The argument for change through inspiration has little evidence to underpin it. The changes in the region cited as dividends of the Bush Iraq policy are either chimeras or unconnected to Iraq. And the Bush administration has shown no signs that it will push for democracy in countries where freedom of choice would lead to outcomes unfavorable to U.S. interests.

Saudi Arabia held municipal elections in February. Voters were permitted to choose only half the members of the city councils, however, and the fundamentalists did well. The other half are appointed by the monarchy, as are the mayors. The Gulf absolute monarchies remain absolute monarchies. Authoritarian states such as that in Ben Ali's Tunisia show no evidence of changing, and a Bush administration worried about al-Qaida has authorized further crackdowns on radical Muslim groups.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak recently announced that he would allow other candidates to run against him in the next presidential election. Yet only candidates from officially recognized parties will be allowed. Parties are recognized by Parliament, which is dominated by Mubarak's National Democratic Party. This change moves Egypt closer to the system of presidential elections used in Iran, where only candidates vetted by the government can run. The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most important opposition party, is excluded from fielding candidates under its own name. Egypt is less open today than it was in the 1980s, with far more political offices appointed by the president, and with far fewer opposition members in Parliament, than was the case two decades ago. As with the so-called municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, the change in presidential elections is little more than window-dressing. It was provoked not by developments in Iraq but rather by protests by Egyptian oppositionists who resented Mubarak's jailing of a political rival in January.

The dramatic developments in Lebanon since mid-February were set off by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Lebanese political opposition blamed Syria for the bombing, though all the evidence is not in. Protests by Maronite Christians, Druze and a section of Sunni Muslims (Hariri was a Sunni) briefly brought down the government of the pro-Syrian premier, Omar Karami. The protesters demanded a withdrawal from the country of Syrian troops, which had been there since 1976 in an attempt to calm the country's civil war. Bush also wants Syria out of Lebanon, in part because such a move would strengthen the hand of his ally, Israel. Pro-Bush commentators dubbed the Beirut movement the "Cedar Revolution," but Lebanon remains a far more divided society and its politics far more ambiguous than was the case in the post-Soviet Czech Republic and Ukraine.

On March 9 the Shiite Hezbollah Party held massive pro-Syrian demonstrations in Beirut that dwarfed the earlier opposition rallies. A majority of Parliament members wanted to bring back Karami. Both the Hezbollah street demonstrations and the elected Parliament's internal consensus produced a pro-Syrian outcome obnoxious to the Bush administration. Since then the opposition has staged its own massive demonstrations, rivaling Hezbollah's.

So far, these demonstrations and counterdemonstrations have been remarkable in their peacefulness and in the frankness of their political aims. But rather than reference Washington, they point to the weakness and ineptness of the young Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who made the error of tinkering with the Lebanese constitution to extend the term of the pro-Syrian president, Gen. Emile Lahoud. Although some manipulative (and traditionally anti-American) opposition figures attempted to invoke Iraq to justify their movement, in hopes of attracting U.S. support, it is hard to see what these events in Lebanon could possibly have to do with Baghdad. Lebanese have been holding lively parliamentary campaigns for decades, and the flawed, anonymous Jan. 30 elections in Iraq would have provoked more pity than admiration in urbane, sophisticated Beirutis.

Ironically, most democratization in the region has been pursued without reference to the United States. Some Middle Eastern regimes began experimenting with parliamentary elections years ago. For example, Jordan began holding elections in 1989, and Yemen held its third round of such elections in 2003. Morocco and Bahrain had elections in 2002. All of those elections were more transparent than, and superior as democratic processes to, the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq. They all had flaws, of course. The monarch or ruler typically places restraints on popular sovereignty. The prime minister is not elected by Parliament, but rather appointed by the ruler. Some of these parliaments may evolve in a more democratic direction over time, but if they do it will be for local reasons, not because of anything that has happened in Baghdad.

The Bush administration could genuinely push for the peaceful democratization of the region by simply showing some gumption and stepping in to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. There are, undeniably, large numbers of middle- and working-class people in the Middle East who seek more popular participation in government. Arab intellectuals are, however, often coded as mere American and Israeli puppets when they dare speak against authoritarian practices.

As it is, the Bush administration is widely seen in the region as hypocritical, backing Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and of the Golan Heights (the latter belonging to Syria) while pressuring Syria about its troops in Lebanon, into which Kissinger had invited Damascus years ago. Bush would be on stronger ground as a champion of liberty if he helped liberate the Palestinians from military occupation and creeping Israeli colonization, and if he brokered the return of the Golan Heights and Shebaa Farms to Damascus in return for peace between Syria and Israel. The end of Israeli occupation of the territory of neighbors would deprive the radical Shiite party in Lebanon, Hezbollah, of its ability to mobilize Lebanese youth against this injustice. Without decisive action on the Arab-Israeli front, Bush risks having his democratization rhetoric viewed as a mere stalking horse for neo-imperial domination.

Bush's invasion of Iraq has left the center and north of the country in a state of long-term guerrilla war. It has also opened Iraq to a form of parliamentary politics dominated by Muslim fundamentalists. This combination has little appeal elsewhere in the region. The Middle East may open up politically, and no doubt Bush will try to claim credit for any steps in that direction. But in Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere, such steps much predated Bush, and these publics will be struggling for their rights long after he is out of office. They may well see his major legacy not as democratization but as studied inattention to military occupation in Palestine and the Golan, and the retrenchment in civil liberties authorized to the Yemeni, Tunisian and other governments in the name of fighting terrorism.

6:05 AM  

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