To answer some questions asked in the comments of the previous post about Hitchens and Iraq, there are plenty of policies that can help promote democratic rule of law that don’t involve an air force. The fact of the matter is that Arab countries are relatively young, as far as nation states go, so it’s historically insignificant to state that no Arab regime has been toppled with anything other than force. Transitions to democracy have been seen throughout the world, in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
To my mind, the problem with the Middle East is that it is a very important region geo-strategically speaking, so the West has very little patience for midwifing transition through less belligerent means. These include supporting grassroots opposition and civil society, and yes, helping to resolve the Arab/Israeli conflict. Israel (and now Islamism) is a fig leaf used by Arab regimes to continue ruling through authoritarianism. If that conflict were to be taken out of the equation, liberal forces in Arab countries would have a lot more breathing room, without being accused of aiding the “Zionist enemy.”
Morocco is an example of a country that has made tremendous leaps in the last few decades. King
Hassan Mohammad is no paragon of democracy, but he has made many reforms, including the truth and reconciliation process to investigate the crimes of his father’s government. In Lebanon, also, if there were a just peace agreement with Israel, liberals would have much more power to force the parties, Hezbollah included, to focus on policy rather than politics, good governance rather than resistance.
Part of the problem here is the Western and Israeli idea that Arabs are by their very nature incapable of democratic rule, that they only understand force. This is not the case, any more than it was for the Spanish under Franco, Portuguese under Salazar, Chileans under
Santiago Pinochet or Kenyans under arap Moi.
Furthermore, “democracy promotion” at the end of a gun in the Middle East has relied on undemocratic neighboring countries that are considered “moderate” merely because they play ball on Washington’s terms. What about Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and until recently, Pakistan, just to name a few? Undemocratic regimes in these countries have been supported and often strengthened in order to support democracy elsewhere to the detriment to the peoples of those countries. If we’re interested in promoting democracy as a principle and not just in countries that have hostile regimes, isn’t that robbing Peter to pay Paul?
Right now, the American Department of Defense has effectively taken over the portfolio of foreign relations. There are now currently more servicemen and women playing in military bands than there are Foreign service officers in the State Department. This is a sign of how Washington sees its relations with the rest of the world, and while I hope that Obama can start to restore some of the balance between muscle and diplomacy, this is an inbalance that has taken many years and administrations (both Republican and Democratic) to establish. The pendulum, then, will likely take a long time to swing back to a more central position.
To make a long story short, when all you’ve got is a really big hammer, everything looks like a nail. So maybe it’s time we start investing in some more diverse tools.
UPDATE: I’ve just edited an embarrassing mistake about King Mohammad’s name brought to my attention by the erudite Qifa. Hassan was the father, Mohammad the son. Sorry for the mixup. Likewise, Santiago is the capital of Chile, not the former dictator, who was Pinochet. That’ll teach me to smoke arguileh and type at the same time.