Nicholas Kristof has decided that the Arab world is ready for democracy. Now, it's not that I disagree, but I do wonder why he says the Arabs are ready now, at this particular moment, when history is replete with revolutions that only swapped one dictator for another. Kristof:
“Before the revolution, we were slaves, and now we are the slaves of former slaves,” Lu Xun, the great Chinese writer, declared after the toppling of the Qing dynasty. Is that the future of the Middle East?
I don’t think so. Moreover, this line of thinking seems to me insulting to the unfree world. In Egypt and Bahrain in recent weeks, I’ve been humbled by the lionhearted men and women I’ve seen defying tear gas or bullets for freedom that we take for granted. How can we say that these people are unready for a democracy that they are prepared to die for?
Heaven forbid we should think insulting thoughts about the unfree world. But the Egytian people are brave, therefore they are ready for democracy? That's his reasoning? It seems ludicrous, especially when Kristof barely mentions the only functioning Arab democracy anywhere -- Iraq -- and then only to lump it in with other revolutions that ended in failure.
Many around the world fret that “people power” will likely result in Somalia-style chaos, Iraq-style civil war or Iran-style oppression.
This concern is the subtext for much anxiety today, from Washington to Riyadh. And there’s no question that there are perils: the overthrow of the shah in Iran, of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, of Tito in Yugoslavia, all led to new oppression and bloodshed. Congolese celebrated the eviction of their longtime dictator in 1997, but the civil war since has been the most lethal conflict since World War II.
But the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has not saddled the Iraqis with a new dictator. It's true that people are protesting in the streets in Iraq. Iraqis are very unhappy with corruption in their government and its failure to deliver basic services. But this Iraqi government isn't out there with tanks putting down an insurrection. There's been a different response in Iraq, the kind you might expect from a real democracy.
"Mr. Maliki specified a 100-day period after which an assessment of the work of the government and ministries will be carried out to find out the level of their individual success or failure in performing their jobs," a statement from his office said, specifying that the 100-day period began on Sunday.
"Changes will be made based on the assessments."
The statement also specified new measures would be taken to combat corruption, such as forcing ministries to advertise all job openings publicly to fight cronyism.
Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said that al-Nujaifi's comments are a sign that politicians in the country are taking notice of protests.
Kristof resolutely ignores all that. So I wonder. Without the Iraqi democracy staring him straight in the eye, would Kristof be so confident that another Arab democracy will spring up in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, or anywhere else? Sorry, but it's hard for me to imagine.
But I can think of a reason Mr. Kristof would rather not say much about Iraq. He was one who had a fairly prominent role in the efforts to undermine the liberation of Iraq. Try as as they might, lefties were unable to prevent it, so Kristof and the left had to settle for the next best thing, which was to discredit it.
Kristof was the first to promote the fiction concocted by Joseph C. Wilson, when he accused the Bush administration of twisting the intelligence in order to justify the invasion. Wilson's story was BS.
This was at a time when the realists said democracy would never take hold in the Arab world, particularly in Iraq. But now Kristof confidently proclaims Abrab democracy is all but a done deal. Everywhere but Iraq.
Which brings me to another of those elephants in Kristof's living room. The left is always poised to disregard inconvenient historical facts, and judging by this column of his Kristof is no exception. The fact is, revolutions rarely lead to democratic self government without help from the outside, and again, Iraq provides the lesson. The year was 1991.
The noose was closing around Saddam's neck when a fateful decision was made in Washington. Prompted by foreign policy "realists" in his administration—such as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and National Security Council Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs Richard Haass—Mr. Bush allowed Saddam to fly military aircraft to put down the uprising.
What followed was a massacre. Up to 330,000 Iraqi civilians were killed by Saddam's brutal tactics, which included using helicopter gunships to strafe neighborhoods and tanks to blast schools, hospitals and places of worship. While thousands of U.S. troops were still on Iraqi soil and in some cases were close enough to watch, the tyrant unleashed the power of modern weaponry against men, women and children.
The news from Libya is an all-too-chilling reminder of those dark days in Iraq. It is no coincidence that Gadhafi often mentions Iraq in his tirades. He knows how Saddam clung to power by sheer brute force while playing on the West's fear of instability.
Without American help in 1991, the Iraqi revolution failed. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were murdered. But the overthrow in 2003 did not fail. It was a long hard battle, but it was a battle that was won which, as it turns out, was a defeat for the left. Kristof seems to resist the painful memory of it. Instead he looks for redemption in other Middle Eastern Arab nations where, magically, democracies will rise, he thinks, untainted by any connection to America.
It would be great if we could have happy endings in Tripoli and Tehran, but the chances are slim without western help. And there is really only one nation that can provide the kind of help they'd need to pull it off. That would be America. But America's leader isn't planning to make it happen.
The capital of Libya was on fire, Egypt was still smoldering and Somali pirates killed four American hostages.
But at the time, last Tuesday morning, President Obama was on his way to Cleveland for a “winning the future” forum about small business.
Aides kept Obama abreast of the violent world events, but that morning’s focus was 9 percent national unemployment and a domestic economic recovery that had slowed or even stalled.
That is a smart strategy, said presidential expert Ross Baker, because while revolutionaries in the streets of foreign capitals make for more dramatic news leads, they rarely win elections.
Which brings us to yet another elephant. By ignoring the lessons of Iraq, Kristof misses the crucial point that Obama is not interested in helping to liberate the people of Iran, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, or anywhere else. Obama is staying with his strong suit, which is winning elections, and foreign policy imposes upon that goal. What happens in Egypt, Libya, or Bahrain? Not his problem.
Update: Apparently Obama recognizes there some are things we can do to help the Libyan people after all.
The Pentagon is deploying naval and air forces around Libya as the US and UK governments consider tougher measures to force Muammer Gaddafi from power, including the possible establishment of a no-fly zone.
“We must not tolerate this regime using military force against its own people,” David Cameron, UK prime minister, said. “In that context I have asked the Ministry of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff to work with our allies on plans for a military no-fly zone.”
Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, at a UN meeting in Geneva, said: “Nothing is off the table so long as the Libyan government continues to threaten and kill Libyans.” She added she had discussed a no-fly zone with other foreign ministers.
She insisted the naval deployments did not signal pending military action, emphasising instead that refugees might need to be rescued at sea amid a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Humanitarian assistance is better than nothing, but once again Iraq provides an instructive example. The U.S. maintained a no-fly zone over Iraq for nearly a decade, but by itself that produced no incentive for change to a more liberal form of government.
Further Update: Thomas Sowell isn't so optimistic about democracy taking hold in the Arab world.
If there was ever a time when people in Western democracies might be excused for thinking that Western institutions could simply be exported to other nations to create new free democracies, that time has long passed.
It is easy to export the outward symbols of democracy-- constitutions, elections, parliaments and the like-- but you cannot export the centuries of experience and development that made those institutions work. All too often, exported democratic institutions have meant "one man, one vote-- one time."