With no weapons of mass destruction found
and nothing to tie Saddam to Sept. 11, the White House has justified the war
as America's way to democratize Iraq and, through it, the Arab world.
Exhibit A in the White House case is the January elections. Kurds and Shi'ites
courageously voted for an assembly to write a new constitution. Dispossessed
Sunnis, under death threats, stayed away. Result: the first Shia-dominated regime
elected in an Arab country in history, though another is right next door in
Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi arrived in Baghdad.
Unlike Condi Rice, Kharrazi had no need for a flak jacket or helmet and was
received in Najaf by Ayatollah Sistani, who has yet to meet an American representative.
In his 2002 State of the Union, Bush had described Iran, Iraq, and North
Korea as an "axis of evil," a triumvirate of the world's worst dictatorships,
all hell-bent on acquiring the world's worst weapons – to menace mankind.
But, in 2002, there was no Baghdad-Tehran axis, only mutual hatred between
them from an eight-year war in which a million may have died on each side. But
today, a Baghdad-Tehran axis is emerging. On Kharrazi's visit, Iraq admitted
to having started the 1980s war, laying full blame on Saddam. Both nations condemned
terror. Both recognized their mutual sovereignty and created a joint committee
to thicken economic, political, and security ties.
Among issues raised was surely how Iraq will react if the United States
attacks Iran when its negotiations with the EU over its nuclear program collapse,
as appears imminent.
Query: How much blood and treasure should Uncle Sam invest in a war to
bring about free elections, if the result is to replace autocrats with Islamists
who favor looser ties to America and closer ties to fellow Islamists? Have we
spent the lives of 1,600 American soldiers and $200 billion to create a Shia
axis that will dominate the Persian Gulf when we depart, as we one day must?
Other elections are approaching, and the results are likely to be equally
ambivalent for the United States.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah, which the State Department considers a terrorist
organization, stands to make major gains in the parliamentary elections. Hamas,
another group branded terrorist by State, is expected, based on its showing
in local elections, to give Arafat's Fatah a strong run. The Palestinian Authority
is seeking to postpone the July 17 elections.
In Egypt, where President Mubarak is under pressure from the White House
to hold free and fair elections, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest
Islamist organization in the Middle East, with deep roots among the pious poor,
now wants in.
According to the Washington Post, "The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest
organized opposition force in Egypt, has evolved into the country's most assertive
campaigner for democratic reforms by defying bans on its political activities
and spearheading a series of demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak."
The Brotherhood has stolen the spotlight from the pro-Western secularists
who had been challenging Mubarak, but, adds the Post, "has paid a heavy
price for its new vigor. According to government figures, more than 750 activists
have been arrested since March 27. Brotherhood officials put the number at more
Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamist parties are
succeeding due to common factors. They all tend to be militantly anti-Israel
and anti-American, which resonates with the Muslim masses. They operate social
programs that assist the poor and have thus created grass-roots organizations
– not unlike the Democratic Party that aided poor Catholic immigrants in the
19th century. They are seen as selfless, while the empowered regimes are viewed
as selfish and corrupt.
Free and fair elections in all 22 Arab countries would likely bring Islamists
close to power, or into power, in every single one.
In Algeria in 1991, Islamists were winning national elections only to have
their victory stolen by the army, with the approval of France and the United
States. An Islamist Party that lately came to power in Ankara denied Turkey's
benefactor and ally of 50 years, the United States, the use of Turkish bases
for our invasion of Iraq.
In Kuwait, reports the Financial Times, a group of Islamists bent
on expelling the 30,000 U.S. troops has formed the Gulf's first political party
and is demanding recognition. In Pakistan, pro-al Qaeda and pro-Taliban Islamists
have run strong in the provinces bordering Afghanistan.
In Gulf Wars I & II, neoconservatives mocked the failure of the "Arab
street" to shake Arab regimes or resist U.S. power. But with their campaign
for global democracy, Bush and his neocon auxiliary may have created the vehicle
Islamists will ride to power across the Middle East, preparatory to telling
us to go home.
Testing time for democratists everywhere: Are you principled in supporting
free elections, no matter the outcome? Or are you hypocrites who support elections
only if your side wins?
Soon, President Bush will give us the answer.
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