Monday, February 13, 2006

Will Middle Eastern Democracy Bring Security?

There is no question that George W. Bush’s much-maligned neoconservatism has drastically altered U.S. foreign policy. As much as Bush’s critics wish it were otherwise, there is simply no possibility of quickly returning to the pre-Bush policy of closing our eyes in the hope that all of the bad stuff in the rest of the world will either go away or at least stay away from us.

Regardless of what one might think of Bush’s pre-emption strategy, we are in Iraq and will be there for quite some time. The public might not like it, but people realize that pulling out at this point would be hazardous to our national security. We’re going to have to see this one through.

I have noted previously that the American public hasn’t totally bought into Bush’s argument that democracy in the Middle East will make for better national security than our previous unrealistic strategy of “realism.” Remember that the old strategy brought us 9/11, but we still have a long way to go before we get out of the business of propping up tyrants. Democracy=safety is certainly a long-long-range plan. With the Hamas landslide in Palestine, people are even less sure of this argument.

I have long wondered why we have been trying so hard to make the Middle Eastern world like us. We’ve been doing this for decades, and the effort has only intensified under the current administration. The people that promote this tactic simply do not understand the nature of the Islamic world’s differences with Western culture. Some of what we do actually exacerbates the problem.

Some of the greatest pro-American sentiment in the Middle East is in Iran, where they have some of the most despotic leadership (now that Saddam is merely a defendant). There is some genuine pro-Americanism in Iraq, mostly in gratitude for liberation from Saddam’s regime. But some of the strongest anti-Americanism comes from some of the more democratic parts of the region.

Reuel Marc Gerecht says here that anti-Americanism will only increase as democracy increases in the Middle East. But he argues that this is healthy. Gerecht expertly discusses some of the cultural schizophrenia that Islamic countries are grappling with. I guess I’m not the only one that thinks it’s strange that a culture would protest idiotic cartoons portraying it as violent by perpetrating violence.

Gerecht points out that Western culture assaults some of the basic Muslim beliefs about the structure of the home and family. He says that this, much more than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, informs Muslim anti-American attitudes – since the U.S. is the strongest icon of Western culture; the biggest target, as it were.

Gerecht argues that the proliferation of dangerous fundamentalism is a byproduct of our strategy of supporting despotism. He says that only in democratic Muslim societies will the necessary and heated debates occur that will work out the culture’s “relation to modernity,” which Christendom has already had to deal with.

Gerecht suggests that this process will be nerve wracking for them and for us. The clash of ideas will necessarily give rise to more anti-Western and anti-American sentiments – at least in the short run. But Gerecht argues that the sooner the debates begin the better, especially “where our national interest stands to gain the most--in Egypt and Iran.” Let’s hope he’s right, because this appears to be the path we are pursuing.

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