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January 21, 2005

Is the Middle East Actually Ready For Democracy?

I've been meaning to pose this question for some time.

I think we on the right -- and I include myself here -- have taken far too much pleasure in condemning those on the left who question the ME's suitability for democracy as being "racists."

It's a lot of fun to hoist them by their own petards, and use their language and their slogans against them-- "How can you be so racist and ruthless as to condemn entire nations to tyranny?"

But.

I would not say that the Middle East is not ready for democracy. I would not say that Arabs are incapable of praciticing it and mastering it, or that Islam is incompatible with democracy, human rights, freedom, and small-l liberal government and self-determination.

But I would say this: It remains an open question.

I'm quite sure there's nothing genetic about Arabs that might make democracy difficult for them; I'm not a racist. And I do know that several Muslim states are either semi-democracies or at least moving in the right direction.

Nevertheless, "democracy" and "freedom" don't grow in rocky soil. The ground must be prepared for them to blossom. Europe and America had the Enlightment, and science (by which, I guess, I mean a general philosophical empiricism), and banking, and secure contracts based upon voluntary agreements, and a host of other factors which made democracy and peaceful self-rule work; other cultures may not.

As dozens of conservative commentators frequently pointed out: there is an entire infrastructure of habits, practices, traditions and temperaments that are more or less necessary for democracy and peaceful self-governance. A paper constitution is not the answer, as we've seen dozens of times in Latin America and Africa. (Yes, I know, Latin America is moving in the right direction too.)

Again, I don't say that democracy is doomed to fail in Iraq, nor that Bush is acting wrong in attempting to bring that nation out of the dark ages. It's a noble project, and I hope and pray it works.

But I am, I guess, arguing with readers and commenters here who assume that this is closer to a lock than the gamble it is.

I want this work. I hope it will work. And I do hope that the beacon of freedom that Iraq provides will light the way for a dozen other countries.

I just think that, at least at the moment, the question remains very much open, and we shouldn't make assumptions about it.

There may be a dozen democratic dominoes about to fall; but the crucial one-- Iraq -- isn't quite even tottering over yet. So I worry about putting so much faith in an event we all desperately hope will come to pass, but has not yet done so, and may never do so at all.

And No, This Doesn't Make Me a Paleocon: But honestly, we on the right were just a year ago defending America's siding with Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war, for purely cynical -- but vital -- realpolitik reasons.

Are we ready to say that that was entirely a mistake? That the world has now changed so much? That we are all ready to abandon the idea that our security and interests come first, and that the idealistic, never-deal-with-thugs foreign policy so long advocated by the left is now the correct one, simply because the Left has now abandoned that policy and embraced a skeptical, ruthless brand of "let them all rot"?


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posted by Ace at 05:40 PM

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