Democratization or Disintegration?
vindicated by dramatic events in the Middle East since the Iraqi
elections Jan. 30, especially the growing international clamor for
Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, neoconservatives are calling on
President George W. Bush to seize the moment by pressing for "regime
change" in Damascus and Iran, as well.
its own missionary rhetoric, the Bush administration, however, seems
inclined to wait until the dust from the latest developments has
settled and, to the growing frustration of the neocons and other
unilateralists, to ensure that it not get too far ahead of its European
allies in dealing with the region.
administration's relative caution reflects the persistent influence
and concerns of so-called policy "realists" who remain
skeptical about whether recent events in the Middle East will lead
to a new era of democratization, rather than a new cycle of destabilization
if the latest developments indeed represent the Middle East equivalent
of the fall of the Berlin Wall, as proponents of Bush's democracy
agenda claim, the realists stress the considerable risks, most notably
the empowerment of Islamists across the region, that more democratic
governments may well bring.
Bush's caution also reflects his administration's new determination
to coordinate more closely with Washington's traditional allies,
particularly in the wake of his European tour last month.
meetings with European leaders were very enlightening, because they
convinced him that, 'if you don't work with us, we're not going
to succeed, our initiatives will fail, and you will find yourself
isolated again'," said Geoffrey Kemp, head of Middle East programs
at The Nixon Center here.
see a more cautious administration that is working more closely
with allies than ever before," added Kemp, who served on the
National Security Council under former President Ronald Reagan.
evidence, Kemp, as well as other specialists, point to Bush's decision
after the trip to reassess Washington's policy on the ongoing negotiations
between Germany, France, and Britain (EU-3) and Iran on Tehran's
the trip, even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, considered the
most Atlanticist of Bush's top advisers, insisted that Washington
was not prepared to offer economic or other incentives to Iran as
part of a possible package deal that would include Tehran's agreement
to abandon its alleged quest for nuclear weapons.
Bush now appears poised to make some of the commitments that the
Europeans had sought.
has dismayed many neoconservatives and other hawks centered within
the administration in the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney
and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld. They believe that now is not
the moment to be seen as "appeasing" or "engaging"
adversaries, least of all in Tehran and Damascus.
column after column, especially since the anti-Syrian demonstrations
in Lebanon broke out in the wake of the mid-February assassination
of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, their media mouthpieces have
claimed vindication for their long-standing predictions that democratic
elections in Iraq would reverberate throughout the region, encouraging
democratic forces to stand up to their oppressors.
the simpleton now?" crowed Los Angeles Times columnist
Max Boot earlier this week. "Those who dreamed of spreading
democracy to the Arabs or those who denied that it could ever happen?"
he went on, citing the Iraqi and earlier Palestinian elections,
municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, events in Lebanon, and Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak's unexpected pledge last week to permit
multi-candidate presidential elections next fall.
as well as virtually every other hawk writing on the subject, quoted
Lebanon's Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, as crediting Bush for the
chain of events: "It's strange for me to say it, but this process
of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq."
are at the dawn of a glorious, delicate, revolutionary moment in
the Middle East," exulted another neocon, Charles Krauthammer,
in Friday's Washington Post in a column entitled "The
Road to Damascus."
was triggered by the invasion of Iraq, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein,
and televised images of 8 million Iraqis voting in a free election."
his ideological colleagues, Krauthammer called for the administration
to press its advantage by ensuring that that Syria completely withdraw
from Lebanon, and confidently predicted that such a withdrawal would
fatally weaken President Bashar Assad who "has succeeded Saddam
Hussein as the principal bad actor in the region. Syria, an island
of dictatorship in a sea of liberalization", according to Krauthammer,
"is desperately trying to destabilize its neighbors."
Krauthammer's main target was as much the "realists" as
Assad, as he railed against a Mar. 3 New York Times column entitled
"Don't Rush on the Road to Damascus", that was written
by Flynt Leverett, a fellow at the Brooking Institution who headed
Middle East affairs in Bush's National Security Council until 2003.
turmoil unleashed in Lebanon by the Hariri assassination,"
he noted, "may indeed represent a strategic opening, but not
for the risky maximalist course that some in the administration
seem intent on pursuing."
went on to argue that any attempt to establish a pro-Western government
in Beirut would fail as a result of the resistance of fervently
anti-American Hezbollah, the country's largest and best-organized
party. That, in turn, would create "more instability in the
region when the United States can ill afford it."
for helping oust Assad, Leverett warned that the "most likely
near-term consequence of (his) departure would be chaos; the most
likely political order to emerge from that chaos would be heavily
sensing that Leverett's arguments might be making headway within
administration councils indeed, acting assistant secretary
of state for the Near East David Satterfield had warned that Hezbollah
stood to gain new power if Syria withdrew Krauthammer ridiculed
is no time to listen to the voices of tremulousness, indecision,
compromise and fear," he wrote. "These people never learn.
Here we are on the threshold of what Arabs in the region are calling
the fall of their own Berlin Wall and our 'realists' want us to
go back to making deals with dictators."
Thursday, Bush explicitly called for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon,
a position that, significantly, had already been taken by France
and was echoed by Saudi Arabia, which, in contrast to Krauthammer,
reportedly believes it will actually save the Assad regime.
to "regime change" in either Syria or Iran, on the other
hand, insiders say he remains uncommitted, particularly given his
new determination to forge closer cooperation with Europe.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service