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Wesley Clark on reforming the Middle East

Politicians Wesley Clark Democrat 2004

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#1 MuseZack


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Posted 10 May 2004 - 11:12 PM

A really thoughtful and interesting article (but long)on democratization in the Middle East by Wesley Clark can be found here.  


It draws a lot of parallels to the Cold War and 40 year effort to bring democracy to the Soviet bloc, while pointing out some real differences.  Most interestingly coming from a former general, he spends most of the article talking about the uses of "soft power"--  information dissemination, cultural exchanges, encouraging independent trade unions and human rights groups, and so forth.  

A few excerpts:

These subtler efforts mattered a great deal. The 1975 Helsinki Accords proved to be the crucial step in opening the way for the subsequent peaceful democratization of the Soviet bloc. The accords, signed by the Communist governments of the East, guaranteed individual human and political rights to all peoples and limited the authority of governments to act against their own citizens. However flimsy the human rights provisions seemed at the time, they  provided a crucial platform for dissidents such as Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov. These dissidents, though often jailed and exiled, built organizations that publicized their governments' many violations of the accords, garnering Western attention and support and inspiring their countrymen with the knowledge that it was possible to stand up to the political powers that be.  

Democracy and freedom have been ascendant in most parts of the world for at least the last 15 years, and it's hard to imagine that they aren't also destined to take root in the Middle East. But to play a constructive role in bringing this about, we must understand the facts on the ground and the lessons of history clearly. Our efforts should take into account not just the desire for freedom of those in the Middle East, but also their pride in their own culture and roots and their loyalty to Islam. We should work primarily with and through our allies, and be patient as we were during the four decades of the Cold War. More than anything else, we should keep in mind the primary lesson of the fall of the Soviet Union: Democracy can come to a place only when its people rise up and demand it.  


We should also recognize that it is not merely democracy itself--a popular vote to elect a government--that we seek for the Middle East, but rather more enlightened, tolerant, and moderating decisions and actions from governments. The tolerance, aversion to aggression, and openness which we hope to see emerge from a democratic transformation in the Middle East will require much more than just censuses, election registers, polling booths, and accurate ballot counts. We must avoid what Fareed Zakaria calls "illiberal democracy," governments which are elected but which routinely ignore constitutional limits on their power and deprive their citizens of basic rights and freedoms. Only by creating a system of pluralistic and overlapping structures and institutions that check the power of their leaders can the nations of the Middle East avoid this fate.

At any rate, it's a long article, but worth a read when thinking of broad-based strategies toward encouraging democracy to bloom in a rather inhospitable environment.
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#2 Rov Judicata

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Posted 11 May 2004 - 02:53 PM


During 2002 and early 2003, Bush administration officials put forth a shifting series of arguments for why we needed to invade Iraq.


We have yet to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; assuming that they exist at all, they obviously never presented an imminent threat

If you repeat the "imminent threat" lie often enough, it'll become true!


Saddam's alleged connections to al Qaeda turned out to be tenuous at best and clearly had nothing to do with September 11

... another assertion never put forth by Bush administration officials.


And peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which prominent hawks argued could be achieved "only through Baghdad," seems further away than ever.

Which, once again, didn't come from the Bush administration.


For every example of progress (Libya giving up its WMD program), there's an instance of backsliding (the Iranian mullahs purging reformist parliamentarians).

That I disagree with. The Iranian situation is exceedingly complex, and barring the reformists from the election is likely to hurt the mullahcracy in the long run. What's more, the latter would have happened with no US intervention; the former was a direct result of Iraq.


The truth is this: It took four decades of patient engagement to bring down the Iron Curtain, and 10 years of deft diplomacy to turn chaotic, post-Soviet states into stable, pro-Western democracies. To achieve the same in the Middle East will require similar engagement, patience, and luck.

That's something I agree with. "It's been a whole year and Iraq isn't a liberal democracy yet!" needs to stop.


And the neoconservative goal was more ambitious than merely toppling dictators: By creating a democracy in Iraq, our success would, in the president's words, "send forth the news from Damascus to Tehran--that freedom can be the future of every nation," and Iraq's democracy would serve as a beacon that would ignite liberation movements and a "forward strategy of freedom" around the Middle East.

That's what it's all about. I'm glad that Clark is debating this at the real level.


Bush, of course, has accompanied his invasion of Iraq with similarly bold and eloquent rhetoric about the prospect of peace and democracy throughout the Arab world. But it is hard to exaggerate how differently his words and deeds have been received in the Middle East, compared to Reagan's behind the Iron Curtain. While heartening some advocates of democracy, Bush's approach has provoked perhaps the fiercest and most alarming anti-American backlash in history. To take but one example, a March poll conducted by the Pew Center found that the percentage of people in Muslim countries who think suicide bombings are justified has grown by roughly 40 percent since the American occupation of Iraq. Even the most Western-friendly, pro-democratic media outlets in countries such as Jordan and Lebanon now openly question whether the Americans are anti-Islamic crusaders bent on assisting the Israeli occupiers of Palestine. This is a long way from Prague, circa 1989.
That is problematic. Anything we do, however, is going to be interpreted as imperialistic or otherwise inappropriate meddling in Middle Eastern affairs.


In the medium term, our European allies must share the burden--which will only happen if we share decision-making with them.

They have no interest in this fight. Heck, France may well be better off if the United States fails. What possible incentive could we offer? What's more, it's unclear how many effective troops are really out there..


The "road to Jerusalem" didn't run through Baghdad at all; rather, until real progress is made towards resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue in a way that respects both sides, all American efforts to work within the region will be compromised.

He talks a good game, but much of that part of the world won't be happy unless Israel ceases to exist. Short of choosing to allow that to happen, I don't see many options. What, precisely, would respect both sides?

As for the rest: I agree with large portions of it. Clark talks a good game, but I'm not sure how plausible a lot of his suggestions are. Still, good reading. Thanks for posting Zack.
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