Friday, March 11, 2005

To be expected

In "The Beirut Wall Is not Falling," Fred Kaplan of Slate attempts to explain to us why we shouldn't get too excited about the effect that Iraq and its elections are having on the Middle East. Though he does offer the traditional liberal disclaimer, "Maybe things will end up fine; I certainly hope so," he goes on to explain how things will almost certainly end up in the crapper. Why? Because the Middle East lacks a Gorbachev, a Havel, or a Walesa. In an extremely telling, though not surprising couple of paragraphs, Kaplan explains why the Middle East is not like the Eastern Bloc in 1989:

The tumbling of the Berlin Wall was the product of a peculiar convergence of events. The Soviet empire was collapsing. The Soviet president was a singular man, Mikhail Gorbachev, who actively pushed for reform and Westernization (which he hoped would avert collapse but in fact accelerated it). Meanwhile, indigenous democratic movements were fomenting within the empire (Lech Walesa's Solidarity in Poland, Václav Havel's Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, the perpetual secessionists in the Baltics). Detente, black markets, and jam-free broadcasts had whetted an appetite for Western ways. The nations suffering a generation of Soviet rule—especially the Baltics, East Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia—had longer traditions of democracy, capitalism, and European cosmopolitanism. Finally, their anti-Soviet sentiments were blooming in a bipolar world; repulsion toward Moscow translated very easily into attraction toward America. When the wall came down in '89 and the Soviet Union itself imploded two years later, the adoption (or resumption) of Western-style democracy was natural; emissaries from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the CIA, McDonald's, and all the rest were, at least initially, most welcome.

Now let's look at the aspiring democracies of the Middle East. The nations in question—mainly Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt (with noises rustling in Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia)—are not joined by a common empire or target of revolt. There is no Gorbachev among them, in any case. Nor are there signs of Walesas or Havels. These countries never experienced a Reformation and thus have no Western traditions. And their rebellions are festering in a world that offers many models beyond communism or capitalism, some of them notably hostile to both.

What's missing? In explaining the fall of the Soviet Union and its influence, Kaplan doesn't even make a passing reference to Reagan, and not even to the Pope, both of which certainly had more to do with the fall of the Soviet Union than Walesa and Havel, and Reagan certainly had more to do with the fall of the Soviet Union than Gorbachev, a man who did have enough sense not to go down with the sinking ship.

Kaplan's view of history is simply incredible (it denies that the U.S., at least when led by a Republican who is willing to clearly distinguish between democracy and tyranny, impacts for good foreign affairs), but it does explain why he will be on the wrong side of history (even though we know that he hopes with all his heart that he is wrong) about the Middle East. I actually get from Kaplan's article the sense that he hopes that the people in Beirut, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, and Iran fail, at least until there is an explanation for their success that doesn't sound in the Iraqi elections. His opening paragraph is an attempt to belittle those who have taken a Lebanese opposition leader's statement that: "Something is happening, the Berlin Wall is falling, we can see it." And then we get Kaplan's explanation of why this is different--there is no Gorbachev (and to be fair, a little bit more).

Some on the left are beginning to be worried by the successes of Bush's policy (and as Sean pointed out earlier, they were intended). For an example, check out former Clinton aide, Nancy Soderberg's interview on the Daily Show. You should watch it, but here is one good exchange:

Stewart: Do you think that the people of Lebanon would have had, sort of, the courage of their conviction, having not seen--not only the invasion but the election which followed? It's almost as though that the Iraqi election has emboldened this crazy--something's going on over there. I'm smelling something.

Soderberg: I think partly what's going on is the country next door, Syria, has been controlling them for decades, and they [the Syrians] were dumb enough to blow up the former prime minister of Lebanon in Beirut, and they're--people are sort of sick of that, and saying, "Wait a minute, that's a stretch too far." So part of what's going on is they're just protesting that. But I think there is a wave of change going on, and if we can help ride it though the second term of the Bush administration, more power to them.
. . . .
Soderberg: The truth always helps in these things, I have to say. But I think that there is also going on in the Middle East peace process--they may well have a chance to do a historic deal with the Palestinians and the Israelis. These guys could really pull off a whole--

Stewart: This could be unbelievable!

Soderberg:---series of Nobel Peace Prizes here, which--it may well work. I think that, um, it's--

Stewart: [buries head in hands] Oh my God! [audience laughter] He's got, you know, here's--

Soderberg: It's scary for Democrats, I have to say.

I'm not holding my breath that there will be a general acceptance of Bush's positive impact on democracy in the Middle East--Kaplan's article illustrates the unwillingness to accept that sort of fact. But I will happily agree that the current developments in the Middle East are very scary for Democrats.

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