Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Why Bush is Right About Democracy

Amir Taheri, in yet another of his great essays, confronts the question that has given so many liberals and leftists pause over the last few weeks: "Was Bush Right?"

Interestingly, none of those engaged in this soul-searching appear to be quite sure as to what was it that Bush may have been right about after all?

Was Bush right in branding Saddam Hussein as a murderous despot who had jailed, oppressed, exiled or killed his people for decades? Was Bush right in saying that without the destruction of the Baathist regime, the people of Iraq would not be able to dream of freedom let alone start building it?

Posing these questions would help Western opinion-makers not only to understand what is going on in the Middle East but, more importantly, not to misunderstand the events.

Taheri's answer to this question is spot on, in my view:

For my part Bush was, and remains, right not in his analysis of the political undercurrents of the region but in his understanding of American national interests.

He realized that the status quo that the US had defended in the Middle East for almost 60 years, had produced a new and unusual streak of terrorism that poses the most serious threat to American national security.

Bush realized that democratic societies do not allow the formation of religious and ideological swamps in which the deadly mosquitoes of terror breed and multiply. Democracies will never mother an ideology that in turn brings forth Al-Qaeda.

As the President himself put it in his excellent March 8th address at the National Defense University:

Our strategy to keep the peace in the longer term is to help change the conditions that give rise to extremism and terror, especially in the broader Middle East. Parts of that region have been caught for generations in a cycle of tyranny and despair and radicalism. When a dictatorship controls the political life of a country, responsible opposition cannot develop, and dissent is driven underground and toward the extreme. And to draw attention away from their social and economic failures, dictators place blame on other countries and other races, and stir the hatred that leads to violence. This status quo of despotism and anger cannot be ignored or appeased, kept in a box or bought off, because we have witnessed how the violence in that region can reach easily across borders and oceans. The entire world has an urgent interest in the progress, and hope, and freedom in the broader Middle East.

The advance of hope in the Middle East requires new thinking in the region. By now it should be clear that authoritarian rule is not the wave of the future; it is the last gasp of a discredited past. It should be clear that free nations escape stagnation, and grow stronger with time, because they encourage the creativity and enterprise of their people. It should be clear that economic progress requires political modernization, including honest representative government and the rule of law. And it should be clear that no society can advance with only half of its talent and energy -- and that demands the full participation of women. (Applause.)

The advance of hope in the Middle East also requires new thinking in the capitals of great democracies -- including Washington, D.C. By now it should be clear that decades of excusing and accommodating tyranny, in the pursuit of stability, have only led to injustice and instability and tragedy. It should be clear that the advance of democracy leads to peace, because governments that respect the rights of their people also respect the rights of their neighbors. It should be clear that the best antidote to radicalism and terror is the tolerance and hope kindled in free societies. And our duty is now clear: For the sake of our long-term security, all free nations must stand with the forces of democracy and justice that have begun to transform the Middle East.

As James S. Robbins has written for National Review Online, the days of America blindly pursuing stability in the Middle East are over. For decades we sold out the peoples of that region while putting our faith in brutal dictators and corrupt autocrats. On 9/11, we paid the price. As painful as our sacrifices in Iraq have been, they pale compared to the price we would ultimately have paid for doing nothing.


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