Jewish World Review Nov. 10, 2003 / 15 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Robert Stewart

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President Bush, like Eisenhower before him, is signaling the beginning of a new epoch | In what will prove to be among the most important speeches of his administration, President Bush declared Thursday that the Mideast is in the midst of positive, epochal change-and introduced the world to what could easily be called a Reverse Domino Theory.

Unlike the current spread of terrorism and tyranny, the prevailing threat in the 1950's was the spread of nuclear-armed communism arrayed against U.S. interests around the globe. Referring to the nations at risk of falling under the Iron Curtain at the time, President Eisenhower explained what is now referred to as the Domino Theory (which he originally termed "a falling domino principle"). "You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly," he said at an April 7, 1954 news conference. "So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences." This was a defining period for America, and the world.

President Bush signaled another such epoch Thursday, though the complication for the current administration is that Bush is dealing with the quandary of nations already under despotic rule-and how to lift the dominos. In his speech at the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, he said, "The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution" he said. "Iraqi democracy will succeed, and that success will send the news from Damascus to Tehran that democracy can be the future of every nation." Rejecting the Domino Effect justifications of the Cold War that led to containment and détente policies a half-century ago, the administration plans to implement a new policy for this new era, and for a different - though no less important - region of the world.

The recent liberation of Iraq and American commitment to reconstruction is the birth of stability for the entire region - one domino at a time. "The progress of liberty is a powerful trend," Bush averred. "And the resolve we show will shape the next stage of the world democratic movement." This new doctrine asserts that by removing a dictator from one nation and providing the means necessary to rebuild, other nations will similarly move toward freedom and democracy until the other dominoes rise. Rather than destabilize the region, as Bush's detractors often claim, the result of the regime change in Iraq will bring just the opposite: stability, freedom, and the individual prosperity that can only be found in a safe environment.

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America has the opportunity to prove it has no imperialist designs on Iraq or the surrounding regions and that it has the commitment to do whatever it takes financially, or militarily, or diplomatically to ensure the success of the fledgling nations emerging-or attempting to emerge-from despotism.

This will not be an easy task. There are no democracies in the vast space of land between Israel and Turkey, and no examples for the people living under dictatorial rule to emulate - but freedom is infectious. When the people of Iran or Syria see a dictator replaced with a successful government of the Iraqi people's choosing, they will not easily remain supportive of their own repressive governments. And when they witness the benefits of replacing repression with freedoms, and terror with economic development, they will demand the same for their own.

As it was in Iraq, it is oppression, not a lack of resources, that prevents surrounding nations from realizing their full potential for growth and prosperity. Until they provide the freedom and security necessary for development, they will suffer from an unrealized promise of modernity and universal prosperity. Highlighting the lack of freedom and the widespread political oppression in the region, as Bush is attempting with the reverse domino policy, won't change political attitudes overnight. But it may help provoke oppressive leaders and their allies to begin reforms. "As changes come to the Middle Eastern region," he said, "those with power should ask themselves: Will they be remembered for resisting reform, or for leading it?"

The United States and nascent democracies share a significant stake in the success of the reverse domino effect paradigm. Free nations prosper. They become trading partners, suppliers and builders of wealth. And more important, as Bush firmly stated in a February 26 speech to the American Enterprise Institute, "stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life." Stable neighbors, in other words, don't export terror across their common border. Rather, they promote trade and economic prosperity, benefiting both neighbors.

As European nations did at the onset of the Cold War, dictators must make an historic decision: support freedom and economic development, or stay the course of tyranny and stumble even further into the well of poverty, hopelessness and despair.

Nations will have a clear example in post-regime change Iraq of what they can expect of that choice. America's responsibility is to ensure that Iraq after Hussein provides the foundation - and the funding - to make the nation an example and a choice worth choosing.

JWR contributor Robert Stewart, a former Army intelligence analyst, is now a writer based in Washington, D.C. Comment by clicking here.


10/21/03: Is this war being won? You bet, just don't ask the congressman with the embarrassingly bad timing

© 2003, Robert Stewart