American liberals are deeply worried these days that the White House is being
run by messianic evangelicals with an agenda.
But whether or not such fears are overblown partisan hogwash or not, there is
more than a kernel of truth in that notion, though not in the way many of
President George W. Bush's critics think.
The man at the head of our government and his minions are apparently hooked
on a mission to convert the world. But the "good news" they are spreading
It is democracy.
The Bush democracy craze was first apparent in June of 2002, when the
president turned American foreign policy on its head and announced that the
Palestinians could have a state of their own, but only if they also embraced
But contrary to the admonitions of those who pooh-poohed that speech
insisting it was just a tactic to marginalize the very undemocratic and terrorist
leader at the head of the Palestinian Authority Bush's obsession has survived
the demise of Yasser Arafat. It has even become the key to the
administration's biggest and riskiest project: the transformation of Iraq.
ROOTS OF MODERATION
Those who doubt that this is a matter of true belief (and not just a
stratagem) have been forced to contend with the president's embrace of a book by Natan
Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and prisoner of Zion who is now a
member of the Israeli Cabinet.
According to news reports, Bush not only devoured a copy of the book himself,
but has made it required reading for everyone else at the White House and
even tried to push the slim volume on foreign leaders.
Co-authored by Ron Dermer, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to
Overcome Tyranny & Terror centers on Sharansky's argument that his own
experience in resisting the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union should inform our view
of not only the prospects for Middle East peace, but the future of
international diplomacy. (ClickHERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)
The book preaches that peace with Palestinians, as well as Islamists
elsewhere, is predicated on the transformation of their societies into democracies,
and not on appeasing the demands of radicals or relying on Arab authoritarians
to suppress violent elements.
He believes moderate societies create leaders dedicated to peace, not the
other way around. And that is a message being promoted by the Bush administration
in Iraq and in the Israeli-Arab conflict.
But this almost-messianic belief in the power of liberal democracy has run
into fierce resistance, and not just from the terrorists who are murdering
election officials on the streets of Baghdad.
Critics of the drive for liberalization of the Arab world assert in almost
racist fashion that liberal Western democracy is incompatible with the core
values of Islamic societies.
More credibly, others claim that if the Arab world were composed of
democracies, rather than authoritarian regimes and corrupt monarchies, the results
would be even worse for the West than the current crop of leaders.
The experience of Algeria, which more than a decade ago attempted to switch
from a dictatorship into a democracy, resulted in an election victory for
totalitarian Islamic radicals that was quickly snuffed out by the military. Years
of bloody civil war followed.
As far as the Palestinians are concerned, had convicted multiple terrorist
murderer Marwan Barghouti carried out his threat to run against Mahmoud Abbas in
the elections scheduled for next month, he might well have won. That might
have dashed any hope of exploiting the opportunity for progress toward peace
that has followed in the wake of Arafat's death.
WHAT'S THE ALTERNATIVE?
But the notion that Arabs or anyone else can insulate themselves from
the democracy bug in the age of the Internet and global communication is nuts.
The Wilsonian fervor that animates both Sharansky and his disciple in the Oval
Office may strike some as naive, but what do the cynics offer in its place?
And those who say that insistence on democracy is merely a way to put off
peace have got it backward; without democratic reform, any peace agreement would
be as meaningless as the Oslo fiasco.
Those pious liberals like former President Jimmy Carter, who always think
killers like Arafat can, if sufficiently appeased, be relied upon to contain
terrorists, are dead wrong. Indeed, Israel's whole Oslo experiment based on the
late Yitzhak Rabin's thought that Arafat would squelch terrorists in a way
Israel could not proved the opposite.
The violence and hate that seem to be the touchstones of Palestinian and
Iraqi society are antithetical to democracy. Yet that's precisely why it is right
for the United States to use its power and influence to push for change in
these societies. And that should be the case even in those instances where the
authoritarians like the leaders of Pakistan and Egypt seem to be the only
ones there who can stand up to the radicals.
Sharansky writes, "I have no doubt that the Arabs want to be free. Many ask
how I can be so sure when there is no Arab Sakharov or Arab Ghandi. I am sure
because I know that the extent of dissent in a society, like so many things in
life, is a function of price."
If the price of dissent is certain death, then few will speak up. But if
outside pressure for reform lowers that price and the United States has the
power to do just that then democrats will eventually come forward.
The Bush/Sharansky thesis isn't a form of imperialism or a latter-day version
of Rudyard Kipling's poetic advocacy of "the white man's burden." It is
nothing more than the same faith in freedom and the triumph of the human spirit
that lies behind every revolutionary advance in human rights throughout
Betting on democracy in the Arab world is a gamble. But if we are to fail
and we might isn't it far better for America and Israel to do it this
way, rather than to lose without even standing up for what we believe?
The cynics are wrong. Faith in democracy is no unworthy creed. It is also one
form of evangelism that may have the power to redeem not only the Arabs, but
ourselves as well.