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Jewish World Review April 8, 2004 / 17 Nissan, 5764

Michael Ledeen

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From Tyranny to Freedom: Democracy in Iraq has precedent | Recent acts of barbarism against Coalition forces in Iraq have revived an old and enormously important debate: Are these terrorists the products of fanatic tyrannies, or are the tyrannies the logical expression of the true nature of the peoples of the region?

This is not an academic exercise, for many argue that our foreign policy depends on the answer. If we believe that the barbarism is the result of the likes of Saddam Hussein and the Iranian mullahs, then the war against terrorism should concentrate on regime change. Once the tyrants are removed, the terrorists will be deprived of their sustenance, and greater freedom and democracy can be expected. But, it is said, if fanaticism and barbarism are intrinsically part and parcel of the region's culture, mere regime change cannot possibly eliminate this sort of terrorism. Some way would have to be found to change the culture, and only then could terrorism be truly defeated and a political transformation succeed.

It is an ancient and highly instructive debate. It is featured in the book of Exodus in a lively confrontation between Moses and the Almighty. In one of the many uprisings against Moses, the Jews demand new leaders who will lead them back to Egypt. God reacts with disgust, tells Moses that these people are unworthy of the Divine mission, and announces his intention to kill all but a small remnant, the few people deserving of freedom and the Holy Land. Moses insists that they can be taught, and achieves a compromise: They will be spared, but will have to remain in the wilderness for 40 years. Thereafter a new generation will create Israel. Were the rebellious Jews created by Egyptian tyranny, or were they the sort of people who preferred tyranny to freedom?

The newly freed Egyptian slaves were not quickly transformed into freedom-loving democrats, despite their exceptional leaders. But in time they and their children learned the habits of mind of free people.

The greatest modern political thinker, Nicolò Machiavelli, observed that it is as difficult to bring freedom to a people accustomed to tyranny as it is to crush freedom in a free society. Yet Machiavelli knew that both had been accomplished, even though he took a very dim view of human nature ("man is more inclined to do evil than to do good").

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At the end of the Second World War, the leaders of the Great Generation pondered the disposition of Germany and Japan. Many believed it was impossible to bring freedom to people who had embraced fascism and its attendant culture of death (from Japanese suicide bombers in their kamikaze aircraft to SS fighters on the ground celebrating heroic death). The celebrated George F. Kennan, then the chief of the State Department's policy-planning staff, was convinced that there were no potential democratic leaders in Germany, and that we should retain the Nazi bureaucracy. At least they knew how to manage a modern state. And in Japan, many of our wisest men insisted that the only hope for Japanese democracy was the total extirpation of the Imperial culture; the Emperor had to go.

But there were democrats in Germany who proved excellent leaders of a free country, and the emperor still sits on his throne in democratic Japan.

To those who say that democracy cannot be introduced in the Muslim Middle East, where it has never existed, there is an easy answer: If that were true, then there would be no democracy at all, since tyranny is older than democracy, and oppression has been far more common than freedom for most of human history. We all lived under tyranny before we became free; freedom has had to be wrested from the hands of kings, caliphs and nobles, and imams and priests — and it has invariably been a tough battle. But that is quite different from saying it cannot be done at all.

The history of the Muslim world abounds with example of successful self-government, from the high degree of autonomy granted to some of the lands of the Ottoman Empire to the remarkably modern Iranian Constitution of 1906, and the contemporary Middle East is currently bubbling with calls for greater freedom, often from surprising sources (such as the son of Libyan tyrant Muammar Khaddafi). It is hard to believe that the peoples of the Middle East are bound and determined to remain oppressed, when millions of Iranians have demonstrated for freedom, and, just within the past few months, pro-democracy demonstrations have erupted in Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Yet those in Iraq who are killing us and our allies, along with Arab civilians — and even themselves and their own children — are also part of the culture of the Middle East, and they draw upon it to justify their actions and inspire others to do likewise. Do we not have to change at least those elements of the region's culture? Can we expect to defeat terrorism without also discrediting the ideas and passions that underlie it? And does that not automatically mean a long process, in which political and military weapons are largely irrelevant?

I do not think so. Nothing so discredits an idea as its defeat in the real world. Had we not defeated the fascists in World War II, the heirs of Tojo, Hitler, and Mussolini would most likely still rule Japan, Germany, and Italy, and some version of fascism would most likely remain a potent force in many other societies, just as it was in the Twenties, Thirties and early Forties. But our victory in war defeated both the enemy regimes and their evil doctrines, and fascism is no longer an inspiration. If we defeat the terrorists and remove the regimes that support them, we are likely to find the appeal of bloody jihad dramatically reduced. There is undoubtedly a connection between the pro-democracy demonstrations (and Libya's surrender) and the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The barbarians in Fallujah are part of a culture that is both bloody and peaceful, just like the Western culture that produced fascism and communism. The central issue in this war is which elements in that culture will prevail. You do not have to be a Hegelian to believe that ideas rise and fall with the people that embrace them, or that culture is linked to the success and failure of its advocates. We may not know the answer to the academic question: whether the culture favored tyrants or if the tyrants imposed a culture favorable to their domination. But we do know the answer to the policy question: tyranny and terror, along with the culture that favors them, can be defeated, to the benefit of freedom and even democracy.

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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, ""The War Against the Terror Masters," Comment by clicking here.


03/18/04: Drifting, Dangerously: We must support freedom
03/02/04: Once Upon a Spymaster, Part II: Returning to a conversation
02/24/04: The Great Iranian Election Fiasco: What actually happened; what we must do
02/20/04: Stalinist Mullahs: The Iranian regime is in open battle with its own people
02/11/04: The Jihadis' Primal Scream: Zarkawi's "Yaarrrhhh!"
02/04/04: Inelegant Lies: Making sense out of mullahs
02/03/04: Potemkin WMDs? Really?
01/27/04: The Jihad on Iraq: Bad analysis and bad policy
01/20/04: Our Moment of Vainglory: A p.c. mess
01/06/04: Aftershocks: The West must read the meter in Bam and Tehran
12/02/03: Managing Iraq: We can't continue this way
11/26/03: Back to the Angleton Files
11/25/03: The Turks, Italians & us — never again
11/06/03: Regional Struggle: Fighting narrow vision in Iraq
11/04/03: Unpunished Failure: What are we waiting for?
10/21/03: Curses: Diamonds and Naples
10/15/03: Into the Quagmire: Important days ahead for Iran
09/18/03: The Ayatollahs’ bomb: An invulnerability strategy
09/12/03: You can't make peace until the war is won
09/11/03: Ron Paul, dishonorable congressman
09/03/03: The Latest Horrors: Still organized
08/29/03: The Peace Trap: Back to the war, please
08/27/03: Angrier and Angrier: Self-deception, big-time
08/25/03: Iraq's terrorists have friends in high places
07/10/03: The Future of Iran: Armitage might want to rethink that "democracy" line
07/02/03: Looking Toward July 9: Independence Day in Iran?
06/24/03: Iran: Back the freedom fighters
06/17/03: The Iranian Revolution, 2003: Regime change in the air
06/05/03: Academic Standards: A Middle East scholar has his way with the truth.
05/28/03: The Moment of Truth? U.S. policy could determine Iran's destiny
05/15/03: Iran's Path: Stopping the mullahs in their tracks
05/13/03: The Nuclear Axis of Evil: The people solution
05/08/03: Inside the Dark: Applebaum's ‘Gulag’
05/06/03: Tough Guy: Powell's curious priority list
05/01/03: Desert Shame Redux: Want a free Iran and a free Syria? We have to fight for it
04/25/03: Timing Is Everything: We have a narrow window in Iraq to win Shiite support
04/15/03: Political war can remove terror masters in Syria and Iran
04/07/03: The Others: We have miles to go in eliminating the Axis
04/02/03: French Lies: Take the foreign minister at his word
03/31/03: Why muzzle Saddam's foes?
03/28/03: The post-war terror threat
03/26/03: All Fronts: Military war, political war, psychological war
03/24/03: More Bad News for Daschle: Taking out terror of all nationalities
03/21/03: The Killer Pneu: Virus terror from China
03/13/03: Iran: Nuclear suicide bombers?
03/11/03: A Theory: What if there's method to the Franco-German madness?
03/05/03: The Iranian-Election Revolt: The people speak. The West won't listen
02/19/03: The willful blindness of those who will not see
02/12/03: The Europeans Know More Than They Now Pretend? They choose to dawdle and obstruct
02/03/03: Monumental failure: Nelson Mandela had promise
01/30/03: Elevation: The president knows what it's all about
01/29/03: No Leader: France's Chirac is all about personal interest
01/28/03: The Axis of Evil Redux: Same place, a year later
01/27/03: The Return of the Ayatollah: Washington could afford a little more attention on Iran
01/13/03: How we could lose
01/09/03: Fish are Better than Women: Gauging U.S. priorities
01/07/03: The Shape of Things to Come: The terror masters are now waiting for us
12/20/02: A Prophecy for the New Year --- Faster, please!
12/16/02: Scud Surrender: The "W" factor
12/13/02: The Heart of Darkness: The mullahs make terror possible
12/12/02: The Real War
12/09/02: Tom Friedman's Reformation: His Iran
11/26/02: How Tyrannies Fall: Opportunity time in Iran
11/22/02: The Blind Leading the Blind: The New York Times and the Iranian crisis
11/13/02: The Temperature Rises: We should liberate Iran first --- now
11/05/02: End of the Road: Iran's Mohammed Khatami, on his way out
10/29/02: The Angleton Dialogues, Contnued: What George Tenet doesn’t know
10/24/02: The Iranian Comedy Hour: In the U.S., the silence continues
10/16/02: Sniper, Saboteur, or Sleeper? Channeling James Jesus Angleton
10/01/02: The real foe
09/27/02: The Iranian String Quartet: The mullahs get increasingly nervous
09/25/02: The Dubya Doctrine
09/23/02: Intelligence? What intelligence?
09/12/02: America's revenge: To turn tyrannies into democracies
09/10/02: Iran & Afghanistan & Us: We'll have to deal with the mullahcracy, sooner or later
09/04/02: Iran, according to the Times: All the nonsense that's fit to print
08/21/02: Life and death of Abu Nidal tells us a great deal about our enemies
08/08/02: Can You Keep a Secret?: The media silence on Iran
08/06/02: Fantasy Reporting: The latest disinformation from the Washington Post
08/02/02: Propping Up the Terror Masters: Europe's Solana on tour
07/16/02: Bush vs. the Mullahs: Getting on the side of the Iranian freedom fighters
07/12/02: The State Department Goes Mute: It's official: State has no message
07/09/02: History being made, but the West appears clueless
06/05/02: Is George Tenet endangering peace in Israel?
06/03/02: Ridiculous, even for a journalist
05/20/02: So how come nobody's been fired yet?
05/14/02: Open doors for thugs
04/20/02: Iran on the Brink … and the U.S. does nothing
04/16/02: It’s the war, stupid … someone remind Colin Powell
04/08/02: Gulled: In the Middle East, Arafat doesn't matter
04/02/02: Faster, Please: The war falters
03/26/02: The Revolution Continues: What's brewing in Iran
03/18/02: Iran simmers still: Where's the press?
03/05/02: We can't lose any more ground in Iran
02/14/02: The Great Iranian Hoax
02/12/02: Unnoticed Bombshell: Key information in a new book
01/31/02: The truth behind the Powell play
01/29/02: My past with "Johnny Jihad's" lawyer
01/21/02: It's Munich, all over again
01/08/02: What's the Holdup?: It's time for the next battles in the war against terrorism
12/11/01: We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless
12/06/01: Remembering my family friend, Walt Disney
11/28/01: The Barbara Olson Bomb: Understanding the war
11/13/01: How We're Doing: The Angleton Files, IV
11/06/01: A great revolutionary war is coming
10/25/01: How to talk to a terrorist
10/23/01: Creative Reporting: Learning to appreciate press briefings
10/19/01: Not the Emmys: A Beltway award presentation
10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
10/04/01: What do we not know?
09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen