Thursday, March 03, 2005

What's Behind the Ballot Boxes?

Palestinians picked their leader for the first time ever. Lebanon's people brought down the Syrian puppet running their country. Egypt has its first shot at a real election in who knows how long. The Iraq election looks like it might not be a total disaster. And Saudis are voting - at least for show.

All of which leads to the question: are the neocons smarter than they look?

The whole idea behind the new neocon policy is that democracy will spread if we give it a little help - military or otherwise - every now and then. They claim that the war in Iraq brought democracy to the Middle East, and that we are the reason for the events I just listed. The critics, I note, have been eerily silent.

Consider me one of the critics.

I'm not sure I buy the bit about democracy being contagious in the first place. Arabs have been voting in Israel since 1949. Turkey's been voting since 1922 or so. Why hadn't it caught on until now? Besides, if you buy the argument the neocons are selling, the Iraq war becomes superfluous anyway: Palestine's elections, which were certain to occur after Arafat's death, would have catalyzed democratic movements throughout the region.

I personally think there are a host of factors leading to the Mideast votes. Call me cynical, but I'm chalking the Saudi Arabia and Egypt votes down to the old trick of making people think they have power to keep them calm. I'll continue to do that until I see Mubarak or the Saudi Crown Prince turn over power because of the results of an election. I'm hopeful but not optimistic. The reason for Palestine's vote was already mentioned - Arafat's death.

As for Lebanon, I think the mass demonstrations in the wake of the assassination of Hariri would have happened with or without our invasion of Iraq. After Israel's withdrawal in 2000, Lebanon had enjoyed relative calm - and had only one other foreign force bothering them. Hariri was able to keep the Christians, Muslims, and Druze away from each others' throats long enough to get them united against the common enemy to the north and east. And when Hariri was assassinated and the blame somehow fell on Syria, well, it was an excuse for the Lebanese to do what they've been wanting to do anyway - lose the puppet.

Of course, now Bush feels emboldened, despite the fact that he might have had nothing to do with the spread of democracy in the Middle East. He's going after Syria now - the evidence linking them to Hariri's assassination and to the recent Tel Aviv bombing is about as existent as the WMD evidence at this point. Whee.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lots of good points that I agree with wholeheartedly in this. One minor potential correction - was Arafat not elected President of the PA in 1996? So this would be the second time the Palestinans have so voted, and, as you say, this was a direct result of Arafat's death. Lebanon also had a stable system prior to its 1980s civil war - did the assasination of the former PM have more to do with it than Iraq? That said, there's an awful lot stirring at the moment - let's put it this way: there's no way the neo-cons can be dumber than we think, so maybe the only way is up...;)

- Tim