“A New Power Rises…”

This morning the Washington Post begins a two-part report on the stirrings of movements for democracy across the Middle East. Today’s article focuses on Lebanon and Egypt.
Of course, in the Post’s telling, the main credit for the “rising” of a “new power” goes not to the Bush administration, but to more congenial figures–journalists and advertising men, one of whom, a Lebanese, assures us that if he lived in America, he would surely be a liberal Democrat. The Post seems to think that it is the proper color-coordination of street demonstrations, not January’s election in Iraq, that explains why democracy is suddenly resurgent in the region.
On the Post’s view, the Iraq war has had a mixed legacy at best:

In his second inaugural address, President Bush said that “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture.” But many democracy advocates in the region are skeptical of U.S. intentions here, and truly free elections in such countries as Egypt and Saudi Arabia could usher in parties sharply at odds with the United States. At the same time, Bush’s message has offered a measure of comfort to street activists, who believe that crackdowns will be harder to carry out now that the United States is watching.
The Iraq experience…has had a mixed effect. Some democracy activists in the region have been inspired by the recent elections but remain concerned by the continuing violence there. In Egypt, outrage over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and American policy toward the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians spurred some reformers to take to the streets to protest against President Hosni Mubarak, whom they view as a U.S. ally.

One Lebanese quoted in the article says that “democracy is spreading in the region not because of George Bush but despite him.” He credits the Palestinians with being “a greater inspiration than the U.S. project in Iraq,” because they “showed us the importance of taking matters into our own hands.” (Thankfully, of course, the Lebanese have not adopted the tactics with which the Palestinians have most notoriously “taken matters into their own hands.” Those tactics, on the contrary, are characteristic of the Syrians and their Lebanese supporters.)
Along with the Palestinians, figures as seemingly irrelevant (but beloved by journalists) as Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison are cited as “inspirations.” Still, the Palestinians, Dylan and the Doors have been around for a long time. Without giving proper credit to the Bush admnistration, it’s a little hard to see why, as the Post’s article is subtitled, “Advocates for Democracy Begin to Taste Success After Years of Fruitless Effort.”
For what seems like the millionth time, the purportedly contradictory nature of American policy is noted:

The Bush administration’s promotion of democracy in Lebanon and Egypt is also bound to bump up against the fact that some of the most popular political parties are rooted in conservative Islam and sharply oppose U.S. goals in the region. Hezbollah remains a potent force in Lebanon, and its Shiite following likely accounts for a majority of the population, if not yet its electorate.

What most liberals stubbornly refuse to acknowledge is that for decades, American policy in the Middle East centered on supporting pro-American regimes, even when those governments were autocratic and unpopular. What makes the “neocon” policy in the region a sharp departure from the past is precisely the fact that the only respect in which governments are expected to be pro-American is that they neither support nor spawn terrorism. Democracy in Muslim countries will, no doubt, result in the election of some governments that are unfriendly both to American culture and to American foreign policy aims. As long as those governments are not starting wars or spawning terrorism, however, the administration and its allies will be satisfied.
We’ll look forward to part two of the Post’s series, which perhaps will tell us what other color schemes and rock and roll stars deserve credit for the otherwise-mysterious stirring of democracy in the Middle East.

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