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Cast aside the nonsensical rhetoric about U.S. President George W. Bush’s ostensibly successful efforts to bolster democratic tendencies “sweeping” the Middle East, and you’ll discover that the facts are not so rosy, with Iraq remaining the most horrific reminder.
Bush seems to reside over an entirely different world reality when he adamantly presents himself as a visionary whose uppermost concerns are freedom and democracy worldwide, with due emphasis on the Middle East.
Neither genuine freedom nor truly representative democracies are on Bush’s foreign-policy agenda, no matter how much prominence these topics receive in the president’s ever-predictable speeches. We know for a fact that most tyrannical, repressive regimes have historically been the traditional friends and allies of successive U.S. administrations, in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Despite politically motivated frictions between the Bush government and some of those natural allies, the overall U.S. foreign-policy antidemocratic approach hangs on imperviously.
While Bush and other members of his hawkish administration are brashly taking credit for the halfhearted Palestinian elections in Occupied Territory, they have, with equal brazenness, turned a blind eye to Israel’s domineering rule over the hapless Palestinian voters.
Bush has increasingly warmed to the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon as if the Lebanese people (who fully comprehend the U.S. government’s key role in their historically tragic plight) moved on a signal from Washington and its neoconservative clique. But why overstate and embellish the supposed democratic triumphs in the Mideast in the first place? The answer lies in Iraq.
With the disastrous dismissal as a forgery of every excuse for war against Iraq — from the pretense of illicit weapons to the linking of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda militants — U.S. administration experts began devising what they must have perceived as an impenetrable war pretext: the case for democracy. The aim was not only to justify the ruinous war retrospectively but also to stretch the Bush administration’s political and subsequent military mandate to other countries and regions without the halting limitations experienced in Iraq.
One hardly needs to sell a case for democracy to the American public, which, although genuinely supportive of democratic initiatives anywhere, is easily deceived through political indoctrination into consenting to, or simply overlooking, their government’s bloody wars to “restore democracy” in the world.
But there is more to the “democratic tsunami” hitting the Middle East and the fantasies of the Bush administration in stirring it. The news coming from Iraq is too gory to detail, too frightening to recount, and the administration is doing all it can to balance the Iraq debacle by focusing on heartening democratic potentials, even if they are new forgeries.
On May 12 alone, four car bombs reportedly detonated in Baghdad; a suicide bomber blew up a whole line of potential Iraqi army recruits in a small town north of the capital; a large bomb exploded in a fertilizer factory in the southern town of Basra; another one was set off in a crowded market in Tikrit. Most of these attacks either targeted U.S. army convoys or Iraqi army and police.
Meanwhile, a very bloody battle began last week involving U.S. forces and Iraqi fighters in the remote western frontier of the country near the Syrian border. Scores are said to have been killed, although U.S. troops have recounted to the Los Angeles Times that they are combating an “invisible enemy.”
The need to entangle the Iraq calamity with rhetoric about democracy elsewhere takes on another level of urgency when one follows the extremely cynical undertone of American foreign-policy experts. “Everything we thought we knew about the insurgency obviously is flawed,” says Judith Kipper of the Council on Foreign Relations. “It was quiet for a little while, and here it is back full force all over the country.”
Leading U.S. Iraq expert Phebe Marr was quoted in Newsday as advising the American public “to get its expectations down to something reasonable.” Meanwhile, Pat Lang, a former top Middle East intelligence official at the Pentagon said of Iraqi government fighters: “The longer they keep on going, the better they will get (since) the best school of war is war.” Lang went on to say that “there is no evidence whatsoever that they cannot win.”
Clearly, there has been a considerable departure from the prewar discourse, which was full of self-assured assertions about the relative ease of the U.S. Army mission. Talks no longer center on reconstruction, meaningful democracy or long-term geopolitical designs, but on persistence — sheer political and military survival.
And while the only responsible action that ought to be taken to prevent a further decline in America’s political reputation and credibility is to bring home the 140,000 U.S. soldiers held down by the escalating armed revolt, the opposite view seems to prevail.
At the helm of its second term in office, the Bush administration has given every suggestion one needs to conclude that the drive for war and unilateral action is far from over. The insistence on developing new “bunker buster” nuclear weapons and the nomination of John Bolton, an anti-United Nations political activist, to the post of U.S. ambassador to the U.N., are only two recent examples of this thinking.
Bush’s wars in the name of democracy should be taken as seriously as Don Quixote’s battles against windmills; both are fictional and silly. While there is indeed a growing desire for freedom and democracy in the Middle East, this popular yearning is independent of the U.S. government’s political agenda and military designs. In fact, Bush’s increasing identification with pro-democracy movements in the region strips democracy advocates of badly needed credibility and classifies them as simply “pro-American,” a euphemism for disloyalty.
It would be more advantageous for Bush and his administration to contemplate, confront and reconcile their adversity in Iraq, for the real calamity began there and only there can it be brought to an end.
RAMZY BAROUD, a veteran Arab-American journalist, is the editor in chief of PalestineChronicle.com and author of the upcoming volume entitled, “A Force to Be Reckoned With: Writings on Al-Aqsa Intifada.” This article was first published in the Japan Times, May 20, 2005.