Arab Awakening



Buried in the back sections of newspapers came word that the Iraqi Parliament had selected Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as the nation's interim President. He is joined by Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni Arab, and Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, as his Vice Presidents. It was also reported that Saddam Hussein and former Baathist cronies were made to watch the proceedings on television from their prison cells.

In the last few months, we have witnessed extraordinary events of which this latest seems almost humdrum. It began with the election of Hamid Karzai in October as Afghanistan's first President. Then the Iraqi election in January, in which eight million Iraqis cast their votes. This was followed rapid-fire by elections in the Palestinian territories, the "Cedar Revolution" in Lebanon, fledgling democratic reforms by Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and modest albeit bogus municipal elections in Saudi Arabia. If one listens closely enough, one can hear the sound of Arab absolutism slowly unraveling.

The Arab World has done little to advance itself for centuries. Mired in self pity, refusing to examine itself, quick to blame others for its self inflicted wounds, the Arab Middle East has been a civilization without a clue. Freedom and democracy are non-existent. Cultural life is stagnant. Economic life in all save those blessed with oil moribund. Opportunities for its citizens utterly lacking. Taken over by brutal despotisms that have crushed creativity and hope, the Arab World has presided over the destruction of its own civic life. One following the other, ruthless men had captured power and held it jealously, controlling all aspects of life while enriching themselves. In this system, the mighty persecuted the weak, perverting society, depriving it of avenues for change and renewal, making it all but impossible to repair itself from within, hence the awful tyrannies would endure forever. From Saddam Hussein to Hafez al-Assad to Yasser Arafat, the model of the corrupt dictator repressing his people, creating imaginary external threats to justify their cruel methods (Zionists, Western imperialists, infidels), and ruining their economies to further themselves, was an Arab fixture.

At the time, it would have been hard to imagine that 9/11 would be a catalyst to change all this. But with the recognition that dictatorial regimes, even those superficially allied with the US, were in fact destabilizing forces and breeding grounds for terror came the realization that small tactical measures against shadowy Islamist terrorist cells would not achieve security and that something more sweeping was needed. Regime change, preemption, and the spread of freedom became the basis of a new American foreign policy - the Bush Doctrine - one that resonated with traditional American values of respect for the individual, human rights, and democratic practice. The opposition to this was ferocious. From the UN, Europe, the media, the Academy, and of course our own Democratic Party, the critics spoke of quagmire, body bags, American imperialism, blood for oil, and Halliburton. Muslims and Arabs were not ready for democracy, they shrieked, did not want it, as if given the choice between living in fear of imprisonment, torture, or death for speaking out of turn and living in freedom under the rule of law would present a dilemma for anyone, Muslim or not. One could not help but notice the silence from those quarters as they back pedaled, spun, and otherwise ran for cover before the spectacle of Arabs and Muslims eagerly embracing democracy under threat of death.

As agonizing as it is for many on the Left to admit, the vehicle for the new democratic momentum in the Middle East is American resolve and the judicious application of military force. Our successful campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq and the subsequent democratic elections have breathed life into a dark and violent region, where people will now have a say in who governs them. Afghanistan and Iraq will serve as models, the tremors of which are already being felt beyond their borders. That the US should have undertaken this entirely ennobling enterprise should surprise no one. It was the US that destroyed the evils of Nazism and Communism. Once again, it was the US that has brought the world forward into history, changing it for the better, and giving another beleaguered region a chance to recreate itself - this despite the endless caterwauling of its detractors. In less than four months, 100 million people (including Ukraine) on two continents have cast votes in nations that have never known true democracy. It was not the UN, the media, or France that made this happen, but the US and our military. President Bush expressed it well: "We will persistently clarify the moral choice… between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right." The US is the indispensable force upon which the rest of the world depends to protect and spread liberty and human dignity.



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