Is the US Contributing to Democracy?


Despite the Bush Administration's repeated claims to have "kicked open the door of democracy in the Middle East," reality suggests otherwise. To make their case, the Administration and its advocates are fond of citing a litany of "successes." Beginning with Afghanistan and Iraq, then moving to Palestine, Lebanon, and recent developments in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the White House spins a tale of "freedom on the march." Their implied argument, of course, is that US actions in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Administration's advocacy for democracy are the causal factors that have unleashed this "democracy wave" in the broader Middle East.

The argument is wrong in both its postulates and its conclusions. While it is true that the US ended Taliban rule in Kabul and removed the Baath regime in Baghdad, and organized elections in both countries, it is far too soon to declare success in either case. It would be a mistake to declare Afghanistan and Iraq democracies. 

In the same week that the President was delivering his "Freedom on the March" speech at the National Defense University, disturbing articles on Afghanistan appeared in two major newspapers. One detailed concerns that the country is devolving into a "narco state" with about 60% of its income derived from heroine and opium. The other article detailed the deteriorating quality of life in warlord-led provinces and concluded quoting villagers pining for a return of the Taliban!

Iraq has had an election, but still has no government, with national consensus eluding sect and ethnic factions. An election, by itself, does not create democracy or implant a democratic culture. And both the Iraqis and the US are learning this lesson the hard way.

As premature as it is, therefore, to declare both Afghanistan and Iraq "missions accomplished," it is grossly unfair to even suggest that the Palestinian elections or the demonstrations in Beirut were somehow US-inspired (despite what a few fawning sycophants might say). The Palestinian election was prompted by the death of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority's need to legitimize a new leadership. And the demonstrations in Beirut were an expression of collective outrage over the shocking assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. 

Mahmoud Abbas is the new Palestinian president, but the Israeli occupation authorities continue to confiscate land, announce new settlement construction, and deny fundamental rights to millions of Palestinians-not quite "freedom on the march." Meanwhile, in Lebanon, Syria's long overdue departure is underway, but this doesn't solve Lebanon's deeper problems. Lebanon needs a new "National Pact" and expansion of democracy to enfranchise the disenfranchised. Sadly, however, this kind of real democratic reform is not yet on the country's agenda.

The "kifaya" movement in Egypt is purely homegrown, and has been brewing for years, as have the movements toward expanding citizen participation in several gulf countries. Some have criticized these efforts as half steps, but they are steps, and they have been developing for over a decade now.

So while the Administration, in order to reverse declining US public support for the war in Iraq, needs to advance the claim that it is their efforts that are bringing democracy to the Middle East, their argument simply doesn't hold up.

If anything, US actions in the past four years have done damage to the cause of democracy and human rights in the Arab World. In response to growing anti-American sentiment, some countries, close to the US, have cracked down on free expression. And US behavior toward detainees in Abu Ghraib, Guantanomo, and here at home, have been so appalling, as to undercut US claims to leadership in the defense of human rights.

It is this that disturbs me most. Because I believe that the American experience in expanding democracy and promoting human rights holds important lessons for the world, the Administration has, in effect, and despite its rhetoric, "taken itself out of the game." Some governments now justify their human rights abuses by pointing to similar US practices. And some reformers in the Arab World say they fear the US's embrace since it might harm their efforts.

All this having been said, it is good that the Administration is speaking of democracy and reform. But it is important that they have credibility when they do so. We cannot open the door to democracy. People must do that for themselves. But if we are a credible and consistent partner in the pursuit of justice and reform, then we can make a contribution.

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute and can be reached at [email protected]


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Older Comments:
HAFIZ FROM PAKISTAN said:
Aslam-o-alikum
good article
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H.A. FROM YATHRIB said:
Spreading democracy in Middle East is directly proportional to introduction of theocracy at home (= in the U.S.). At present, the United State is the theocratic state. Stop pointing fingers at Iran....b/c

The American "SMART" boy is at a state of hallucination about spreading democray. Democracy is not like potatos. It's like pretzel. It's will get stuck in your throat if not swallowed/planted the right way.

The boy is being brain-washed and taken over by the evangelical and Jewish fundamentalists. He is being also influnced by so called "MODERN Muslims", whose offsprings do not show any characteristics of Muslims. The words at the tip of their tongue are ..."This Bud is for you".
The "Modern Muslim's," children do not go to mosques to cure depression stemming from taste loss. Instead to they go to Dr. Phil and Talk-shows (Jerry springer)

In summary, Democracy needs to be replanted and watered again at home in the U.S. It's hard to believe the "Magnificent 19" compeletly uprooted democracy in the U.S.

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KSHUMBERG FROM GERMANY said:
US & Democracy? That has to be the biggest joke of the century. The US is an occupying force like Israel. Americans should not talk about such civilized things. They sound more appropriate with matters related to Church, beer, women, bible, pornography, American flag, homosexuality, mass ignorance, pedophilia, etc. They need to just shut up and hide their faces in shame.
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YAHYA BERGUM FROM USA said:
Drastic times call for drastic measures. The good news appears to be that in addition to loving forgiveness Allah is amazingly forgiving.

If times are not so drastic then what might seem to be a justification for forcing the governed to behave piously, without clear proof (for instance, presented to the governed) that Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala requires them to do so? For lack of better example, "Your Lord gave you permission to do a thing. But your Lord also said it would be better if you did a different thing. Therefore it is your duty to do whatever your Lord said is better for you to be doing." As if the true slave would persist in knowing something their master did not.

Actually, such governance might seem to be unacceptably like tyranny. How about this little scenario: if a ruler had a mountain of bread would it seem pious if they refused to give any to subjects who refused to obey such a ruler? Or how about this one: should the straight path as described in the Qur'an be made "straighter" to make it easier for the governed to strive in submission? My guess is that a Muslim might readily guess the source of these little scenarios - a source beyond my own tendency to resist rules which to be seem excessive, whether relayed to me in Allah's name or otherwise. Perhaps the best choice for some might be to continue turning to Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala (in repentance). And, no, I don't imagine the Qur'an needs any removal of obstructions, resurfacing or straightening.
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NAJJAR FROM MORROCO said:
This is the American contribution to "Democracy and Human Rights" around the world

"Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity [U.S. military-economic supremacy]... To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming... We should cease to talk about vague and...unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better."
George Kennan Director of Policy Planning U.S. State Department 1948

Brothers and Sisters, we should NEVER allow ourselves to make the same mistake made by other people of others continents were America "contributed" to their "democracies". We need to constantly keep in mind that in every corner of this beautiful planet, wherever you see mischief, genocides, destructions, civil wars, and the ugly list goes on, know that there is ALWAYS the American government (right, center or left), involved directly or by proxy. They have made it clear in many occasions for the last 3 or four generations, and the only idiots would believe otherwise.
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DR EDRISS FROM US said:

this game of US Democracy vs the puppet dictatorships looklike Tom & Jerry. the difference here is the arab and the American populations who end getting the shot from everywhere.
More US Administration put pressure on their old beloved puppet dictatorships, more the puppets use that same pressure to give a negative feedback to this Administration. this negative feedback works like the Oxygen of the puppet dictatorships to survive. in this game, the religion is used as fuel and the dumb people who practice the religion blindly are the true victims...
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A MUSLIM FROM USA said:
Please try to understand that democracy is nothing but the rule of law by the majority. Whereas muslim rule themselves by the rule of law of Allah according to guidence provided by allah's beloved prophet Mohammed (SAW or PBUH).

The western DEMOCRACY is merciless and shameless as you can see democratic law is mercilessly killing and innocent woman Ms. Terrie Schivo. No one has the right to take anyone's life not even suicide is permitted in Islam.

When bunch of people 51% of majority people can pass laws in democracy even immoral laws agaist the will of moral people if they are 49%.

As the democracy unfold the people of the world will know that actually democracy is biggest evil today empowring rich countries to oppress poor countries, mighty powers crushing weak people, using womens body to sell products n services in the name of advancement, using women for fun in nude clubs and strip clubs, destroying lives and families by legalising alcohol and many drugs for financial gains, putting criminals on the street who kidnaps and raps childeren, developing greed among whitecollar intelletuals to committ frauds such as ENRON and Worldcom list goes on.

I am not agaist FREEDOM all I am saying DEMOCRACY is not working. Muslims see all these evils of democracy. What we need is FREEDOM with restrictions mean there is no freedom for criminals, immorals, cheaters, killers, tyrants, dictators, etc.

In fact you see around the world is not the democracy is on the March but the FREEDOM is on the march. Insaallah (GOD WILLING) in the Islamic world the SUN after 1400 years is again rising and we will see the LIGHTof ISLAM will be everywhere and the real FREEDOM WILL BE ON THE MARCH.

Assalamo Alaykum
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