Monday, January 05, 2004


I've included a lot here...but you will really want to read the entire thing.
But in the last ten or fifteen years, another voice has been developing in the Middle East. It's still very small and weak, but it's the voice that we all should be supporting. That's a group of liberal democratic Arabs who have been standing up and saying, "These two alternatives are both equally bankrupt. Our choice should not be Mubarak's Egypt or the Ayatollah's Iran. Why can't we do what 140, 150 other countries around the world have done and start to democratize, open up our economies, and build a free-market economy and a democratic system? We can build a democratic system that is perfectly compatible with Islam and with traditional Arab values."

It's a small, still voice right now, and if we get Iraq wrong, that voice is going to die. Because right now, as far as the Arabs are concerned, what we're doing in Iraq is embarking on a grand social-science experiment to try to build a democratic free-market society in an Arab state. Iraq is a pretty good Arab state. The Arabs know that the Iraqi population is among the most secular, best educated, most progressive, and most industrious in the Arab world.

The Arabs say, "If you want to try to build democracy somewhere, Iraq is probably a pretty good place to try it." If democracy fails in Iraq, it won't matter how we explain why the effort failed. To the Arabs, all that will matter is, "The U.S. tried to build democracy and free-market economics in Iraq, threw 130,000 troops and $100 billion at it, and failed." And all the autocrats and all the Islamic fundamentalists are going to say, "If the Americans couldn't do it in Iraq, then it can't work anywhere in the Arab world. So the only alternatives you have are us." That's a lot at stake...

It's not a matter of dominoes falling, it's something somewhat different. For the first time ever Arabs will be able to look at Iraq and see an Arab democracy. Often when we say democracy, Arabs hear Britney Spears, sex on TV, same-sex marriages and hip-hugger blue jeans. They know they don't want any of that. But once you get that first democracy formed in a region, it has a remarkable transformative effect. This is what the East Asian historians say about Japan. Fifteen, twenty years after the occupation of Japan was over, when there was a functional democracy in Japan, it changed a lot of perceptions throughout East Asia. For the first time East Asians could look at Japan and say "That's the kind of state that I could imagine living in."

Before Japan, East Asians thought about democracy the same way that Arabs do now. They thought of it as being an American or a European thing. Those were the only examples they had, and they knew they didn't want that. But then Japan came along and proved that you could build a democracy that was very different from a Western-style democracy.

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