Out of the Bottle

“The democratic genie is out of the bottle  Egypt is not the only country in this troubled region that is now embarking on the road of democracy  The real groundswell this time seems to have come from the close timing and positive outcomes of recent elections in Iraq, Palestine, and to a lesser degree Saudi Arabia.

Saadeddin Ibrahim, Egyptian pro-democracy activist and professor at the American University in Cairo

The Bush administration is often criticized by its detractors as being inept at conducting diplomacy and squandering supposed international unity after the attacks on 9-11. Critics state that if only we worked harder at the United Nations, or if we had better diplomatic skills, or if that arrogant cowboy just wasn’t president, the Europeans and internationals would be right on board with America’s struggle against international terrorism and the promotion of freedom throughout the world’s most intolerant regions.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The majority of European nations and members of the United Nations never saw the same threat the United States and her allies (Great Britain, Australia and others) saw from terrorists and the states that encourage or succor radical Islamists. The internationalists believed the specific threat was al Qaeda, and believed this could be contained via police actions and cooperation with the same states that led to the rise of terrorism. The Coalition allies disagree, and led by President Bush, push for greater change in the Middle East to attack the real root cause of the problem: despotic regimes which are unaccountable to their own citizens, and either actively support terrorists or use radical Islam as a relief valve to direct the energy of angry citizens against outside enemies, the United States, Israel and Western civilization in general.

Because of these fundamentally different worldviews, diplomacy, both between the western nations and within the United Nations and NATO, were doomed to fail. The only way there could have been unity between the differing parties would have been if one side would have eschewed its beliefs in the nature of the threat and how to resolve it. Neither did, both sides dug in their heels over Iraq, and the damage was done. Twenty months after the successful invasion of Iraq and a protracted insurgency from holdout Baathists, local Islamists and international terrorists, America’s willingness to fight without the support of the internationals is showing results. Less than a month after the successful elections in Iraq, the Middle East is on the verge of profound change. The international community appears to recognize this and is actually cooperating with the United States in some areas.

The developments in the Middle East cannot be dismissed as events long time in the making. The peoples of the Middle East have witnessed the successful election in Iraq, with women raising their ink-stained fingers in triumph; the infirm being carried to polling places; the citizens of Iraq braving the very real threat of violence from those who wish to silence them. And now the Arab Street desires a taste of that freedom, and the dictators of the region know America will not idly stand by while the despots practice the usual crackdowns to suppress them as they have in the past.

After the invasion of Iraq, American has not had to fire a single shot to affect change in the Middle East. The successes in Afghanistan and Iraq speak for themselves, and as a result the United States is better positioned diplomatically in the region where the force of arms is respected and the flood of words ridiculed. The United States is following its successes with diplomacy. Governments willing to cooperate with the transition to democratic forms of government are rewarded for their efforts. Where there is resistance, diplomatic pressure is placed to reform themselves or face the threat of the cessation of funds, the withdrawal of American support, internal dissent and violence, and (unstated) the possible support of dissident movements or active American involvement.

The US State Department human rights report was especially critical of the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria. Secretary of State Rice canceled her visit to Egypt after the arrest of Ayman Nour, a leading opposition politician. Shortly afterward, Hosni Mubarrak announced freed and fair presidential election would be held this fall. The International Relations and Security Network (ISN), a Swiss based think tank, suspects the election may be half measures, but “neither the Bush administration nor internal opponents of the regime are likely to be mollified for long.” ISN also reports that the United States has been withholding aid to Egypt; “In recent years, Egypt has lost US$1 billion in aid tagged for financial reform and US$80 million for democratization due to inaction.”

Syria is encountering enormous pressure, both domestic and international, to end its occupation of Lebanon. The protesters were successful in getting the current pro-Syrian government to resign. The United States remains forceful in its demands for an end to the occupation and free elections this spring. Russia, Syria’s traditional ally, and Germany have demanded Syria withdraw from Lebanon. Even the Arab League cannot support Syria, and along with Saudi Arabia, has asked Syria to leave. France, which actively opposed the United States at every turn prior to and after the invasion of Iraq, has demand Syria end the occupation and has stationed a ship off of Lebanon capable of supporting special operations commandos (see entry on March 1st). The European Union is even considering designating Syrian and Iranian backed Hezbollah, which is headquartered in Lebanon, as a terrorist entity. According to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, “the sources of [our] funding will dry up and the sources of moral, political and material support will be destroyed.”

In Saudi Arabia, women see the municipal elections as “small steps” towards the prospects for freedom, unconsciously echoing Glenn Reynold’s statement that “democratization is a process, not an event”. The Shiite minority sees signs of hope in municipal elections, and no longer fears practicing its religious rituals in secret. This is no small feat, as the Shiites are viewed as apostates, even worse than Jews or Christians, by the ruling Wahabbi class of Saudi Arabia. According to the New York Times, Shiites outside of Iraq are emboldened by the developments in Iraq, and the entire Gulf region is optimistic; “If the Shiites who dominated the Iraqi elections show that they can work with Sunnis and Kurds, Shiites in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf say, it will strengthen the idea that democracy works and undermine the longstanding prejudice that Shiites are monsters intent on undermining Sunnis everywhere. The same holds for the Shiite majority in neighboring Bahrain, long ruled by a Sunni minority, and the Shiite minority in Kuwait.”

The democracy genie is indeed out of the bottle, and with the proper application of diplomatic pressure and the willingness to use force when absolutely needed, we can ensure it stays out. The military victories in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the diplomatic victories of the spread of democracy and freedom in the Middle East are dealing the Islamists deadly blows, ones from which will be difficult to recover.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.

4 Comments

  • Justin B says:

    Bill,

    It wasn’t Islamic Fundamentalists that attacked us it was Al Qaeda. Everyone knows that Al Qaeda has nothing to do with Democracy or the Middle East, but is a whole bunch of Saudi Arabians that live occasionally in Afghanistan. That is why it is OK to attack Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. We have no right to try to IMPOSE DEMOCRACY on the rest of the Middle East. They people don’t want to have elections. Why should we worry about reforming the Middle East? I mean as soon as we capture Bin Laden and stop Al Qaeda, the War on Terror will be over and we can start spending money to socialize healthcare and help the homeless.

    I am forgetting something in the argument… wait it is “Bush Lies” and “No Blood for Oil”. Seems like those folks over there that hate democracy are sure turning out to try to get it.

    This Dumb Texan and the evil Neo-Cons must have stumbled into getting the ball rolling to fix the Middle East because they wanted someone to kill after 9-11. Oh, wait, they have been talking about reforming the Middle East through the spread of Democracy for 10 years now. Maybe the Neo-Cons aren’t as dumb as all the Ward Churchills and elitist college professors think.

    We had to use the stick on Saddam and the Taliban to demonstrate that these kinds of brutal dictators will not be able to rule with an iron fist anymore. That there was justice despite the fact that most in their countries had never seen justice. What Saddam is getting is JUSTICE and the RULE OF LAW. If anyone can actually explain how leaving him in power to murder, torture, and rape would be JUSTICE or THE RULE OF LAW, I would like to hear it. Democracy does not spread without these two accompanying concepts and we had to demonstrate that even the most brutal and powerful were not above justice. Now people in other places are calling for elections and perhaps other regimes will fall by way of the voting booth instead of the sword. But either way, change is a comin’.

  • John Burgess says:

    Contra Justin B, it wasn’t just Saudi Arabs who attacked the US in the guise of Al-Qaeda. It was also Egyptians, Jordanians, Yemenis, Lebanese, Syrians, North Africans, Pakistanis.
    What they have in common is a warped blend of fundamentalist Islams–Wahhabism, the Muslim Brotherhood, Deobandi Islam–that developed in Afghanistan, after first sprouting in cultures that permitted extremist thought to flourish.
    Any religious fundamentalism–Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Hindu–when taken to extremes can become a real danger. They all kill people.
    But there’s a real danger, too, in misidentifying your target if you’re trying to find ways to deal with a serious problem.

  • Justin B says:

    Wahhabism is still developing. Radical Islam is the problem here. There is no doubt. I should have better indicated sarchasm in the first post.

    I haven’t seen violence on this scale by any other religious group in recent memory. This is simply much more than just being a radical. This is lack of any form of morality. This is as Bill has many times described it and did very eloquently FACISM. The belief that one group of people is so superior to another that it justifies murder and destruction of the inferior people.

    The term ISLAMOFACISTS is so appropriate. It is not radical Islam, it is the combination of radical Islam and Facism that takes away all morality in a way similar to Hitler’s view of the Jews. We are all infidels, and Allah commands that we be wiped off the earth. Hmmm, at least the Islamofacists are not going to march the US into the death camps, the gas chambers and the ovens. We recognize facism for what it is and are attacking any regime through both force and diplomacy that would allow the Facist rhetoric to go unchallenged–let alone actually support it financially.

  • sole brudda says:

    Beat em with old dirty shoes of a pig farmer!
    Syria SHOULD withdraw from Syria as Bill stated in his article!

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis