Anyone watching the live broadcast last week of Condoleezza Rice's address to an Egyptian audience at the American University in Cairo could not help but chuckle. Rice spoke enthusiastically about how satisfied millions of Iraqi citizens are with their democracy and freedom. At the same time, the CNN broadcast ran a ticker at the bottom of the screen citing the number of Iraqis who had just been killed by a car bomb. Her words about the charms of democracy in Iraq seemed like a description of the successful makeup on a corpse in a coffin. But Iraq is just an example of the way in which ideology dictates policy.
It is indisputable that democracy is a worthy goal, but this goal cannot be used to justify a war of this magnitude, with so many killed, with such destruction of infrastructure and without any confidence that the Iraqi government, beyond the show of elections, will ultimately be democratic.
Against this background, one may wonder what Rice's intentions were in her public lashing of Hosni Mubarak over his use of emergency orders, about her call to Saudi Arabia to improve civil rights, especially the standing of women, and about her praise for Jordan. They rest on the same troubling ideology that speaks about marketing democracy throughout the Middle East, even through the use of force.
Herein lies the reason for concern: Alongside the praise for democracy, a new American attitude is developing: Countries like Egypt or Syria must be compelled to adopt American ideology, while other countries like Kuwait and China are allowed to pick and choose.
The Arab Middle East has entered a new phase since 2001. From a region of influence and interests, it has become a region dominated by a belligerent ideology, a clash of civilizations, a war for democracy and a war against ideological and religious terror. All of these are being pursued in the Middle East, although forms of terror, lack of democracy and cultural battles also exist in other parts of the world.
This is a sweeping conception very reminiscent of the Cold War, when the world was divided - especially by the U.S. - into the West versus Communism, liberty versus repression. It was a period in which repressive Arab regimes were "good" because they were pro-Western. Even Bin Laden was counted among the good guys for a long time because he assisted the Afghan war of liberation against the Soviets. This was a tradeoff of interests.
In the 1950s, the American right called the U.S. policy toward the new states and nations "enlightened supremacy." This was a doctrine that aspired to exploit the national aspirations of new states in the Middle East for anti-Communist purposes. It seems that it is the same "enlightened supremacy" in whose name the U.S. now seeks to export democracy. Ostensibly there is nothing wrong with this. What difference does it make if there is democracy in these countries because of American interests or American ideology?
The problem is that because of the belligerent way in which it is being driven into the region, the vision of American democracy arouses fierce opposition among movements that are actually advocating for reform but do not want to appear to be acting according to an American diktat. The Lebanese opposition is very careful to avoid identification with American preaching. The reformists in Iran are ready to embrace the conservatives when it comes to relations with America. In Saudi Arabia, intellectual proponents of change reject American pressure, and opposition parties in Egypt - those which Rice praised so effusively - are now energetically mobilizing anti-American slogans to demonstrate their patriotism.
The concern is that the more the U.S. exerts itself in spreading democracy, the greater the opposition will be to what it represents, and the question before the public in Arab countries will not be democracy or repression, but between America and the local regime. The system the U.S. administration seeks to export - democracy in one fell swoop - looks good from afar, but it carries great risks, especially for those who truly aspire to promote the idea and not just the slogan, and for those who are worried about America's standing in the region.
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