Thursday, March 10, 2011

Prince Jihad of Cloudy Arabia KO'd

Considering the growing power of the democracy movements in the Mideast, Scott Shane poses the following question about Al Qaeda in the February 28th issue of the Times: “Will the terrorist network shrivel slowly to irrelevance? Or will it find a way to exploit the chaos produced by political upheaval and the disappointment that will inevitably follow hopes now raised so high?” (“As Regimes Fall in Arab World, Al Qaeda Sees History Fly By,” NYT, 2/27/11). Shane remarks that these movements have eschewed “the two central tenets of the Qaeda credo: murderous violence and religious fanaticism.” Creating democratic institutions in Iraq was precisely what our previous president listed as one of his objectives in toppling Saddam Hussein, and the failure of our intervention was looked at by some as proof that democracy is an indigenously Western institution. The democratic shoe would not fit the Middle Eastern foot, considering centuries of historic conflict between Sunnis, Shiites and Christians that defies the kind of rationalist solutions that are at the heart of democratic thought. But, lo and behold, current events are defying cynicism about the prospects of homegrown democracy and the belief that democratic values are culture-bound and therefore not exportable. Recent developments have also shown that the lesser-of-two-evils approach that has prevailed as a response to the realpolitik of the Middle East no longer seems to constitute an enlightened or even prudent foreign policy. The U.S. has had to do an about-face in its support of tyrants and former terrorists like Qaddafi whom they’d befriended for the sake of expedience. Shane quotes Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment as saying, “We have to make clear that our security no longer comes at the expense of poor governance and no rights for the people in those countries.”

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