With no weapons of mass destruction found and nothing to tie Saddam to Sept. 11, the White House has justified the war as America’s way to democratize Iraq and, through it, the Arab world.
Exhibit A in the White House case is the January elections. Kurds and Shi’ites courageously voted for an assembly to write a new constitution. Dispossessed Sunnis, under death threats, stayed away. Result: the first Shia-dominated regime elected in an Arab country in history, though another is right next door in Iran.
Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi arrived in Baghdad. Unlike Condi Rice, Kharrazi had no need for a flak jacket or helmet and was received in Najaf by Ayatollah Sistani, who has yet to meet an American representative.
In his 2002 State of the Union, Bush had described Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an “axis of evil,” a triumvirate of the world’s worst dictatorships, all hell-bent on acquiring the world’s worst weapons to menace mankind.
But, in 2002, there was no Baghdad-Tehran axis, only mutual hatred between them from an eight-year war in which a million may have died on each side. But today, a Baghdad-Tehran axis is emerging. On Kharrazi’s visit, Iraq admitted to having started the 1980s war, laying full blame on Saddam. Both nations condemned terror. Both recognized their mutual sovereignty and created a joint committee to thicken economic, political, and security ties.
Among issues raised was surely how Iraq will react if the United States attacks Iran when its negotiations with the EU over its nuclear program collapse, as appears imminent.
Query: How much blood and treasure should Uncle Sam invest in a war to bring about free elections, if the result is to replace autocrats with Islamists who favor looser ties to America and closer ties to fellow Islamists? Have we spent the lives of 1,600 American soldiers and $200 billion to create a Shia axis that will dominate the Persian Gulf when we depart, as we one day must?
Other elections are approaching, and the results are likely to be equally ambivalent for the United States.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah, which the State Department considers a terrorist organization, stands to make major gains in the parliamentary elections. Hamas, another group branded terrorist by State, is expected, based on its showing in local elections, to give Arafat’s Fatah a strong run. The Palestinian Authority is seeking to postpone the July 17 elections.
In Egypt, where President Mubarak is under pressure from the White House to hold free and fair elections, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest Islamist organization in the Middle East, with deep roots among the pious poor, now wants in.
According to the Washington Post, “The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest organized opposition force in Egypt, has evolved into the country’s most assertive campaigner for democratic reforms by defying bans on its political activities and spearheading a series of demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak.”
The Brotherhood has stolen the spotlight from the pro-Western secularists who had been challenging Mubarak, but, adds the Post, “has paid a heavy price for its new vigor. According to government figures, more than 750 activists have been arrested since March 27. Brotherhood officials put the number at more than 2,000.”
Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamist parties are succeeding due to common factors. They all tend to be militantly anti-Israel and anti-American, which resonates with the Muslim masses. They operate social programs that assist the poor and have thus created grass-roots organizations not unlike the Democratic Party that aided poor Catholic immigrants in the 19th century. They are seen as selfless, while the empowered regimes are viewed as selfish and corrupt.
Free and fair elections in all 22 Arab countries would likely bring Islamists close to power, or into power, in every single one.
In Algeria in 1991, Islamists were winning national elections only to have their victory stolen by the army, with the approval of France and the United States. An Islamist Party that lately came to power in Ankara denied Turkey’s benefactor and ally of 50 years, the United States, the use of Turkish bases for our invasion of Iraq.
In Kuwait, reports the Financial Times, a group of Islamists bent on expelling the 30,000 U.S. troops has formed the Gulf’s first political party and is demanding recognition. In Pakistan, pro-al Qaeda and pro-Taliban Islamists have run strong in the provinces bordering Afghanistan.
In Gulf Wars I & II, neoconservatives mocked the failure of the “Arab street” to shake Arab regimes or resist U.S. power. But with their campaign for global democracy, Bush and his neocon auxiliary may have created the vehicle Islamists will ride to power across the Middle East, preparatory to telling us to go home.
Testing time for democratists everywhere: Are you principled in supporting free elections, no matter the outcome? Or are you hypocrites who support elections only if your side wins?
Soon, President Bush will give us the answer.