Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Return of the bayonet cliche 

I cringe every time I read this line. First, it was Alexander Solzhenitsyn a week or so ago; now it Carter's National Security Advisor and my compatriot Zbigniew Brzezinski in an interview with Turkish paper "Zaman":
Q: What are your feelings of Mr. Bush's unilateral decision to democratize the Middle East?

A: Democracy cannot be imposed by bayonets. As the experience of Central Europe and the Far East shows, democracy can only surface if it is nurtured in a setting of political dignity and national self-determination. If democracy is imposed from outside without genuinely historic roots, it is likely to become radical and populist and very susceptible to demagogic appeals.
Yes, it's true - democracy doesn't have genuinely historic roots in the Middle East, but the question is, can we really afford to wait a few hundred years for the organic evolution to take the region to that point where democracy is considered as Middle Eastern as Middle Eastern pie (so to speak)? You have to start somewhere and sometime.

"National self-determination" seems to be a code word for the absence of American troops on the ground. This is hardly a pre-requisite - German and Japanese democracies were nurtured under US occupation infinitely harsher and invasive than today's presence in Iraq. And I'm not sure which Central Europe Brzezinski is talking about, because in the one I lived in, democracy was certainly not nurtured in a setting of political dignity - quite the opposite - it was nurtured underground despite the lack of political dignity.

More importantly, as I wrote on the previous occasion:
Democracy can't be imposed - that is, if the people don't want democracy, no one - not even the mighty America - can force them to embrace it. But America doesn't have to impose democracy - the people of Iraq and Afghanistan want it and are choosing it for themselves. Now that America has removed the biggest roadblocks, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan are building that democracy by themselves, with some small assistance from foreign friends.

You might recall that in October last year millions of Afghans, and then in January this year millions of Iraqis, went to the polls, most of them for the first time in their lives. They did not do so under America's gunpoint - American GIs were not forcing people to vote - quite the opposite: people went to the poling stations under the gunpoint of terrorists who did not want them to vote. Millions chose to cast their votes risking death from the enemies of democracy.
Forget the bayonets; it's the people.


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