If you are not part of the solution...
The anti-war left of the 1960s produced the ubiquitous phrase from which today's title is drawn, and made very effective use of it. It seems, however, that many of the current liberal elite have no desire to look in the mirror and ask what, exactly, they are doing to make the world a better, safer, place. The constant anti-Bush rhetoric and America blaming by the likes of Noam Chomsky produces great sound-bites and catch phrases, but as far as I can tell offers little in the way of useful problem solving. They want America out of Iraq, NOW! OK. Then what? I keep expecting someone, anyone, on the left to make a well reasoned, thoughtful suggestion. I am repeatedly disappointed.
To this end I try to keep up with the writings of the faithful opposition, which lead me to Common Dreams
today, a site which bills itself as "Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community." I found a piece there by Juan Cole (professor of modern Middle Eastern and North African studies at the University of Michigan) that was originally published in the L.A. Times, titled "The Downside of Democracy
: What if the U.S. doesn't like what the voters like in the Mideast and beyond?" An excellent question, one with which I have struggled myself. The Iraqis could very well elect a mullahcrocy, if not now then in the near future. As Mr. Cole asks:...What if the newly elected regimes are friendly to states and groups that Washington considers enemies? What if the spread of democracy through the region empowers elements that don't share American values and goals?
As I read the beginning of this article I thought that today was the day, at last, where I would find what I have long yearned for- a legitimate contribution from the left, no whining, no brow-beating, but a useful piece of thinking that might help America, Iraq and our allies move forward. Of course, I was let down once again. Mr. Cole abandoned his opportunity to be part of the solution with the rest of the article between that beginning and the conclusion:Are such outcomes acceptable to the Bush administration? If not, how will it respond? Given the war on terror, it is unlikely to simply take these electoral setbacks lying down.
But if Washington falls back on its traditional responses -- covert operations, attempts to interfere in parliamentary votes with threats or bribes, or dependence on strong men like Musharraf -- the people of the Middle East might well explode, because the only thing worse than living under a dictatorship is being promised a democracy and then not really getting it.
He is completely correct it would indeed be disastrous should democracy fail in the ME and his scenario come to pass. But why is that the only scenario he can imagine? Where is the learned recommendation on how to avoid that very situation? Why does such an excellent, thought provoking question peter out into the assumption that our only possible response is violence and coercion? While very disappointed, I nevertheless decided to check out Professor Cole's blog Informed Comment, where I found If America were Iraq, What would it be Like?. This is another excellent question, but once again there are no answers. Perhaps the professor simply prefers the Socratic Method. Regardless, I was drawn back to the question that started this piece. What will we do if democratically elected Islamic republics arise in the Middle East?
As I see it we have two options:
1. Accept them and establish diplomatic relations.
2. Oppose them and marginalize them.
If we are sincere about democracy in the Middle East we must pursue option number one. But we must also recall that democracy is only part of the equation. Freedom is the second state of being we are hoping to establish in the region. This is precisely the concept that many of our colleagues on the left have the hardest time dealing with. We want to see democratically elected governments that guarantee freedom for the people of their nation- not some of the people, not just one gender or religion, but all of the people of the nation. Freedom to form opposition parties and to voice opinions, to run for office and if elected to serve, the very freedoms that those on the left like to loudly proclaim are being lost in America while the blinding irony of the fact that they disprove this idea every time they loudly kvetch about the party in power goes right over their heads.
Bearing this theme in mind, then, I once again have a challenge for our readers; something to do over the weekend. I invite and encourage all of you to answer the good professor's questions posed above (repeated here):
What if the newly elected regimes are friendly to states and groups that Washington considers enemies? What if the spread of democracy through the region empowers elements that don't share American values and goals?
Look forward twenty years or so, imagine a ME where Iraq has elected a Shia government along the lines of Iran. Let your imaginations run wild. In other words, be part of the solution, not the problem. I have my own ideas, which I'll share soon, but I am interested in seeing what you all think.
I look forward to reading your responses. Feel free to email them to me (see right hand frame for address), or to post them at My Blog is Your Blog if they are too long for the comment section, and leave a commen linking to your post, or just break them into chunks for commenting. If you do e-mail a response please let me know if I can post your name, e-mail and homepage when I run the updates. If you post a response on your own blog please link back to this piece and leave a comment here letting us all know. Hopefully we'll get some interaction form the other side of the aisle. Maybe even Professor Cole will chime in. But I doubt it.