Earlier this week, I wrote, "Hard to imagine that an administration could single-handedly ruin the Freedom brand for the Middle East and the developing world, but I think this one has done it." I wrote it almost as an aside to the post's focus on the collapse of civil society in Iraq, but the idea is brought into stark relief by a revealing article in today's Washington Post.
The piece definitely doesn't bury the lede, beginning bluntly with awful news for anyone who supports democracy:
Horror at the bloodshed accompanying the U.S. effort to bring democracy to Iraq has accomplished what human rights activists, analysts and others say Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had been unable to do by himself: silence public demands for democratic reforms here.This debacle isn't just ruining Iraq, it's serving as an object lesson for use by autocracies and tyrants throughout the region. Reformers now have no credibility -- to ruin the legitimacy of any democratic reform efforts, all the old guard has to do is say, "So you want it to be like our neighbor, Iraq?" And even people who would otherwise favor liberal reform are having second thoughts.
"If democracy brings such chaos in the region, and especially the destruction of society, as it did in Iraq and in Lebanon, it's absolutely normal, and I think it's absolutely a wise position from the people to be afraid to imagine how it would be in Syria," Amiralay said. "I think that people at the end said, 'Well, it is better to keep this government. We know them, and we don't want to go to this civil war, and to live this apocalyptic image of change, with civil war and sectarianism and blood.'"I'm a big fan of democracy (note the difference between "democracy" and "holding elections"), and I'm in favor of democracy promotion (note the difference between "promotion" and "forcible implementation"). When leaders are accountable to their people, it's harder for those leaders to blame all of their nations' ills on outside influences (e.g., the infidel West), and additionally, I think self-determination is an inherent good, one that is a foundation of our nation.
Contrary to such a goal, the Bush administration is ruining that ideal for an entire region in a war that not only harms our foreign policy but also makes us less safe, proving once again that the rhetoric of freedom and democracy doesn't match the policies that are now solidifying autocracies.