November 10, 2003

November 10, 2003 | Commentary on Democracy and Human Rights

Forward Freedom

November 10, 2003 -- "No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."- Winston Churchill to the House of Commons, Nov. 11, 1947

Winnie was right. And a bulldoggish smile surely would have crept across his jowled face upon hearing President Bush's visionary words last Thursday, when he proclaimed that enough is enough - the Middle East exception to freedom must end. The region's governments, from Cairo to Tehran, must be persuaded, indeed pressured, to alter their counterproductive political courses away from despotism and toward democracy.

"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe - because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty," Bush said.

The president boldly proposed a "forward strategy of freedom" for the Middle East: A new U.S. policy of persistent, pushy pluralism that would become the Middle East's agent of change and a harbinger of peace and prosperity for the region's people.

This great endeavor has started in Iraq, but it should not - must not - end there. Our security, and that of the free world, depends upon it.

Years of gross political and economic injustice, ignored by many in the name of Persian Gulf stability and Middle Eastern oil, led to the horrors of 9/11. Unless these inequities end, the War on Terror is fated to be a permanent fixture of the international political landscape.

For without the growth of freedom and liberty in the Middle East, there isn't a prayer for ending terrorism. Despite great oil and gas wealth, prosperity will elude the Middle East's common man. Unemployment will continue to soar and per-capita income plummet.

Radical, chauvinistic Muslim clerics will continue to hijack one of the world's great religions - abetting frustration, preaching hatred and fomenting violence in their own countries and abroad. At their hands, terrorist foot soldiers will continue to multiply - and so will the number of their victims.

Absent Mideast governments accountable to their people, terrorists will find a welcome mat in Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Money will flow unabated from Middle Eastern "charities," supporting animosity and terror around the globe.

Weapons of mass destruction will spread from state to state, ultimately falling into the grips of terrorist groups such as al Qaeda. The seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remain just that - insoluble.

And America will remain in the cross hairs.

Some will argue that democracy and Islam are incompatible, that the U.S. quest for liberty in the Middle East is a fool's errand. Nonsense. Half the world's Muslims already live under democratic rule. In fact, the world's most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, is secular, tolerant and democratic.

This is the same misguided mindset that said that democracy wouldn't work in post-World War II Japan or Germany - now proudly two of the world's most successful free societies.

Note to skeptics: Democracy is not an Eastern or Western value, it is a universal value. It is the right of all people - Muslim or otherwise.

Democracy in the Middle East is not only good for America - it is good for the world. Democratizing Iraq is a necessary down payment in winning the War on Terror and improving the prospects of global peace and security. The $87.5 billion price tag for this effort is a bargain.

The president is right: "The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution." Indeed, it may be the watershed event in this century.

The eyes of the Middle East are on Iraq. If we succeed in transforming the cradle of civilization, a tidal wave of freedom will wash over the Middle East. Once exposed to democratic ideals, the region will never be the same. The people of the Middle East will come to be better off. And so will we.

Peter Brookes is a Senior Fellow for National Security Affairs for the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Related Issues: Democracy and Human Rights

Reprinted with permission of The New York Post