The New York Times editorial board must have experienced considerable pain when they opined today on the momentum building throughout Southwest Asia for democratization. After all, after deriding the Bush administration for two years over its "neocon" strategies designed to do exactly what we now see, the board had to publish this:
Still, this has so far been a year of heartening surprises - each one remarkable in itself, and taken together truly astonishing. The Bush administration is entitled to claim a healthy share of the credit for many of these advances. It boldly proclaimed the cause of Middle East democracy at a time when few in the West thought it had any realistic chance. And for all the negative consequences that flowed from the American invasion of Iraq, there could have been no democratic elections there this January if Saddam Hussein had still been in power.
It misses the point entirely, however, on Lebanon and elsewhere. It talks about developments there and in Egypt as if they were completely disconnected to events in Iraq, instead of the logical flow of events coming from the realization by the dictators in the region that (a) Bush got re-elected and will have four more years to command the armies that have split Southwest Asia, and (b) he means what he says instead of blowing hot air. The NYT wants Bush to continue pressuring Syria for a withdrawal; do they think for a moment that Bashar Assad would even consider it without having 150,000 increasingly available American troops on his eastern border? Do the editors think that Assad's intelligence and military would have stood for a Cedar Revolution two years ago, or even today without that massive military threat on their border?
Ditto Egypt. The Times expresses some doubt about Hosni Mubarak's sincerity in offering multiparty elections for the first time, and rightly calls for the release of Mubarak's main opposition figure from prison. They entirely miss the point that without the demonstration of American will in the region, missing since 1991 and only half-baked even then, Mubarak would have been content to die in office and pass the dictatorship on to the next flunky.
The last passive-voice paragraph says volumes to those that recall the NYT's stand on Central America, especially Nicaragua, during the Reagan administration:
Over the past two decades, as democracies replaced police states across Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America, and a new economic dynamism lifted hundreds of millions of eastern and southern Asia out of poverty and into the middle class, the Middle East stagnated in a perverse time warp that reduced its brightest people to hopelessness or barely contained rage. The wonder is less that a new political restlessness is finally visible, but that it took so long to break through the ice.
It's hard to buy cluelessness by the barrel, but the NYT editorial board manages to do it. Democracies didn't just replace dictatorships in Central America -- US intervention had a lot to do with it, intervention that the Left (again) despised. We supported the Contras while the limousine liberals protested. We forced the Sandanistas to the voting booth and the Salvadorans to do the same while our actions were widely derided by such political luminaries as John Kerry and Ed Asner -- and watched as both countries used those elections to transform themselves into self-sustaining democracies. The Gray Lady opposed those efforts then as well.
The wonder is not that it took so long to break the ice in the Middle East. The wonder is that after twenty years, the New York Times still refuses to learn from history, and truly, even to acknowledge it.