In the past two months, we have seen an explosion of momentum in Southwest Asia for political reform and democratization. Despite European warnings that democracy cannot be imposed at gunpoint, two longtime tyrannies (Afghanistan and Iraq) successfully held popular multiparty elections for the first time in their histories, freeing almost 50 million people from two of the most oppressive governments in modern history. Just before that, Ukrainians took to the streets to bring down a puppet government and a sham election that would have perpetuated it, and now we see popular demonstrations for liberty where we would least have expected it — on the streets of Beirut and Cairo. The pro-Syrian puppet Lebanese government has fallen today as a result, while Hosni Mubarak has managed to stay one step ahead by promising multiparty elections later this year for the executive.
After watching nothing but stagnation for decades and an Arab populace that appeared resigned to oppression all along, one has to ask: what changed? Why now? The answer, history will show, will be two men: George Bush and Tony Blair, with John Howard of Australia playing the unsung hero.
For twelve years, the international community sat on its hands while Saddam Hussein, the Assads in Syria, and other tinpot dictators openly oppressed their people and defied international calls for reform. All of that changed for the US after 9/11, when the product of all that simmering rage at political repression took out 3,000 of our citizens who committed the sin of going to work on Tuesday morning. Bush, Blair, and Howard correctly calculated that continuing with so-called realpolitik and cutting deals with the oppressors only created more risk and more opportunity for terrorist groups.
So the Anglosphere changed directions and demanded accountability from the dictators of the worst area for political oppression — Southwest Asia. After giving the Taliban one chance to cough up the masterminds of 9/11, Bush decapitated them despite opposition predictions of 19th-century quagmires and anarchical results. Within two years, the Afghans had held their own elections and started governing themselves, a story that the Western media has largely ignored despite its historic significance.
Once the Taliban had been driven off, the Anglosphere turned its sights onto Saddam Hussein. Many on the left have argued that Saddam had been effectively “contained” (some used the phrase “in his box”) by UN sanctions, but ultimately Saddam had continued to defy UNSC resolutions — 16 of them — to disarm, stop committing genocide on his own people, and provide proof of the destruction of his WMD programs. Saddam refused to do any of this. His intransigence demonstrated the UN’s inability to act in its own interest, and as we later found out, the UNSC states themselves helped Saddam undermine the containment they argued to continue. Saddam’s continued grip on power showed the UN to be helpless to do anything to enforce its own resolutions.
That provides part of the oft-asked question of Why Saddam and why not Iran/North Korea/Syria et al? This map provides the other part:
Geographically and militarily, Iraq holds the key to Southwest Asia, and the Anglosphere leaders proved they can read maps even if their political opponents cannot. Iraq still had the region’s most potent military, and after the necessary first strike against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, all further operations in the Gulf region required neutralizing both Saddam and his army. His defiance provided all of the justification necessary for such a step, and the Anglosphere took it. They destroyed the region’s best and most battle-tested military in less than three weeks, despite opposition predictions of desert quagmires and holy-war catastrophes. While the Iraqis themselves didn’t welcome us with flowers and chocolates — a product of our 1991 betrayal — they proved less than two years later that they wanted to choose their own leaders by braving bombs and bullets to vote in surprisingly large numbers.
On the heels of that surprising success, Bush specifically called Syria out as his next focus during his annual State of the Union speech. I don’t think even Bush could have predicted Bashar Assad’s stupidity in assassinating a tremendously popular figure in Lebanon as Rafik Hariri, but Bush demanded a complete Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon during that speech. Combined with his inaugural speech ealier and the success of Iraq’s election, his words have had a powerful effect on Lebanese developments. The purple fingers of Iraq have led to the red-and-white banners demanding freedom today in the streets of Beirut and the capitulation of Egypt’s president-for-life, Hosni Mubarak, to multiparty elections.
Nor have we seen the wave of democratization crest yet. Looking back at the map above, that wave threatens to crash across Syria from two directions now, especially with its Kurdish minority paying close attention to their Iraqi cousins. Syria, long an undeniable exporter of terrorism, either has to ride that wave to a peaceful transition to true representative government or drown in an attempt to stand fast. The collapse of Syria and a transformation of Egyptian politics would severly undercut the terrorist impulses of populations who have been fed radical anti-Westernism by their oppressors for decades as a means to rechannel their rage towards anyone else but the dictators themselves.
More horizons beckon, notably Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan, but these will follow in time. One question that arises still is, why now? Was this really the work of the Anglosphere? The answer lies in the 150,000 troops currently stationed in Iraq and the will to act that put them there. Does anyone think that Syria would have stood still for a spontaneous demonstration against their puppet government if Saddam Hussein was still defying the UN in Baghdad? Would Hosni Mubarak have suddenly transformed into a democrat without watching the Anglosphere demonstrate a will to act rather than just continue talking tough?
Would the people of the region had the undeniable personal courage to stand up to their oppressors as they have in Cairo and Beirut if they had not seen the Iraqis and their purple fingers, freely voting for their own government, with their own eyes?
Make no mistake. This transformation didn’t just happen to coincide with the terms of Bush, Blair, and Howard. Expect the mainstream media to sell that meme in the next few weeks — how George Bush, especially, got lucky to just happen to be President when all of this happened. Don’t buy it for a second. He saw how to change the world and eliminate terrorism over the long haul and more importantly had the political courage to act in that regard.