Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Bush on Middle East Democracy...again
George W Bush has been hitting the democracy campaign trail again, this time at the Galatasaray University in Istanbul. Here he enunciated his assertion that "removing Saddam Hussein from power set the stage for a democratic transformation in Iraq that would inspire reformers in other countries." Excuse me for opening my eyes, but I hardly think Iraq is a poster child for simple and safe transformation to American-style democracy. Bremer's mismanagement of an intensely difficult situation in Iraq, and especially his decisions to purge the government and civil service of Ba'athists and demobilize 200 000 armed Iraqi soldiers, has allowed the insurgent terrorists to effectively dissuade any other Islamic country from "modernising" to democracy.

This poses a thorny problem to Bush with five months to go to the election, as he has to show the US public that the decision to go to war in Iraq could effectively spread democracy in the Middle East and give the US more leverage in handling the Israel-Palestine issue. It has to be said though, that Kerry's voice, for a candidate supposedly strong on foreign affairs, has been conspicuous in its absence.

Bush has also been forced to give a little away on the bargaining table to assist in US-Islamic state relations. Muslim countries have been especially incensed by US anger at Islamic states for upholding despots and tyrants, given the CIA's involvement in developing Osama bin Laden to his current stature, the Iran-Contra affair and US relations with Saddam Hussein in the late 80's. Bush acknowledged in his speech that "Western nations have helped nourish extremism by supporting repressive Middle Eastern leaders for the sake of regional stability", before he quickly added "but it did not serve the people of the Middle East to betray their hope of freedom, and it has not made Western nations more secure to ignore the cycle of dictatorship and extremism."