March 31, 2005 | CQ Researcher

Has the War in Iraq Helped to Spread Democracy?

There were those who predicted that if American forces over-threw Saddam Hussein the Arab Street would rise in response.  They were right.  It's happening — for example, in Lebanon, where we are seeing demonstrations in favor of freedom and democracy unlike anything ever seen before in the Middle East.

“We love the American people,” Louis Nahanna, a Lebanese demonstrator, told reporter Claudia Rosett during the massive, recent Beirut rally.  “Please don't let Bush forget us. Your support is very important.”

The toppling of the burtally oppressive Taliban regime and the historical elections that followed in Afghanistan, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the “Revolution of Purple Ink” in Iraq, new (and improved) elections in the Palestinian Authority and Saudi Arabia, the promise of more open politics in Egypt and, as noted, the Cedar Revolution now under way in Lebanon — these and other developments suggest we are living in a period of revolutionary promise.

President Bush's words and policies — including the use of military force in Afghanistan and Iraq — did not cause all this to happen.  But none of this would have happened were it not for those words, policies and actions.  Former New York Times correspondent Youssef Ibrahim, a vehement opponent of the Iraq war, recently wrote that, to his astonishment, there has been a lifting of “the fear that has for decades constricted the Arab mind… [T]he U.S. president and his neoconservative crowd are helping to spawn a spirit of reform and a new vigor to confront dynastic dictatorships and other assorted ills.”

The president's critic are not wrong when they say that we don't know how all this will end.  Indeed, in 1989 the Berlin Wall fell, and a new era of fredom began for Eastern Europe.  But in 1989 a pro-democracy movement also began in Tiananmen Square, and there it was crushed.

I would submit, however, that it is time to find out whether there is a democratic antidote to the poisons that have long been flowing through the Arab world.  Yes, action entains risk.  But so does inaction.  The catastrophe of 9/11 was only the most dramatic consequence of a quarter-century of inactin, of denying that the rise of radical Islamism and terrorism were matters to be taken seriously.

We can do more than observe this experiment.  Our enemies will do everything they can to stifle freedom, democracy and human rights.  We must do everything we can to promise those ideas, everything we can to assist the brave men and women who are fighting for values we share.