No Domino Effect, Yet

Economist.com | American diplomacy in the Middle East: Is a Pax Americana in the offing?: Despite the misery of Israel-Palestine and the bloody uncertainty in Iraq, there are hopeful signs across the wider region.
As I’ve noted several times, we’ve placed a bet — in both blood and treasure — that freedom is a defense against terrorism. It seems to be paying off in the short term by de-fanging countries such as Libya. Apparently the idea of being popped by America’s military has little appeal to Gadaffi. I don’t blame him.

In the longer term it’s yet to be seen if real freedom will erupt in the Middle East. In fact, there’s no guarantee that Iraq will emerge as a liberal democracy. The Shiite majority, after years of repression, is agitating for elections before a Constitution is in place to provide checks and balances to prevent the Shiites from trampling the rights of minorities.

One of the dangers of the democratic rhetoric coming from the despots running the Middle East now is that it will confuse elections with freedom. They’re not the same thing.

“THERE is no longer any place for dictatorship,” said the president. “Democracy is the choice of the modern age for all peoples.” Was this George Bush, preaching reform to Arab leaders? No, it was one of those leaders themselves, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, addressing a recent human-rights conference. Apart from blasts at Israel and demands for a swift American exit from Iraq, Mr Saleh’s speech might have been scripted in Washington.

In the wake of the Iraq war, many Arabs still think of America as a bully. Fully 94% of 1,600 callers-in to a recent debate shown on the al-Jazeera satellite channel agreed with the proposition that America is engaged in a “crusade” against Islam. Yet Mr Saleh is not alone among Arab leaders in finding it politic to endorse, in words at least, the agenda for reform that the superpower has sketched for the region.

The changes do not mean that dictators are falling like dominoes, as some of the cheerleaders for America’s invasion of Iraq were prophesying last year. But nor has the region seen the mayhem predicted by many of the war’s opponents. Some of the changes have nothing to do with the war: in many countries, moves to widen political participation, liberalise commerce and contain conflicts have been under way for some time.

[….]

But the pace of change has accelerated in recent months, with some noted gains for American policy. With much American cajoling, for example, the Sudanese government and southern rebels look close to agreeing to end that country’s long civil war, so helping to calm the troubled Horn of Africa for the first time in a generation. Libya and Iran have both opted to expose their nuclear programmes to outside monitoring, and so helped to reduce the potential for a regional arms race. And Iran, while shying from any formal embrace with America, is quietly courting America’s close friends in the region, such as Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

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