Category Archives: American Thought

Is U.S. Democracy Just Talk?

Henninger: Is U.S. Democracy Just Talk? – WSJ.com.

Of course it is. That is what Obama says is what is necessary.  “Why can’t we just talk about it?”

I go on the record to apologize for all those human beings who long for release from their “task masters” and the USA fails to stand and support you.

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“America is always talking about democracy and we want democracy to come to Bahrain. . . . We want them to practice what they preach, that’s all.”

–Mohammed Ansari, Bahraini

Sometimes it’s a heavy load, being America.

And it won’t stop unless some day the United States finds a reason to unburden itself of the heavy lift posed by the world’s aspiring peoples. With the Middle East protests, we may be there.

Less than a week into the massive Cairo street demonstrations, a prominent U.S. foreign policy expert pushed back against supporting them: “No one really knows a great deal about the protesters.”

When all at once the people of Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Bahrain, Algeria and even Iran (a Feb. 20 protest by tens of thousands was barely noticed) summoned the courage to take to the streets for greater freedom, the U.S. foreign-policy establishment seemed like stunned deer staring into the incandescent images on television and wondering, Who are these people?

The U.S. needs to produce more than rhetoric on behalf of 10 active democracy protests in the Middle East.

Writing on behalf of de minimis support for the Libyans in these pages Tuesday, Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said: “It is one thing to acknowledge Moammar Gadhafi as a ruthless despot, which he has demonstrated himself to be. But doing so does not establish the democratic bona fides of those who oppose him.” A little digging surely would find something similar said in 1770 about the Massachusetts rabble.

The we-have-no-clue-who-they-are excuse is utterly lame. Scholars at places like the American Enterprise Institute, the Carnegie Middle East Center and elsewhere have been writing in detail for years about these people, pleading with the policy establishment to recognize how volatile the “stability” status quo had become.

It’s clear, however, from the tortured, unfocused U.S. reaction to these events that policy toward these nations below the level of kings had become a second-level priority. How did so many people become an afterthought? ( This is a question I would like “Obama, the savior of the world” to answer.)

The reason, in a phrase, is the Arab-Israeli peace process. It sucked the oxygen out of thinking about the Middle East. With every secretary of state dutifully saddling up to solve the endless riddle, the “peace process” reduced everything and everyone in the region to spear-carriers for this obsession. The populations of unemployed youth building and festering across the region became an inconsequential blur, an Arab lumpenproletariat. “We don’t know who they are.” And whoever they were had to wait until some U.S. president harvested another Nobel Prize by “solving” the Palestinian problem.

Well, they didn’t wait. They exploded in January 2011.

None of this is to gainsay the interests of the world economy in the region. But America’s leaders should not let that become an excuse to forget who they are and where they came from. Soviet-era dissidents have said and written that among the things that sustained them was that their heads were filled with the ideas drawn from America’s freedoms.

What a mess the Founding Fathers and Continental Army made for the grinders at the State Department, this week producing exquisite calibrations of America’s interests. We now read in news analyses and opinion columns long lists of reasons why helping the Libyan rebels would backfire. ( Total BS) What this means is that U.S. intervention won’t come until, as in Srebrenica or Kosovo, Gadhafi’s killings escalate from mere slaughter to mass murder. Europe acquiesced in the Balkan genocide, but the U.S. could not, an important distinction of global status.

What is happening here is not just another crisis to work through the bureaucracies until the storm passes. The stakes for the U.S. in how these uprisings are resolved extend beyond the Middle East. They’ve put on the table the core arguments the U.S. will need to mount in its defense against the competitive challenge of China’s market authoritarianism. If U.S. timidity is seen as U.S. acquiescence to a system of “reformed” Middle East autocracies, the debate between the American and Chinese models is over. The world’s people will see, rightly, that the Chinese are winning the argument(and why can the man who is 10x smarter than George Bush see this???) and the U.S. will spend the next 50 years watching other nations back away from its system.

“Defining moment” may be an overworked phrase, but this one qualifies. With these protests, the trains of history have left the station. The U.S. needs to issue a more public, unequivocal statement of support for authentic representative government. And find an active policy to go with it.

Only a U.S. president can lead this fight. But he has to (truly) believe in it. There is a school of thought, popular around the Obama foreign-policy team, that the world would be better off without the myth of American exceptionalism and burdens like these that come with it. If this government can’t summon more than rhetoric or a U.N. resolution on behalf of 10 up-and-running democratic movements in the Middle East, that exceptionalism will wither. I’m guessing the world won’t be better for it.

Write to henninger@wsj.com

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