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Iraq: The "Domino Effect" We Can Get Behind By: Pejman Yousefzadeh
Tech Central Station | Thursday, April 08, 2004

The war in Iraq continues to be a favorite whipping boy for pundits of all backgrounds. Richard Clarke's remarks before the 9/11 Commission regarding the war have only added fuel to the debate over whether the decision to go to war was the proper one. But what Clarke and many other pundits seem to miss is that the successful prosecution of the war has brought about a fundamental reappraisal regarding the state of political and personal freedom in the Middle East.

Consider what is happening in Syria. Defying decades of authoritarian rule, Syrians are finding that they can now express their disgust with the ruling Ba'ath party (the same party that ruled Iraq in Saddam Hussein's time), that they can now demand the opportunity to assemble and peaceably protest government actions, and that they can demand the end of emergency laws in the country that have generally suppressed civil rights for the Syrian people. And they are getting results -- the Syrian government has been forced to abolish emergency economic courts, and has relaxed restrictions against private universities and banks.

Why has Syria begun to feel even these slight effects of political liberalization? Because the downfall of Saddam Hussein's regime has given the Syrian people hope for greater freedom in their own country. As Reason's Michael Young puts it:

". . . If there is one country where outside pressure, particularly from the U.S. in Iraq, has been shown to work, it's in Syria. In recent months the Syrian regime has shown considerable flexibility against its domestic critics (opposition figures have even been named to a commission to reform the Ba'ath Party); the regime did not crush the Kurdish uprising of two weeks ago with the same violence that would have been expected only a decade ago; it has agreed (after much resistance earlier) to move forward on a partnership agreement with the European Union (which has provisions for political reform); and it has abolished emergency Economic Courts (which, as the New York Times recently noted, were used by the regime to stifle opposition businessmen)."

Young elaborates in a longer article:

". . . As far as the Bush administration was concerned, a democratic Iraq at the heart of the Arab world could become a liberal beacon in the region, prompting demands for openness and real reform inside neighboring states. Ridiculous you say? The Syrian regime, faced in the past two weeks with protests by individuals seeking greater freedom and a revolt by disgruntled Kurds, would surely disagree."

This is where Clarke's allegations, and those of critics who see a disconnect between Al Qaeda and Iraq, are misleading. Iraq always was essential to the anti-terrorism battle precisely because victory there was regarded as necessary to transform societies from where terrorists, spawned by suffocating regimes, had emerged. One can disagree with the practicability of such a strategy, but it is difficult to fault its logic.

If the aforementioned state of political liberalization in Syria continues, it will be hard to even "disagree with the practicability of such a strategy." Obviously, no one argues that Syria is a full-fledged democracy yet. Much still has to be done on that score. For that matter, no one claims that the work of reconstructing Iraq is done -- far from it. But it does appear that the progress being made in Syria can be best explained by the fact that American power was successfully manifested in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and that the Syrian Ba'athists do not want to share the fate of their Iraqi counterparts.

And if Young's analysis can be faulted, it would be because he argued that Syria was the "one country where outside pressure, particularly from the U.S. in Iraq, has been shown to work." (Emphasis added.) Not so. While liberalization is occurring from the bottom up in Syria, it also appears to be occurring in Libya. As the Guardian recently reported, it's happening from the top down:

The son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said Wednesday Arab countries should support President Bush's campaign to promote democracy in the Middle East.

Numerous Arab governments have rejected Bush's democracy initiative, notably Egypt's and Saudi Arabia's, as an imposition unsuited to Arab culture and traditions.

"Instead of shouting and criticizing the American initiative, you have to bring democracy to your countries, and then there will be no need to fear America or your people," said Seif al-Islam Gadhafi. "The Arabs should either change or change will be imposed on them from outside."

Seif denied reports that he is a candidate to succeed his father, who rules Libya with little tolerance of opposition.

"Many Arab countries are now following the policy of inheriting the leadership, but there are hundreds of Libyans who are better (suited) than I," Seif said.

Seif even praised Israel, saying that unlike Arab countries, sons do not tend to succeed their fathers in power there.

"We don't put the appropriate person in the right place, but Israel is a democratic country," told the Al-Jazeera television station.

Libya's potential democratization, along with its startling and strong endorsement of the Bush Administration's plan to spread democracy in the Middle East is yet another indication of one of the unsung benefits of the war in Iraq -- the ability to give the people of the region a tangible vision of freedom. Up until now, such a vision has been a pipe dream in most Middle Eastern countries. But with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, more and more, the question for other Middle Eastern populations is why they should continue to settle for the unceasing oppression that has been their lot in life up until now.

Surely, one of the significant portions of the struggle against terrorism involves rolling back and eliminating the authoritarianism and totalitarianism that is so essential to brainwashing a population into accepting terrorism as a viable and mainstream political strategy. Contrary to the arguments made by Richard Clarke and others, the ramifications of the war in Iraq bode well for the war on terrorism in that the war appears to have served as a catalyst for democratization in the Middle East. Both American national security and civil society in the Middle East will benefit from that trend. And one cannot help but wonder how Clarke has missed -- or ignored -- the trend in formulating his critique.

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