The Case for Democracy
An international report released on July 2 reiterated the key role democracy plays in improving the quality of life for people trapped in poverty in the Middle East.
The document stated that “the wave of democracy that transformed governance in most of Latin America and East Asia in the 1980s and early 1990s has barely reached the Arab states. This freedom deficit undermines human development.”
It noted the lack of opportunity for Arab women, the lack of a voice for intellectuals who might disagree with the government, the failure to institute a free press, and a dearth of political rights for Arab citizens. The report also made a direct connection between the lack of liberty in the Arab world and the fact that Arab countries fall far behind many other nations in education, income level, and other measures of achievement.
The most interesting thing about this document is not its impressive conclusions, however, but its authors. It was co-written by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, which the New York Times identified as “a group of distinguished Arab intellectuals.”
This is an encouraging sign - and an opportunity that should be seized upon by the United States.
For more than two centuries, America has been the world’s loading democracy - and its leading supporter around the world. By and large, democratic nations have demonstrated that they are the most peaceful, boast the healthiest economies, lead the world in a trove of scientific and medical achievements, and have the most stable system of government.
In a world where an increasing number of people are encouraged by radicals to hate the West, it is no longer enough for America to serve as democracy’s role model. We must also be its champion. As Woodrow Wilson once characterized America’s involvement in the First World War as an effort “to make the world safe for democracy,” today, in our war against terror, President Bush must take the opportunity to demonstrate that democracy is the key to remaking a safer world.
The President understands this. And his policy toward Afghanistan -- where the oppressive
Taliban tyranny was replaced with a fledgling democracy under Hamid Karzai - is one example of that. Bush’s latest enunciation of administration policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is another. By rightfully tying U.S. support for a Palestinian state to free and fair leadership elections by the Palestinian people, the President hopes to build a democracy in place of the discredited and corrupt Arafat regime.
As the President said in June, “If liberty can blossom in the rocky soil of the West Bank and Gaza, it will inspire millions of men and women around the globe who are equally weary of poverty and oppression, equally entitled to the benefits of democratic government.”
This call for democracy must also accompany our determination to oust the brutal dictatorship in Iraq. Saddam Hussein masterminded the invasion of a peaceful neighbor, plotted the attempted assassination of a U.S. President, and ordered that chemical weapons be used against his own people. There is no question that he must go.
But the administration understands that it is not enough for the United States to simply dispatch one brutal dictatorship and replace it with another. What comes after Saddam Hussein must be better. Remaking Iraq into a peaceful democracy would be an ambitious task, particularly in a culture where democracy has no long-standing tradition. But the benefits of such an undertaking would be equally enormous: Iraq would serve as a model for the rest of the Arab world, and stand as a testament to the West’s commitment to a better life for the Arab people.
This is how we should see the new push for democracy: not simply as a strategic interest, but also a moral imperative to improve the lives of people across the globe.
President Bush sums this view up best: “Prosperity and freedom and dignity are not just American hopes, or Western hopes. They are universal, human hopes. America believes those hopes have the power to transform lives and nations.”
That is a fitting mission for a great nation at the start of a new millennium.
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