See? Bush was right, after all!

“The Lebanese have been having parliamentary elections for decades,” Juan Cole pointed out on Democracy Now, but now that they’re agitating for the Syrians to leave — though this is hardly a new issue (read Kahlil Gibran) — neoconservatives are crowing about how invading Iraq has transformed the region.

As Arianna Huffington puts it, “In the corridors of power, Republicans are high-fiving, and Democrats are nodding in agreement and patting themselves on the back for how graciously they’ve been able to accept the fact that they were wrong. The groupthink in the nation’s capital would be the envy of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il.”

But what about the elections in Saudi Arabia and Egypt? Huffington points out that women still can’t vote in Saudi Arabia and that, “In Egypt, President Mubarak’s promise to open future elections to competing parties hasn’t been accompanied by the lifting of the current repressive emergency laws that, among other things, ban all public demonstrations and allow citizens deemed a threat to national security to be held indefinitely without formal charges. Nor did it stop the recent arrest of Ayman Nur, a leading opposition figure in Egypt.”

But what about those elections in Iraq, where they had a high turnout despite a Sunni boycott and a continued insurgency? That’s a more difficult case. Huffington complains that they still don’t have a government; she might just be too impatient.

But Huffington’s bottom line is right on: Elections do not a democracy make. “Just ask the people of Russia. Or Algeria. Or Haiti. Or Africa.”

The fact is, Bush has raised the profile of the United States in the Middle East. And he’s been pushing the issue in the wake of his failed weapons of mass destruction claims to justify his invasion of Iraq. But as Huffington points out, you can’t impose democracy by military force. Moves in Saudi Arabia and Egypt are small steps in a right direction. So it’s unsurprising that local governments are giving a litle ground.

But as Huffington points out, “the vast majority of Arabs remain skeptical of U.S. motives. So as long as the idea of democracy is equated with America–and promoted by America–it will be much harder for real democracy to take root in the Middle East. Especially when it is democracy accompanied by 150,000 U.S. troops.”

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