Saturday, November 08, 2003

With Bush's speech at the National Endowment for Democracy, the goal of middle East democratization has been made official. It's about time, everybody paying attention knows that the reason we're not willing to abandon Iraq is because of this goal.

Though I can't fault the speech, I worry about the follow-up. In foreign policy Bush usually says the right things, but sometimes practical concerns prevent him from doing the right things. Exhibit A is the 2002 State of Union speech. Referring to the Axis of Evil (which Bush defined as states like Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and their terrorist allies), he said "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." What happened with North Korea since then? Essentially Bush promised too much. The United States is clearly not willing to fight a costly war over nuclear proliferation.

Similarly, I don't think we will invade Egypt or Saudi Arabia to democratize them. Our rhetoric is nonetheless important, especially to the few democrats of Middle East. But we must remember that it is just rhetoric. Our actions make it clear that we are willing to democratize Iraq, but that the rest of the region will get little more than encouraging words and the example of an Iraqi democracy, and Bush was careful not to promise more than this in his speech.

To be a fair I should say what more we should be doing. As a nation we are simply not willing to allocate the resources to forcefully democratize another country besides Iraq. (Draft, huge war deficits, anyone?) Moreover, I doubt economic sanctions would be effective (see Cuba). The best I can come up with is something analogous to the Iraqi Freedom Act, in which we gave financial support to Iraqi dissidents. Such a course would probably have the most effect in Iran, where dissidents are already the most active. I know this isn't much, but at the very least it would put our money where our mouth is; credibility matters.

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