The President’s bold plan appears to be based on a model of democratic contagion. We have seen such infectious outbreaks of popular government in Latin America and Eastern Europe, so we know the prognosis is not fanciful. But in the Muslim and Arab Middle East, democracy has no real pedigree and few stalwart proponents. Thus, recalcitrant autocracies will inevitably serve as sanctuaries and strongpoints for those trying to reverse the verdict in an Afghanistan, an Iraq, or a Lebanon; the idea that these same anti-democratic societies are supported by the U.S. is presently embarrassing and eventually unsustainable.The whole thing is worth a read and Hanson treats the problems with the Bush Doctrine fairly. He also makes an important point regarding the inevitable criticisms that the BD will endure from those ideologically opposed, on both the Left and Right, to the President's plan.
Fortunately, however, the reverse is also true. A metamorphosis of these same dictatorships would help accelerate the demand for democratization elsewhere. Far from representing a distraction in the struggle against current front-line enemies like Iran and Syria, the reformation of Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia would only further isolate and enfeeble those states—as William Tecumseh Sherman’s “indirect approach” of weakening the rear of the Confederacy, at a considerably reduced loss of life, helped to bring to a close the frontline bloodshed of northern Virginia, or as Epaminondas the Theban’s freeing of the Messenian helots dismantled the Spartan empire at its very foundations.
Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia are not the equivalent of the Soviet Union’s satellite states of Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania. Rather, they are the East Germany, Hungary, and Poland of the unfree Middle East: pivotal nations upon whose fate the entire future of the Bush Doctrine may well hinge.
At home, the Left will continue to score points against the President, citing either the impracticality of his policy when news is bad or, when things seem headed in the right direction, decrying the cultural chauvinism in thinking that Western concepts like democracy can be “privileged” over indigenous forms of rule. The Right will warn against the danger of betraying trusted allies, or of playing into the hands of popular extremists—or of giving an inside track to European and Chinese commercial interests that exhibit no such squeamishness about doing business with tyrants.I can't recall where I heard it, but someone said that perhaps the reason the President has seized upon the ideal of spreading Democracy in this manner is because up until now nothing else has worked and, to this point, democracy in the Middle East is just about the only thing that hasn't been tried. Of course the result won't be an American style Federalist system. The culture and societies of Arab/Islam nation states will put their own indelible stamp on their form of democratic government. Perhaps it is presumptious of us to believe that it can be done. But we won't know unless we make the attempt.
Some of these apprehensions are well grounded. Violent upheaval followed by Islamist coups could endanger world commerce well beyond oil, in the choke points of the straits of Hormuz and the Suez Canal. And, as we saw with Arafat on the one hand and the Iranian clerics on the other, plebiscites can indeed become the basis for years of Western appeasement of despotic rule. But a pre-9/11-like stasis is even worse: change is inevitable in any case, and there may be only a brief window to ensure that it is democratic and stays that way, rather than Islamist, reactionary, and/or nuclear.