TCS Daily


By Pejman Yousefzadeh - March 10, 2005 12:00 AM

The night the Berlin Wall came down, I was glued to the television coverage and watched ABC's Prime Time Live engage in real-time reporting of the breach of the wall and the spread of democracy to Eastern Europe. Sam Donaldson -- who had served as the White House correspondent during the Reagan Administration -- was one of the co-hosts of the broadcast, and at one point during the coverage, he had a chance to interview his old rhetorical sparring partner -- former President Ronald Reagan.

Donaldson was warm and gracious to the former President as they both watched history be made. Several times during the interview, Donaldson credited President Reagan for having worked to set up the conditions for the fall of the Wall and the commensurate collapse of communism. Donaldson also spoke to the amazement that many people felt at seeing the Berlin Wall finally breached. Surely, he seemed to indicate, no one expected to see the eventual destruction of the Cold War order and the victory of the forces of freedom and democracy in this twilight struggle. Judging from Donaldson's questions and the tone and premise implicit in those questions, the decision by Eastern Europeans to agitate for their freedom and take their destinies into their own hands sprang out of the blue and was an entirely unanticipated phenomenon.

President Reagan entertained all of this commentary and questioning, and then, at the end of the interview, he asked for a little extra time to say something. The former President freely admitted that the events going on in Eastern Europe were momentous. But he asked why it was that anyone should be surprised that a people enslaved for over four decades should want to agitate for their freedom. The surprising thing was not that people wanted to be free. Rather, it was that they were enslaved in the first place.

As always, the great liberator cut right to the heart of matters. With the fall of the Berlin Wall still blessedly fresh in our hearts and minds, and with Reagan's bracing perspective to aid and assist us, we should now turn our attention to the Middle East and ask why anyone is surprised that the people of Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq should opt and fight for their freedom.

Sectarian dictators in the Middle East try to get their people to buy into the belief that existence is merely the gateway to all kinds of burdens and oppression, and that such oppression can be avoided if only the populace will sacrifice its inherent interest in freedom and liberty for safety and security from the forces of oppression -- forces that respond to the commands of those very sectarian dictators. Meanwhile, the region's religious totalitarians try to convince their people that life on earth is not worth living at all. Rather, people should focus on making their lives as short as possible, and using those lives to commit terrorist acts that supposedly will earn them God's favor.

But the agitation for democracy that is currently going on in the Middle East is upsetting these authoritarian and totalitarian attempts to brainwash and intimidate their people. These Middle Eastern democrats belief that the quality of their present lives matter, that they -- and not a gang of ruthless dictators -- should be the ones who determine the shape and direction of their lives. Whether they are seeking the institution of liberty and freedom in the first instance, or demonstrating against the terrorists determined to combat any efforts to bring freedom to the Middle East, the quality of present day existence matters to these Middle Eastern democrats and their emboldening is shaking the very foundations of the dictatorships that for decades have worked to crush their hopes.

Of course, the people of the Middle East have been emboldened to fight back against the dictators of the region by American efforts to oust both the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. Lebanese militant leader Walid Jumblatt -- who in the past was known for his vehemently anti-American statements -- directly credits the removal of Saddam Hussein and the successful Iraqi elections for a transitional government with having inspired the movement for democracy across the Middle East. In Lebanon, pro-democracy demonstrators greeted the attempts of Syrian President Bashar Assad to offer half-measures designed to placate demands for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon by taunting him with slogans like "Bush sends his greetings!" -- a clear reference to the possibility that the United States may undertake to free the Lebanese people via military power if Syria does not withdraw. While there is almost no chance of such a thing happening, it is more than a little noteworthy that the Lebanese demonstrators seem gleeful at the prospect of American liberation -- or at the very least willing and clever enough to use the threat of American military might to force Syria to fully withdraw from Lebanon. And Assad seems terrified -- in a recent comment to the Turkish press, Assad asked his interviewer to "Please send this message: I am not Saddam Hussein. I want to cooperate." He should want to cooperate; the international coalition against Assad includes states like Saudi Arabia -- which historically has been more than willing to cooperate with the region's thugs and murderers so long as its own survival was ensured. And now, with both international forces and domestic upheaval threatening to transform Middle Eastern political and social institutions, the United States has decided to augment its support of Iranian democratic reformers as well; thereby increasing the creative tension in the region that may lead to genuine liberalization in the Middle East as a whole.

But in the end, we should remember that the fight to help Middle Eastern democrats is aided most all by the deeply-rooted desire of a long-captive people to break the bonds that have shackled them for generations, and to achieve the freedom that so many of us take for granted. And as President Reagan advised us, we should stop being surprised and astonished that people all over the world want to be free. Denials of liberty are social and political anomalies that should be eradicated to the greatest degree possible. To the extent that the international system is capable of it, it should suffer tyrannies with the same degree of patience and forbearance human beings employ to suffer diseases.

And if you are not astonished by the refusal of an individual to suffer a personal disease, then you shouldn't be astonished by the refusal of an entire region to suffer the disease of tyranny. Call the events in the Middle East "thrilling," if you wish. Call them "wonderful," "splendid," "encouraging," "hopeful" and "promising." Just don't call them "surprising." There is no surprise to be had at all.


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