TCS Daily


American Interventionism Gets Results

By Uriah Kriegel - November 15, 2005 12:00 AM

It has been widely noted that the Jordanian terror attacks masterminded by al-Zarqawi signal a new low in al Qaeda's worldwide engagement. Again al Qaeda has been reduced to the killing of Muslims, in the name of Islam, and to the mounting ire of the Muslim world.

This has been a bad summer for al Qaeda, with disappointing results in the 7/7 London bombings, which failed to generate any tangible jolt in the British conversation about the war on terror, and the recent Bali bombings, which killed "only" three Australians and instead victimized mainly Indonesian Muslims. Meanwhile, the world is both getting desensitized to the routinish mayhem wrought in Iraq and increasingly more clear about who has the well-being of Iraqis in mind (America) and who doesn't (al Qaeda).  

Next door to the west, Syria is under immense and relentless pressure. The UN report implicating the highest echelon of the Syrian government in the political assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's dogged determination to keep the spotlight shining on the ongoing political repression practiced by Damascus, have put Syria on the defensive.  

For decades, Syria has been on the offensive, harassing Israel through its patronage of Hezbollah, controlling every aspect of Lebanese life, and taking a confrontational stance toward Turkey. This is partly because Damascus believes that Lebanon and parts of Israel and Turkey belong to the greater Syria and must eventually end up as part of it. In the present climate, the Syrian government is in no position to indulge such unfruitful fantasies. After being forced earlier this year to take its military out of Lebanon, it instead must own up now to the reality of its continuous domestic repression and regional troublemaking.  

A little down south, in the Palestinian territories, the Arafat legacy is all but absent from the public discourse. Last week was the first anniversary of Arafat's death. Yet the occasion failed to inspire any yearnings for his wretched style of "diplomacy." That style now seems to belong to days bygone, not a live option for future dealings with Israel. These days, the Palestinian Authority is fully preoccupied with trying to curb the violent elements under its control, not with mounting charades, engaging in doublespeak, and laboring the manipulation of world opinion.  

Further to the south, we saw this year first democratic elections in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Saudi Arabian elections were only local elections, but they gave the Saudis a taste of, and an acquaintance with, the democratic process. As Saudi Arabia joins the WTO next month, it will inevitably find itself under increasing pressure to further liberalize its hold on the populace. Where this will lead is at present uncertain, and may in the end not amount to much, but at least something is happening.  

On the other side of the Suez Canal were the more important elections this year. Granted, the Egyptian elections were massively rigged by Hosni Mubarak. But at least there were elections in need of rigging. With every election cycle, the rigging will doubtless continue, but it will most certainly be on the decrease. Furthermore, a few years ago, Mubarak started a process of grooming his second son, Gamal, to replace him eventually as Egypt's head of state. This arrangement is now out the door. When Mubarak dies, he will be replaced by a person who would somehow assert himself as a credible alternative during those democratic election cycles.  

Further to the west, the other main American intervention in recent years was the effective removal of Charles Taylor from power in Liberia three summers ago. Last week, democratic elections in Liberia yielded the first African female head of state. From her early public pronouncements, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist, appears to be a wise and judicious leader with a deep and genuine commitment to the well-being of her nation. Africa has a long history of disappointments with apparently benevolent leaders who turn out to be just another strongman. But witnessing one interview with Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf suffices to make one skeptical that the same will unfold here. Liberia's future looks promising, a reason for cautioned optimism. Three summers ago, the future looked hopeless and inspired mainly anxious pessimism. One thing is sure: Johnson-Sirleaf's Liberia will be no Somalian or Sudanese base of terrorist organization and preparation.  

With all these positive developments, you'd think the merits of American interventionism in the post-9/11 era would be evident in our collective awareness. Yet the image we seem to be working with is one of our toiling in vain. We follow events day by day, often dispirited by local eruptions of violence in the Sunni triangle. Yet these eruptions, though deplorable in themselves, have had little effect on the actual progress of the Greater Middle East Initiative, the American project of refashioning the Mideast. When we look at the big picture, we can see that the project is in very good shape indeed. In particular, with the recent election of Johnson-Sirleaf, the new low Zarqawi finds himself dipping in, the uneventful anniversary of Arafat's death, and the mounting discomfort in Damascus, these have been good days for American interventionism.  

The author teaches philosophy at the University of Arizona.
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