NY Times June 14 op-ed piece by Thomas Friedman admits that GEORGE W. BUSH IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE “WINDS OF CHANGE” going on in the Middle East now.
It took me two days covering the elections in Beirut to realize that I was dead wrong. No, something is going on in the Middle East today that is very new.
What we saw in the Lebanese elections, where the pro-Western March 14 movement won a surprise victory over the pro-Iranian Hezbollah coalition, what we saw in the ferment for change exposed by the election campaign in Iran, and what we saw in the provincial elections in Iraq, where the big pro-Iranian party got trounced, is the product of four historical forces that have come together to crack open this ossified region.
There are a million things to hate about President Bush’s costly and wrenching wars. But the fact is, in ousting Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and mobilizing the U.N. to push Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, he opened space for real democratic politics that had not existed in Iraq or Lebanon for decades. “Bush had a simple idea, that the Arabs could be democratic, and at that particular moment simple ideas were what was needed, even if he was disingenuous,” said Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star. “It was bolstered by the presence of a U.S. Army in the center of the Middle East. It created a sense that change was possible, that things did not always have to be as they were.”
The Bush team opened a hole in the wall of Arab autocracy but did a poor job following through. In the vacuum, the parties most organized to seize power were the Islamists — Hezbollah in Lebanon; pro-Al Qaeda forces among Iraqi Sunnis, and the pro-Iranian Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and Mahdi Army among Iraqi Shiites; the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan; Hamas in Gaza.
Fortunately, each one of these Islamist groups overplayed their hand by imposing religious lifestyles or by dragging their societies into confrontations the people didn’t want. This alienated and frightened more secular, mainstream Arabs and Muslims and has triggered an “awakening” backlash among moderates from Lebanon to Pakistan to Iran. The Times’s Robert Mackey reported that in Tehran “chants of ‘Death to America’ ” at rallies for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week were answered by chants of “Death to the Taliban — in Kabul and Tehran” at a rally for his opponent, Mir Hussein Moussavi.
I don’t know how all this shakes out; the forces against change in this region are very powerful — see Iran — and ruthless. But for the first time in a long time, the forces for decency, democracy and pluralism have a little wind at their backs. Good for them. NY TIMES