Following this N.Y. Times editorial by David Brooks we post a letter to the Times responding to it. The letter points to the truth of U.S. Middle East policy -- support for dictatorships. It may be said that Mr. Brooks acknowledges that if democracy succeeds in Iraq, it will be in spite of "the highest incompetence" on the part of U.S. occupiers. But he is just talking about the occupation, not about the long history of U.S. support for Saddam Hussein while he visited state terror upon his people, much like the Shaw in Iran, another U.S. protιgι. Mr. Brooks oozes patriotic reverence for democracy and the President's commitment to delivering that dream to Iraq. It's as if he can't see any of the history or the surrounding political geography, or somehow thinks none of it matters. As the letter writer, Mr. Islam, points out, "It is what we do, not what we say that makes our creed acceptable to others."
The New York Times, May 25, 2004
Bush's Epic Gamble. (Editorial) David Brooks.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2004 The New York Times Company
Last night, George Bush made it clear that American military victories alone will not secure Iraq. We keep winning victories, but somehow the violence just keeps on coming.
Furthermore, American nation-building will not secure Iraq. We've tried to pour money into Iraq, to build a decent nation and then hand it back gift-wrapped to the Iraqi people. But that turns out not to work either. The longer we keep control, the bigger the mess grows.
The only real way to secure Iraq, Bush argued, is through self-governing democracy. Only representative self-government denies the terrorists the pretext they need to kill. It is only through the mundane acts of democratic citizenship that Iraqis will be able to build a civil society. It is only through self-government that Iraq can become secure.
The political transition Bush described implies an infinitude of concrete acts. The 400 parties that now exist in Iraq will have to meld into just a few. Conferences will convene, and people will debate. Politicians will vie for power; petitions will be signed; protests will be lodged. That, Bush implied, is the only practical path to normalcy.
It's a huge gamble to think that the solution to chaos is liberty. But it's fitting that during the gravest crisis of his presidency, President Bush reverted to his most fundamental political belief. He began this war in Iraq repeating the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence, that our creator has endowed all human beings with the right to liberty, and the ability to function as democratic citizens. He said last night with absolute confidence that the Iraqis are democrats at heart.
Bush is betting his presidency, and the near-term future of this nation, on that central American creed.
It's an epic gamble. Because, let's face it, we don't know whether all people really do want to live in freedom. We don't know whether Iraqis have any notion of what democratic citizenship really means. We don't know whether they hear words like freedom, liberty and pluralism as deadly insults to the way of life they hold dear. We don't know who our enemies are. Are they the small minority of Baathists and jihadists, or is there a little bit of Moktada al-Sadr in every Iraqi's breast?
Bush is putting this tenet of our national creed to a fearsome test in the worst possible circumstances. For the past year Americans have committed horrible blunders. And if this gamble fails, it won't be only the competence of our officials that will be called into question -- it will be the American creed itself. Since before the nation's founding, Americans have thought of themselves as the great democratic champions of the globe.
If this gamble fails to come off, then that mission will seem, to many, false. Perhaps democracy and freedom are not really universal values, some will say. Perhaps they are just the outgrowths of a specific culture. People on the left and right will race to withdraw from the world. It will become difficult to take on the tyrants who will menace the world.
On the other hand, if we muddle through in Iraq and some semidemocratic nation slowly emerges, it won't be because of American skill. It will be because the democratic creed is so strong it can withstand the highest incompetence. Then there really will be hope for a democratic Middle East. The war on terror will really look winnable.
If it all works out, then Iraqis will feel they control their lives. They will stop playing both sides of the fence. They will take responsibility for their future. They will try to expel the foreign jihadists. They will regard Americans as necessary guests, and Americans will behave like guests.
Right now that happy outcome feels a long way away. But at least Bush has now squarely faced the consequences of his creed. There was always something antidemocratic about nation-building -- the idea that a country could go into a foreign place, then hand it back to the locals.
Bush is betting his presidency on the Iraqis and their ability to govern themselves better than we governed them. At least he is now behaving consistently with the elemental conviction of this nation. If we have faith in anything, it should be in this democratic dream, which has so far, in our history, vindicated our hopes.
The New York Times, May 29, 2004
Our 'Gifts,' Spurned? (Editorial Desk)(Letter to the Editor) Mohamed A. Islam.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2004 The New York Times Company
To the Editor:
Re ''Bush's Epic Gamble'' (column, May 25):
Columnists like David Brooks dwell on a similar theme these days: We Americans have all the good intentions in the world in spreading freedom and democracy, but the world is unreceptive and not good enough to understand us and accept our ''gift'' of democracy and liberty.
But instead of blaming the world in general and Iraqis in particular, it is time to look at ourselves. How many dictators' hands are we shaking at this very moment?
It is what we do, not what we say, that makes our creed acceptable to others.
MOHAMED A. ISLAM
Novi, Mich., May 25, 2004