- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

The White House’s crusade for democracy, as President Bush sees it, has produced “a critical mass of events taking that [Middle Eastern] region in a hopeful new direction.”

And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just toured the area, making clear at every stop whenever the United States has a choice between stability and democracy, the new ideological remedy would sacrifice stability.

Veteran Mideast hands who have dealt with five regional wars and two intifadas over the last half-century shuddered, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger first among them.

“For the U.S. to crusade in every part of the world to spread democracy may be beyond our capacity,” he says. The U.S. system, he explains, “is the product of unique historical experiences, difficult to duplicate or to transplant into Muslim societies where secular democracy has seldom thrived.” If ever.

If stability had been sacrificed for democracy, the former national security adviser and secretary of state to Presidents Nixon and Ford could not have negotiated major Arab-Israeli disengagement agreements: Sinai I, Golan and Sinai II. Without the undemocratic, benign dictatorial figure of Anwar Sadat at the helm in Egypt, or without the late Syrian dictator and master terror-broker Hafez Assad, yet another page of war history would have been written.

With a democratic parliament in Egypt in 1974, presumably dominated by the popular Muslim Brotherhood, Sadat could not have made his spectacular, death-defying trip to Jerusalem — and suddenly become the most popular leader in Israel. A peace treaty between Egypt and Israel and between Jordan and Israel were possible only because absolute rulers — Sadat and the late King Hussein — led both Arab countries.

Sadat knew his courageous act of statesmanship was tantamount to signing his own death warrant. It was carried out in 1981 — by Islamist extremists — on worldwide television.

Miss Rice proudly proclaims it is no longer a war against terrorism but a struggle for democracy. She is proud the Bush administration no longer pursues stability at the expense of democracy. But already the democracy crusade encounters not only speed bumps but roadblocks on a road to nowhere.

The much-vaunted Palestinian elections scheduled for July have been postponed indefinitely.

In Lebanon, the ballot box has already been nullified by political machinations. Gen. Michael Aoun, a bright but aging prospect who returned from French exile to take on Syria’s underground machine, has already joined forces with Damascus. While denying any deal with Syria, the general’s henchmen concede he was compensated munificently for his retirement years in Paris as army chief of staff and his time as premier. Gen. Aoun collected $22 million, including compound interest.

In Egypt, Miss Rice, presumably attempting to confer respectability on President Hosni Mubarak’s challengers, took time to receive a known political charlatan who over the years has been exposed for forging election results as he climbed the ladder of a number of political parties under a variety of labels.

Even Mr. Mubarak’s enemies concede Ayman Nour fabricated and forged the signatures of more than 1,000 citizens to conform to regulations to legalize his Ghad (Tomorrow) party. His career is dotted with phony academic credentials, plagiarism, a staged assassination attempt on himself, charges of embezzlement by his Saudi media employer, and scads of document forgeries.

Miss Rice had canceled a previous trip to Egypt to protest the indictment and jailing of Mr. Nour pending trial. And before Miss Rice’s most recent accolade, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also went out of her way to praise Egypt’s master political con man. Makes you wonder what kind of political reporting is coming out of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

With this double-headed endorsement by the United States, Mr. Nour is losing what little favor he still has in Egypt. He is now seen as a U.S. stooge, to add to a long list of failings.

The Muslim Brotherhood, outlawed but tolerated since it renounced terrorism, is more representative of Egyptian opinion than Mr. Nour. There is also the Kifaya (Enough) movement that groups Egypt’s leading intellectuals. But they declined to meet with Miss Rice.

The United States is seen throughout the Arab world as synonymous with Israel. This automatically limits the Bush administration’s ability to win friends and influence people.

Those making the most out of U.S. pressure to democratize are organizations listed by the United States as “terrorist.” Both Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon are now mining opportunities both above- and underground. Seventeen Islamic legislators in Jordan petitioned King Abdullah to allow Jordanian Hamas leaders, evicted six years ago, to come home. The king listened impassively.

It took Europe 500 years to reach the political maturity witnessed by the recent collapse of the European Union’s plans for a common constitution. Winston Churchill said democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. But Churchill also said, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” This still applies in the souks of the Arab world, from Marrakech to Muscat.

The Bush administration takes great comfort from the article of faith that democracies never go to war against each other. The sudden outbreak of World War I — the “war to end all wars” — suggests otherwise.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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