- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

An intolerant, corrupt regime that helped found, finance and diplomatically defend the Taliban is remarkably still considered "friendly" to America. The Saudi Arabian dictatorship, whose only real allegiance is to keeping power, can never be a reliable ally of the United States. The Bush administration should keep this track record in mind as America manages a broad tactical coalition that includes other rotten authoritarian regimes like those in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Egypt and China. For such dictatorships are not only unreliable partners, but breed the very terrorists we must now defeat. Promotion of American interests, including removing the causes of terrorism, will demand the fostering of democratic governance worldwide.
Now is not an obvious time to focus on democracy promotion beyond Afghanistan, where there has been a promising start. But the frequent view of democracy as a luxury, or even a nettling impediment, to the protection of American interests has hobbled the United States in large swathes of the world. Reliance on brittle, unpopular autocratic regimes, like Saudi Arabia's, threatens American political and economic interests. Islamic societies that lack open channels for dissent and change, such as the Gulf states, Egypt, Palestine, and since 1999, Pakistan, create frustrated recruits for radical terrorist groups like al Qaeda.
Many will argue that freely chosen governments in Islamic countries will likely be fundamentalist. Yet more than half of the world's Muslim population resides in countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, Turkey, India, and even Britain and the United States, where democracy has taken root or is already well-established. Only where democratic options have been blocked and the voice of moderate Muslims suppressed has militant fundamentalism gained ground. America's long experience with Iran is instructive as President Bush leads the world in fighting terrorism.
The CIA-installed shah of Iran's stifling of democratic opposition contributed to the widely supported 1979 revolution and the fundamentalist dictatorship of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Having lived through such tyranny and an eight-year bloody war with Iraq, a majority of Iran's youthful population is disillusioned with fundamentalism and wants greater openness and freedom. Recently, more than 70 percent of the electorate voted for reformist President Mohammed Khatami, who opposes his country's involvement in terrorism. However, the United States has failed to encourage independent Iranian students and civic activists in the struggle against the Guardian Council and Ayatollah Ali Khameini, who wish to continue Iran's isolation and support of anti-U.S. terror. Given the current situation, Washington has another chance to get it right. Supporting Iran's democrats now would serve immediate U.S. goals.
In Afghanistan, the United States, United Nations and other partners are now recognizing they must commit themselves to the daunting and unfashionable task of nation building. After the Bonn agreement's attempt to create an environment conducive to electoral democracy, long-term efforts to assure security, democracy and reconstruction are essential to consolidate gains already made.
Throughout the Persian Gulf, the United States squandered the political capital from its incomplete Desert Storm victory by failing to finish the job in Iraq and demand democratic changes in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We should now support those Iraqis who want to overthrow Saddam Hussein and establish democracy. Iraqis Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds who continue to suffer under his rule will be as overjoyed by his departure as Afghans have been by the demise of Taliban. Continuing tyranny in the Gulf, Egypt and other countries poses a threat to U.S. economic and political interests. In time, popular disaffection will topple these corrupt and oppressive regimes. We can either wait for them to flare into Islamic fundamentalism like Iran, or work now to promote a democratic outcome that provides hope for cooperation and prosperity.
Is it any coincidence that, besides Saudi Arabia, two other U.S.-supported autocracies Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates are the only states that, until recently, recognized and actively supported the Taliban? The terror-tyranny nexus is a phenomenon that stretches far beyond the Middle East and Central Asia. All seven of the governments that the State Department designates as state sponsors of terrorism are dictatorships: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, North Korea, Cuba and Sudan. American and British aircrews are at risk over Iraq from air defense systems improved through (Milosevic-era) Yugoslav, Belarussian and Chinese technical assistance and training. North Korea, the epitome of paranoid tyrannical totalitarianism, is a leading merchant of ballistic missiles. Dictator Kim Jong-il is personally implicated in the bombing of a South Korean airliner and other acts of terror. Any protracted campaign against terrorism must eventually include a comprehensive strategy to help democratic forces remove all remaining dictatorships.
Alongside the broad tactical coalition that Mr. Bush has forged, the democratic majority of the world's states, through the Community of Democracies and regional democratic assemblies, must develop their own far-reaching action agenda. As an important start, in last year's Warsaw Declaration, the Community of Democracies acknowledged the need to band together to fight terrorism and promote democracy. Our allies in democratic Europe who have assisted in the effort thus far, especially those in NATO, will remain important partners as the war on terror continues.
Coalition efforts against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban are crucial. But neither stability nor security can sustainably rest on autocratic, unpopular rule. Help for Iranians and Iraqis to rid themselves of their oppressors is long overdue. But that's not the end of the story. Bin Laden and his ilk arose from corrupt, oppressive regimes on which our difficult campaign against terrorism must temporarily and partially rely. But the campaign's ultimate success will require not just these regimes' cooperation, but their replacement. Democracy is ultimately our best security.

Mark Palmer is a former deputy assistant secretary of state and U.S. ambassador to Hungary. He serves on the Executive Advisory Committee of the Democratization Policy Institute, of which Eric A. Witte and Kurt Bassuener are co-directors.

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