Forward in Iraq

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(HOST) As President George W. Bush struggles to find a new way forward in Iraq, commentator Barrie Dunsmore gives us his view that one of the president’s continuing goals is unachievable.

(DUNSMORE) Based on the president’s public statements since the Iraq Study Group made its recommendations for a new Iraq strategy, he still believes that the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq is to bring that country freedom and democracy and that anything short of that would constitute an American defeat.

It’s significant that the Baker/Hamilton report barely mentioned the word democracy, except to note that it was viewed with suspicion by other countries in the region. There is a reason for this. However laudable it may seem to want to spread the benefits of democracy, in practice that produces a foreign policy that becomes untenable because of its inherent contradictions.

Let me explain.

The Bush administration argues that what is taking place in the Middle East these days is a struggle between extremism and moderation – and that extremists such as the theocrats in Iran are fighting freedom democracy because they fear it. However two of America’s most important allies in the region – Saudi Arabia and Egypt -are not much more democratic than Iran. Not only that, if completely free elections were held in either Egypt or Saudi Arabia, it could very well result in new governments that would be openly hostile to U.S. interests.

That is what happened with the Palestinians who this past year, in completely free elections, chose the religious movement Hamas to be their government. However, Hamas uses terrorism and does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, so the U.S. and the European Union have cut off nearly all Palestinian aid. This is causing crushing hardships on the Palestinian people as no one in the public sector has been paid for many months and a civil war is now a real possibility.

In Lebanon, there is a democratic government. However, there has been no complete census in Lebanon since it gained independence from France in 1943. Since then, according to demographic experts, the Shiite Moslem population has almost certainly become the largest single Lebanese religious sect – probably more than thirty percent – but its representation in the Lebanese parliament is far less than that. The historically down trodden Shiite’s support Hezbollah, the political/military movement designated a terrorist organization by Washington. Given the fact that Hezbollah is strongly backed by Iran, and is violently hostile to both Israel and America, it is understandable that the U.S. would oppose any expansion of Hezbollah’s political power. But that opposition does expose America’s claim of support for emocracy as totally hypocritical.

Then there is Iraq itself, which President Bush wants to be a democracy that will also be an ally in the War on Terror. But during the war between Israel and Hezbollah this past summer, Iraq’s Shiite majority government openly supported Hezbollah because it represents Lebanese Shiites. That strongly suggests that even a democratic Iraq would be an unreliable anti-terror ally. It’s also a perfect example of why the objective of democratizing the entire Middle East is a pipe dream, at best, and at worst – sheer folly.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.

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