Thursday, February 24, 2005

What Has Bush Wrought in the Middle East?

David Ignatius, reporting from Beirut, in the Washington Post (Wednesday, February 23, 2005; Page A19).
The leader of this Lebanese intifada is Walid Jumblatt, the patriarch of the Druze Muslim community and, until recently, a man who accommodated Syria’s occupation. But something snapped for Jumblatt last year, when the Syrians overruled the Lebanese constitution and forced the reelection of their front man in Lebanon, President Emile Lahoud. The old slogans about Arab nationalism turned to ashes in Jumblatt's mouth, and he and Hariri openly began to defy Damascus.

. . .

“It’s strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq,” explains Jumblatt. “I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world.” Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. “The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”
It’s way too early to judge whether this sort of optimism is justified. But it’s patent that, in his clear vision, Bush is playing for very high stakes. He has placed himself not only in the idealistic mold of Ronald Reagan, but in the tradition of Democrats John Kennedy and Woodrow Wilson. The cautionary note is obvious: under Wilson the disasterous Versailles Treaty was imposed on Germany, and he failed to forge a foreign policy culture that would prevent America from sliding back into isolation in the 20s. And Kennedy’s idealism led directly to the horror of Vietnam.

But it’s not 1918, and it’s not even 1961. Perhaps history is on Bush’s side.

It’s too early to celebrate, but it’s not too early to hope.

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