Democratic Underground

Are We on the Side of Freedom and Democracy Anymore?
October 11, 2001
By Ted Westervelt

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Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has compared the current struggle we are waging against terrorists to the Cold War, and I agree with his characterization Sadly, it appears to many people in the Middle East that this time the United States is on the other side.

In sharp contrast to Cold War rhetoric, scant few American politicians have even suggested that we are engaged in a righteous struggle to replace tyranny with freedom. Nobody in the Bush Administration has evoked the holy war for democracy that we waged in the minds of eastern Europeans and continue to wage in the hearts of a billion Chinese.

Indeed, the United States continues to support undemocratic regimes that rule with iron fists over vast tracts of land and millions of people in the Middle East. By continuing to support these regimes we continue to set ourselves up as a glaring target for the frustration, anger, and terror from those who have no voice in their own countries.

Anyone exposed to American Cold War political rhetoric from either side of the aisle heard one message repeated continuously: free peoples deciding their own destiny through democratic mechanisms offered the best hope for peace and stability throughout the world. If we could only accelerate the export of democracy to those parts of the world that were hostile to us, we would surely achieve victory. And the American-led free world accomplished so much of this vision.

Today, Russia (at the most democratic she has been in her bitter history) is our ally in this struggle. Former Soviet republics with varying degrees of newly established free expression and democratic institutions are lining up behind a coalition composed of many traditional democratic countries. There is a bright light shining through the slowly dissipating tensions between east and west.

This light has not reached the vast majority of the Middle East. Western struggles against tyranny that marked the 20th Century dissipated as soon as they reached the Jordan River in the west and the Hindu-Kush Mountains in the East. We assume that the people of the region didn't notice that instead of waging a high profile struggle against tyranny in their part of the world, the United States and other western democracies have indeed done the opposite.

They watched the United States fight wars both hot and cold in the name of democracy and freedom in almost every other part of the world.. At the same time they watched as the American led free world supported a long line of generals, kings and other various undemocratic tyrants in their part of the world.

It is no wonder that only a very few average citizens in the region argue when Americans are portrayed as racist hypocrites whose initiatives in their land have more to do with our gasoline pumps than with their freedom and democracy.

In the absence of any strong policies to export democracy to the region, and the inclusion of many policies designed to legitimize undemocratic regimes, opportunities are continually created for people to miscast Americans for their own ends. In the absence of any forum for free political expression in the majority of the Arab world, expressions are left to those who will do so by any means necessary against the foreign powers that lend them legitimacy - no matter how extreme their views and monstrous their methods.

Murderous megalomaniac fringe politicians cloaked in religion have exploited this situation throughout history, regardless of race, color or creed. It is from the voiceless masses that these people draw not only terrorist trainees, but the tacit support of average moms, dads and kids throughout the region. It is this support on which their very existence ultimately depends.

Nobody in the Middle East has ever accused the United States of attempting to bring freedom and democracy to the region. We as Americans need to give them a reason to start.