April 20, 2013
It is very painful to retire a foreign policy initiative that has been with us since Woodrow Wilson in 1918. Americans have long believed that democracy is exactly what benighted cultures around the world want. We assume that if tyranny could be removed, long suffering people would want to vote for good people to govern them. We assume, wrongly, that everybody wants freedom.
President Wilson promoted World War I as a crusade to make the world safe for democracy. By the end of that war, three old empires had collapsed: the Ottoman Turks, who sat on both Christian and Arab Muslim lands for 500 years; the Russian Empire, which extended its brutal power across eleven time zones until it morphed into a Communist empire; and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which simply died.
The Russians went from an oppressive but slowly modernizing monarchy to a totalitarian state with no possibility of democracy. The Ottomans dropped their empire and the founders retreated to their geographic homeland, Turkey. Thanks to a modernizing dictator, Kamal Ataturk, the country was nurtured and bullied into becoming a republic of sorts and represented a great hope for the Muslim world, but a hope that died in its cradle.
The old former imperial holdings quickly fell into nation states, such as Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. Those located in Europe were viable for a little while, but succumbed to the Nazi takeover in the onset of World War II and to the Communists afterwards.
The Ottoman Empire’s holdings in the Arab world have fared even less well than those of the Russian and Austro-Hungarians. Even under the League of Nations trust mandates of the British and French, who were supposed to nurture the new democracies of Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine, the Arab Muslim world was not amenable to democracy and quickly fell under totalitarianism. Today, even with a second opportunity to become a liberal democracy, they are voting and replacing secular totalitarians thugs with Islamist totalitarians. Not only will the institutions of liberal democracy never take hold, but even the process of voting will soon become one man, one vote, one time.
American (and European) policies toward Islam are stuck in the dubious notion that Moderate Islam is the norm, and that it is our duty to help those who so profess in order to hinder Militant Islamism, our sworn enemy. The big fuss made about America’s failure to protect the US Ambassador in the consulate in Benghazi should not have been just aimed at President Obama; it was the fruit of a bipartisan policy that said we should encourage Muslim moderates.
We waited 30 minutes before sending in the rescue team because we expected one of the “good” Libyan militias to do what they were supposed to do: protect foreign enclaves. Of course the Administration was embarrassed when this policy resulted in death and destruction. We need to drop the illusions and change the policy! Once more, we are nation-building where we have little possibility of success.
Americans succeeded in removing horrible dictatorships in Iraq and Afghanistan; but failed when we tried nation-building. We must finally recognize that liberal democracy is unlikely in Muslim majority countries until they rid themselves of such destructive institutions as persecution of women, sectarian hatreds, and a religion that demands surrender and total obedience to authority.
Our new policy must be watchful waiting as that world disintegrates, which it will. We must intervene only when our interests are affected (such as free flow of oil or in cases of genocide). This intervention will not require massive armies as long as we are not planning to nation build.
The Muslim World must be allowed to collapse on its own. Totalitarianism has built-in self-destruction as we can see, while modern nationalism, and even Islam, have failed to keep these states from reverting to tribalism. Syria is a model of this process. Even Saudi Arabia is in danger of falling into internal anarchy when the Saudi family loses its hold on the country.
Europe went through religious and ideological wars from 1600 to 1989. Now it is Islam’s turn.
Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of Ten Inventions that Changed Everything. You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net.