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What's Next in the Middle East?


Of late there has been an upsurge of democracy in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Syrians are being pushed out. In Egypt, opposition parties are being allowed to run in elections. And in Iraq, we are now seeing legitimate elections. Now while many are claiming that these recent events mark a shift toward a newer "people politics" in the region thus making this period a very interesting one for the Middle East, the consequences of these events for American foreign policy are potentially far more interesting. This is because the U.S might be forced to support a legitimate fledgling democracy instead of subverting it.

For those of you surprised at the previous comment I must point out that the United States' track record for supporting democracies in the past 50 years has been anything, but sincere. In Latin America in the 1980's, the United States sponsored and supported clandestine operations designed to subvert popular movements in the region so as to ensure that Washington's interests reigned supreme throughout Latin America. In Indonesia, the United States cared so much about democracy and human rights that it supplied weapons to the dictator Suharto while he brutally annexed East Timor resulting in the deaths of roughly 200,000 East Timorese between the years of 1975 to 1978. And just when you thought that the U.S's passion for democracy couldn't get any more vibrant, we have the fact that the United States supported Saddam Hussein, a "brutal dictator," in the 1980's right up through his worst atrocities against the Kurds and Shiite's.

Look, let's not delude ourselves. Our behavior in Iraq has little to do with principles of human dignity. The facts are that the U.S has never had anything more than little interest in supporting democracy abroad and has actively participated in its subversion, opting for puppet/client states. Historically what allowed our support for these egregious regimes to go under the radar was the fact that our support was largely clandestine and it occurred in a non digital age in which information was less easily accessible. What makes the Middle East very interesting currently is that these factors are not in place. This has contributed to the difficulty and near impossibility of shaping Iraq into a client state in the fashion of Cuba before Castro. Consequently, other and far more interesting options have to be considered.

One, the U.S. could support the Iraqi government, but tie it into a NAFTA like economic treaty that would open up Iraqi markets to foreign access and ensure that whatever government was created would be bound to its contractual obligations. This would allow the U.S access to Iraq's "natural resources" and also allow the U.S to claim to have supported democracy in the region. The problem with this alternative is that such a treaty might be easily spotted as a thinly veiled attempt to allow unfettered corporate access to the resources of a sovereign nation. The other alternative is actual support of a legitimate Iraqi democracy without any sort of agreement designed to allow foreign encroachment. The problem with this choice for the U.S is that it does not make Iraq a subservient nation; though, it might help the U.S gain some much needed political capital in the region and internationally.

Whether the U.S will opt for democracy or economic prowess is anybody's guess. It is up to policy maker's to decide that question. I am sure they will weigh each factor with due consideration. However, one thing is certain. No matter what happens, all eyes will be watching closely.