“A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.”
Inspiring? Not so much.
It appears that the disaster in Iraq has had the effect of discrediting democratic movements in the Middle East, partly by discrediting the United States (seen as the primary sponsor of democracy) and partly by reminding people of the terrible Hobbesian truth: that there are worse things than living under tyranny.
By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, October 26, 2006; A18
DAMASCUS, Syria — Horror at the bloodshed accompanying the U.S. effort to bring democracy to Iraq has accomplished what human rights activists, analysts and others say Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had been unable to do by himself: silence public demands for democratic reforms here.
The idea of the government as a bulwark of stability and security has long been the watchword of Syrian bureaucrats and village elders. But since Iraq’s descent into sectarian and ethnic war — and after Israel’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, on the other side of Syria — even Syrian activists concede that the country’s feeble rights movement is moribund.
Advocates of democracy are equated now with supporters of America, even “traitors,” said Maan Abdul Salam, 36, a Damascus publisher who has coordinated conferences on women’s rights and similar topics.
“Now, talking about democracy and freedom has become very difficult and sensitive,” Salam said. “The people are not believing these thoughts anymore. When the U.S. came to Iraq, it came in the name of democracy and freedom. But all we see are bodies, bodies, bodies.”
Ordinary people in Syria are hunkering down, and probably rightly so, said Omar Amiralay, a well-known Syrian filmmaker whose documentaries are quietly critical of Assad’s one-family rule.
“If democracy brings such chaos in the region, and especially the destruction of society, as it did in Iraq and in Lebanon, it’s absolutely normal, and I think it’s absolutely a wise position from the people to be afraid to imagine how it would be in Syria,” Amiralay said. “I think that people at the end said, ‘Well, it is better to keep this government. We know them, and we don’t want to go to this civil war, and to live this apocalyptic image of change, with civil war and sectarianism and blood.’ “
In 2003, a few people in Damascus were bold enough to raise their glasses in cafes to toast the American tanks then rolling into Baghdad to overthrow Saddam Hussein. They were dreaming of the changes that might happen next here, in the only remaining government led by the Baath Party, a prominent writer in the capital said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being jailed a second time.
“The Americans came to Iraq to make it an example to the other countries to ask for change,” the writer said. “But what happened was the opposite. Now everyone is saying we do not want to be like Iraq.”
[Syrians] enjoy the small freedoms that their neighbors in dangerous Iraq no longer do — such as the ability to go out after dark. This month, after breaking the daily Ramadan fast, families chugged in their cars up the steep roads of Mount Cassion to stroll, sip colas and fruit drinks and take in the view of Damascus spread out below.
Seated on a plastic chair on the road with a friend, real estate salesman Mohammed Yousif gestured toward the city. Green lights of mosques glowed among the white lights of a capital fully powered and at peace. Speaking to a foreign journalist, the 42-year-old salesman measured his words carefully, answering questions with the blandness often seen in Iraq before Hussein was toppled.
“We are talking and enjoying ourselves,” Yousif said, waving the nozzle of the traditional water pipe he and his friend were using to smoke flavored tobacco. “This is our democracy. This is our freedom.”
For all its pimpish swagger, the Bush crowd has done nothing for six years but make this country weaker. With patriots like these, who needs traitors?