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INSIDE TRACK ON WORLD NEWS
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis
IS TIME RUNNING OUT FOR MIDEAST RULERS?Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2005
June 27, 2005
LONDON - US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice went to Cairo last week to tell her Egyptian hosts and the Saudis, Americaís two most important Arab allies: no more stalling, you have to hold honest elections now.
Ironically, at the very same time, her boss, President George Bush, was denouncing Iranís upcoming elections as `undemocratic.í Iranís Islamic Republic has many flaws, but compared to Americaís Arab clients, it is a temple of democracy and human rights. The surprise upset election last of Iranís new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, clearly confirmed this point.
Miss Riceís tough talk was certainly long overdue. She admitted Americaís policy of supporting Mideast despots and oligarchs for the past 30 years had been wrong. (actually, Condi, itís 60 years, but never mind).
So will Washington really push its Arab client states into genuine democracy? Donít bank on it.
The new ballyhoo over Arab democracy comes because the Bush Administration has correctly concluded the kings, sheiks and generals who run the Mideast under American tutelage are a spent force. They have lost all legitimacy and are increasingly unable to repress the wave of Islamic militancy fueled by Osama bin Laden that is sweeping the strategic region.
So Washington decided itís loyal Mideast satraps are due for regime change. The US needs new, more contemporary overseers to run its Mideast oil plantation. As Henry Kissinger once quipped about South Vietnam, itís more dangerous being an ally of the US than an enemy.
Bushís Mideast policy team and its Israeli mentors concluded the best way to defuse Islamic militancy is to bring in new `moderateí civilian regimes elected in what appears, at least from afar, a democratic process.
The new model of Mideast rulers Washington has in mind can be seen in Afghanistan and Iraq. Turbans and generalís hats are out. The Mideastís new look will be `moderates:í low key non-flamboyant, English-speakers in sober business suits who are Muslims Lite and owe their total financial and political support, as well as personal protection, to Washington.
They will continue to sell oil cheap, open their markets to US business, buy arms they canít use, allow US military bases, reconfigure their military forces for internal security control, suppress political Islam, and make nice to Israel. In other words, just what the former kings and generals did, but with far less flash and much more subtlety.
The new breed of Mideast rulers will be elected in nominally `democraticí elections pre-determined to produce pro-US winners and exclude all but token voices from radicals or troublesome Islamists. The US media will sanctify them with glowing reports and fulsome praise.
Recent parliamentary elections in Lebanon are a good example of ersatz democracy at work. Former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri was murdered last February. The killing seemed to implicate Syria, which had long occupied Lebanon. National outrage over the murder and US pressure drove Syriaís troops out Lebanon. New elections were held.
An anti-Syrian won the election. The White House trumpeted the vote as a dawn of Mideast democracy and vindication of its invasion of Iraq. The follow-the-leader US media faithfully amplified Bushís message.
But from up close the situation was not so heroic. Lebanonís politics remain deeply corrupt. Voters in northern Lebanon were bribed US$500 apiece to cast their ballots for the US-backed anti-Syrian faction.
Around $35 billion borrowed by the former Hariri government to rebuild civil war shattered Lebanon is still unaccounted for. Since Hariri cooperated with Syria, his unsolved murder may have been committed by those seeking to drive Syria from Lebanon, or in revenge for the missing billions.
Finding pliable `moderatesí in other Arab nations will be hard. Their ruthless, US-supported regimes long ago crushed any legitimate opposition, leaving only underground extremist groups. The US should be talking with them, notably the `Muslim Brotherhood,í but they have all been branded `terroristsí by Bush.
The United States is hated across the Muslim World. If truly free elections were held tomorrow in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, not to mention medieval Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, or the Gulf, their US-backed regimes would be swept away and replaced by anti-US Islamists and nationalists.
Control of the Arab World and its oil is a pillar of US world power. Itís unlikely Washington will ever countenance genuinely free Mideast elections. After Jimmy Carter called for democracy in Iran in 1979, and began withdrawing US support from its grotesque Shah, a key US ally, popular revolution erupted that brought in a violently anti-US Islamic government.
The Arab Worldís only fully honest election was held in Algeria in 1992. It produced a landslide for Islamic parties. Algeriaís US and French-backed military junta immediately staged a coup, annulled the election and declared martial law.
To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here
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