Lessons for the US

In my presentation at the 11th Abant Platform meeting I emphasized the fact that US policies supposedly aimed at “making war on terror” and “spreading freedom and democracy” are yielding just the opposite results. They are not only drowning US in militarism, but are also wrecking American democracy. I also underlined that America’s formidable power can certainly be used to defeat terrorism and to spread freedom and democracy in the world, but for this it is absolutely necessary that the current policies of the US must radically and fully change.

One of the questions I was posed was whether or not it was realistic to expect the US to change. I responded by saying that America was now getting its nose skinned in Iraq, that at least sensible Americans were understanding that the world cannot be shaped with guns, that Bush administration’s militarist policies are no longer supported by the American people, and that the negative role played by the Israel lobby in the US in terms of the interests of both the American and Israeli people, is beginning to be questioned for the first time. I may be wrong, but I agree with those who think that the US may be able to come to its senses after Bush exits the stage.

If the US administration after Bush really would want to serve the ideal of spreading peace, freedom and democracy to the world, what are the lessons to be learned from the experiences since 9 / 11? The first and foremost lesson, undoubtedly, is that it is not possible to change regimes, establish democracy with “brute force.” There is a simple reason for this: People reject regimes forcefully imposed upon them from the outside at gun point. Such imposition backfires, and people close ranks behind even the most reactionary and authoritarian regimes.

The second main lesson is that the US can only spread peace, freedom and democracy in the world by setting a positive example, that is, by respecting rights and international law, by supporting not authoritarian and aggressive regimes but forces of freedom and democracy, by providing incentives for democratization, by winning minds and hearts of people. It is obvious that the EU with its “soft power”, by using the attractiveness of membership in the union has provided great incentives for democratization in the countries on its periphery.

The third main lesson is the following: It is a grave mistake to equate the religion of Islam with terrorism. It is an equally grave mistake to interpret the anger felt in Muslim countries towards the West in general, and the US in particular, as an indication of hatred and rejection of Western values, as a sign that the Muslim peoples do not want freedom or democracy. What the people in the Middle East envy most in the West is political freedom and democracy. The US should definitely stop supporting authoritarian regimes of the region.

The fourth main lesson is this: In the near future it is very likely that political change generally in the Middle East, and particularly in the Arabic countries will be led by Islamist groups. Authoritarian regimes in the Islamic world in general and particularly in the Arab world (whether monarchial or republican, fundamentalist or secularist – nationalist) have been totally unsuccessful in bringing freedom and justice to their peoples. Consequently leadership of change has passed into the hands of Islamist movements.

There is no doubt that it is a great a mistake to regard the religion of Islam as a monolithic and consisting of a single understanding. It is equally great a mistake to see Islamist movements as monolithic and consisting of a single interpretation of Islamism. Islamist movements are spread out on a broad spectrum with Al Qaeda, which uses terror methods, on the one end and the Muslim Brotherhood and liberal Islamist groups who pursue legitimate forms of political struggle, on the other.

Wherever democratic participation is allowed for, Islamists pursue a line that is increasingly moderate, reasonable, and acceptable to the majority simply because they need to win the votes of the people. It needs to be understood that, given the opportunity, evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine and (yes) Hezbollah in Lebanon will follow this direction. One of democracy’s greatest virtues is its moderating effect on radicals, and its push towards the center of all political players. The most remarkable example of this, undoubtedly, is the evolution of Turkey’s sui generis Islamist movement, from the National Order Party in the 1970s towards the Justice and Development Party in the 2000s.