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World Opinion Roundup by Jefferson Morley

Is Bush Right?

President's Critics Reconsider Democracy's Prospects in the Middle East

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 8, 2005; 6:00 AM

In countries where President George Bush and his policies are deeply unpopular, online commentators are starting to think the unthinkable.

"Could George W. Bush Be Right?" asked Claus Christian Malzahn in the German newsweekly Der Spiegel. Essayist Guy Sorman asked last month in the Paris daily Le Figaro (by subscription), "And If Bush Was Right?" In Canada, anti-war columnist Richard Gwyn of the Toronto Star answered: "It is time to set down in type the most difficult sentence in the English language. That sentence is short and simple. It is this: Bush was right."

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The tipping point came last week when Lebanon's pro-Syrian government fell. The international online media, much of which had been critical of Bush during his first term, had to acknowledge democratic developments on the American president's watch. Many commentators also cited free elections in Afghanistan last fall, Palestinian elections in early January followed by the Jan. 30 Iraq elections. Then came local elections in Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's announcement of constitutional changes allowing his opposition to challenge him electorally.

Given Bush's insistence that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq would lead to a democratic political order in the Middle East, many Europeans are "somewhat embarrassed" by these developments, Sorman wrote in Le Figaro.

"Hadn't they promised, governments and media alike, that the Arab street would rise up [against U.S. military forces], that Islam would burn, that the American army would get bogged down, that the terrorist attacks would multiply, and that democracy would not result nor be exported?"

"These dramas did not occur," Sorman says. "Either Bush is lucky, or it is too early to judge or [Bush's] analysis was not false."

Rüdiger Lentz, Washington correspondent for the German broadcast network Deutsche Welle, wrote, "There have been many good reasons to criticize the messianic political style of Bush's first term. But isn't it time now to stop finger-pointing and bickering?"

"After all, one has to acknowledge that Afghanistan and Iraq might have been catalysts for what we see now happening in Lebanon, in Egypt and even between the Palestinians and Israel."

In Germany, the economic daily Financial Times Deutschland accused Europeans of ignoring events in Lebanon. "It is bizarre that here in Germany, where the Berlin Wall once stood, this development (in Lebanon) is greeted with hardly a shrug," according to a translation by Der Spiegel Web site. The paper borrowed a phrase from New Yorker columnist Kurt Andersen saying that Europe is engaging in political "short selling -- hoping for bad news to back up the continent's 'ideological investment'" in opposing Bush.

"Short selling," the paper concluded, "is an honorable strategy on the stock exchange but in terms of democracy, it is looking more and more like a major mistake. Indeed, it isn't honorable at all."

Robert Fisk, veteran Middle East correspondent for London's Independent (by subscription) begged to differ on Monday. Writing from Beirut, Fisk predicted that Bush's call for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon would only hurt the Lebanese.

"Have we forgotten 150,000 dead?" he asked referring to the estimates of the number of people killed in the Lebanese civil war of 1975 to 1989. "Have we forgotten the Western hostages? Have we forgotten the 241 Americans who died in the suicide bombing of 23 October 1983? This democracy, if it comes, will be drenched with blood -- but the blood will be that of the Lebanese who live here, not that of the foreigners who wish to bestow freedom upon them."

Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab is not so pessimistic.

"The Lebanese intifada has provided a strong model for the Arab world," Kuttab writes in the West Bank-based Arabic Media Internet Network."It has sent shock waves throughout the Arab world," he says, noting that many Arabs had given up on the possibility of peaceful and patriotic democratic movements.


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