Monday, February 21, 2011

UK: America and the Middle East

The Economist

The Kuwait war plus 20

"And yet I am disinclined to join the great hand-wringing in which some are indulging over America's declining power, or the alleged danger posed by the Muslim Brotherhood. The most striking thing about the current mood of this region is that, more than ever, it is in the throes of a great struggle of ideas. Arabs (and Iranians) look around them and see many different political systems claiming ascendancy. These range from Shia theocracy (Iran and Hizbullah), Sunni Islamism (Saudi Arabia, Hamas, al-Qaeda), secular dictatorship (Syria, Libya) and traditional monarchy (Morocco, Jordan, the Arab Gulf). But guess what? By far the strongest of the ideas currently on offer—and the one for which most Egyptians seemed to be clamouring these past few weeks—is none of the above. It is liberal democracy. Most of the others, I humbly submit, have already discredited themselves or are on their way into the dustbin of history. Just observe the burning desire of so many Iranians to emigrate to the lair of the Great Satan.

"In other words, for all its many missteps of the past two decades, America is remarkably well placed to win the war of ideas now unfolding in the Middle East. This is not because Arabs are fond of America. Most aren't, right now. But thanks to globalisation, education, satellite television and the palpable failure of the local alternatives, most Arabs (and Iranians) are fully aware of what sort of societies the Western democracies are, and they would like some of the same fresh air for themselves. Is America less powerful today than when its pilots were shooting up Saddam's Republican Guard on the highway out of Kuwait 20 years ago? It has certainly learnt the hard way that it cannot shape the Middle East just as it wants. But its power of example remains strong in an Arab world whose people want most of all just to breathe free."

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