Symposium 2011: Should the U.S. have policies pursuing democracy in the Middle East?

RMC:  The spread of democracy is a noble ambition.  Peoples have a right to live in freedom, without oppression, and with certain basic rights.  There are a lot of places in the Middle East that have never known democracy in recorded history.  To suddenly thrust democracy upon these peoples is a little presumptuous and dangerous.  They don’t know how to suddenly handle their freedoms.  The new democracy is fragile and susceptible to infiltration by hostile or subversive forces. 


You know, trying to be policemen of the world is what has gotten us into a lot of trouble in the past.  We put our neck out and it comes back to haunt us.  There’s an old saying about better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.  There may be something to be said for that.  We don’t know what we’re going to get in the way of leadership in Egypt, for example.  For all we know, terrorist organizations could infiltrate the government in its weakened, transitional state and in the long run they may cease to be an ally and align themselves with countries and organizations or terrorist networks that want to destroy the United States and our allies.


So, I think we have be very careful in our pursuit of democracy throughout the world as it can easily backfire on us.  Ultimately, the people of a given country need to make the efforts towards democracy and make the sacrifices.  I think we should be a support role on the international state, but I certainly don’t think we should be aiding groups seeking to overthrow governments under the guise that they are seeking democracy. Like I said, we don’t really know who these people may be or what their real motivations are.


Michigan:  The era of the internet has shown people around the world how other countries are living.  Now they feel that the U.S. and other democratic countries have it better than them.  Once they start throwing rocks at each other and fighting out of the back of pickup trucks, why do we feel obliged to go in and intervene?  We have not gone a very good job at this.


Sydney:  There doesn’t seem to be much point. We have intervened directly in both Iraq and Afghanistan in the past twenty years and tried to help establish democracies. Iraq is even more of a mess than Obama’s policies, which is saying something. It looks like Afghanistan will go the same way as soon as the allied forces leave. Even the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, which looked promising, is coming apart, particularly in Egypt.


The real problem is that the Middle East is made up of a complicated variety of racial and religious groups. We might think of all Iraqi’s as Muslims, but in fact, there are two major Muslim groups in Iraq – Sunni, and Shia. So it’s no surprise that these groups have come into conflict over the centuries. One main cause of the current problems is the fact that traditionally separate tribal groups were forced together when, after World War II, the British (who had defeated the Ottomans) partitioned the northern Middle East into a number of separate nations.


Cartwright:  No, if these people can’t do it on their own, we shouldn’t be getting involved.  In many cases it’s difficult to tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.  Honestly, I don’t really like what happened in Egypt and Libya.  Mubarak wasn’t bothering anyone.  He wasn’t an aggressor nation.  He had things under control in Egypt.  We got along well with him.  Ghaddafi wasn’t bothering us.  He had renounced his weapons programme.  There was stability in the country and the area.  We see these people rise up and overthrow the governments of their countries.  They shoot Ghaddafi down like a dirty mangy dog.  And now there seems to be some chaos and infighting within both Egypt and Libya.


Don’t get me wrong, but I’m not defending these dictators; I’m not saying that they were good people.  They misappropriated billions of dollars that should have been used for the betterment of their country and their peoples.  But they kept things stable there.  Now, we don’t really know who’s going to come out on top.  I suspect that we’re going to see a strong influence of either al-Qaeda or some group with ties to terrorism.  Oh, it won’t be an overt influence at first.  It’ll be more subtle and behind the scenes, but the people that end up in charge may just not be allies of the United States and may have sympathies for terrorist networks.


These people have been ruled by dictators for much of known history in many instances.  To suddenly thrust “freedom” upon them can be dangerous as well.  Some people culturally need that stability brought about by the dictatorships.  It’s awful to think about it, but the reality is that some people just can’t handle freedom.

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