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Middle East democracy dominoes

by Scott Taylor - 9 April 2005

Following the 14 February car bomb explosion which claimed the life of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, some 70,000 Lebanese citizens took to the streets of Beirut in a peaceful protest.

The crowd demanded that Prime Minister Umar Karami resign his post immediately and that all Syrian troops be removed from Lebanon as soon as possible.

In an incredible turn of events, Karami did in fact step aside, and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, his long-time supporter, agreed to quicken the pace of the withdrawal of Syrian military forces from Lebanese soil.

Without a shot being fired, a public demonstration had brought about "regime change" in a Middle Eastern country [Lebanon], and supporters of US President George Bush's foreign policy were quick to declare this a "victory" in America's campaign to spread global democracy.

It matters little that massive counter demonstrations have since led to Karami's re-instatement, or that a deadly car bomb blast in Beirut on 18 March re-ignited widespread fears of escalating factional violence.

The American Republican party cheerleaders continue to proclaim the events in Lebanon to be their success.

Many of these gloating pundits draw an illogical link to the recently conducted elections in Iraq in order to argue their case.

Apparently, the people of Lebanon witnessed the persistent violence which has followed the 30 January election in Iraq, and according to Bush's supporters, they couldn't wait to get in on this phenomenon called "democracy".

What is truly incredible is that many of these commentators are suggesting that the Lebanese demonstrations were "predictable" and that the Iraq elections have set in motion a "domino effect" which will soon engulf the entire Middle East. Furthermore, they are using this "spreading democracy" pretext to justify - post-facto - the American invasion of Iraq.

First of all, let us keep in mind that it was these very same commentators who first heralded Bush's military campaign in Iraq when the US president declared "mission accomplished" on 1 May 2003.

No one in either the Pentagon or the White House was predicting at that juncture that two years later, another 1400 US soldiers would be dead, another 10,000 wounded and $220 billion would be drained from the US treasury in a bloody insurgency which 150,000 coalition troops still cannot contain.

However, with no weapons of mass destruction found to justify Bush's ousting of Saddam Hussein, the US administration has become desperate to find any and all possible positive spins to put on their costly intervention into Iraq.

Among those benefits attributed as "victories" in America's war on terror is last summer's announcent from Libyan President Muammar al-Qadhafi that he would cease efforts to procure weapons of mass destruction.

Admitting that Libya did not have such devices, al-Qadhafi simply qualified that his nation - already under a strict US imposed arms embargo - would no longer consider making such a purchase.

To listen to US neo-conservatives in their recent attacks against the United Nations, one could be misled into believing that the US invaded Iraq to save the Iraqi people from rampant corruption within the UN oil-for-food programme.

While no one is going to argue that the UN's supervised aid programme was free of graft and theft, it seems ironic that the Bush administration would attempt to take the moral high ground on this issue.

In fact, Vice President Dick Cheney's old employers at Halliburton have already been cited twice for overcharging the Pentagon some $100 million for their post-war reconstruction efforts in Iraq. The sums allegedly taken from the UN fund seem like petty cash compared to the massive profiteering taking place under the new US authorities in Iraq.

Another popular Republican spin on the war is that Bush's invasion may not have protected the planet from non-existent weapons of mass destruction, but nevertheless it did put a stop to the totalitarian genocidal regime of Saddam Hussein.

I predict that in the weeks, months and years to come, the number of Saddam's victims will continue to grow exponentially in statements issued by the US State Department.

The reason for this is that despite the US proclamation of "Iraqi Freedom", in the wake of Saddam's removal, there remains a security vacuum, a violent anarchy, throughout the entire country.

As a result of the insurgency, terror attacks and heavy-handed US countermeasures the death toll of innocent civilians is estimated at over 100,000 since the American invasion.

In addition, a martial crackdown on the resistance has led to a police state which old Saddam could only have dreamed possible. There are more checkpoints, barbed wire and concrete barricades than ever, and every one of Iraq's prisons is bursting at the seams with those suspected of anti-US activities.

The damaging revelations of US sexual abuse and torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, and the fact that more than 100 of these detainees died while in US custody means that in order for the Bush administration to maintain a moral edge, Saddam's depravity must be continually driven to new demonic depths.

For those who would have us believe otherwise, it is important to revisit a few salient points of fact.

America did not attack Afghanistan to liberate Afghan women from wearing their burqas, in fact they only toppled the Taliban in an effort to capture Usama bin Ladin (whom to date, remains at large).

Most importantly the unsanctioned invasion of Iraq was not launched to prevent Saddam from oppressing his own people, no Pentagon official promised to rid the oil-for-food programme of corruption, and nobody in Bush's White House talked about inciting street demonstrations in Beirut in the name of democracy.

America's only stated premise for war was to neutralise Saddam's non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

As hard as they try, the Republican party jingoists cannot be allowed to distort this historical fact by claiming credit for unrelated subsequent political events beyond their direct control.

On the other hand, if the present uncertainty in Lebanon degenerates into violent instability, will President Bush and his followers accept their full responsibility starting a violent "domino effect" in the Middle East?

Scott Taylor, a former Canadian soldier is the editor of Esprit de Corps military magazine and a veteran war correspondent. He has visited Iraq 20 times since August 2000 and is the author of Spinning on the Axis of Evil: America's War against Iraq and Among the Others: Encounters with the Forgotten Turkmen of Iraq. Last September he was held hostage for five days in northern Iraq by Ansar al-Islam forces.

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revised 18 November 2005