DAVID MACK, head of the US State Department's Iran-Iraq desk, sat
on the dais at a recent meeting of Iraqi groups opposed to President
When he stood to speak, Mr. Mack reiterated Washington's
reluctance to back democracy in Baghdad.
The United States, he said, is not "calling for popular
rebellion" against Saddam. Nor does it "favor one faction over
another." Meetings with the Iraqi opposition, he explained, are "to
further mutual understanding."
The Bush administration's postwar policy, aimed at toppling
Saddam but not necessarily in favor of a democratic alternative, has
become yet another point of contention in a debate here over whether
Washington should commit itself to fostering democracy in the Middle
Some analysts say that in general the US is lukewarm if not
unenthusiastic about democraticization in the Arab world. They cite
not only Iraq, but US policy in Kuwait in the postwar period and the
Bush administration's decision not to confront Emir Jabir al-Sabah
over the issue of early elections.
A climate for reforms?
The administration maintains that the US did not go to war in the
Persian Gulf to bring democracy to Kuwait; some in the
administration contend the Arab world is not ready for democracy.
"You don't have a polity that's ready out there," says one US
Academics specializing in the Middle East actively disagree.
In June, at a conference organized at Princeton, Middle East
experts agreed that democracy in the region is possible.
"There are pro-democracy movements and we ought to support them,"
says Jill Crystal, a specialist on Kuwait at the University of
Michigan who attended the conference.
The US has not been an enthusiastic advocate of democracy in the
third world in general, academics point out. But State Department
officials trace Washington's particular lack of enthusiasm for
democracy in the Middle East back to the late 1970s, when the US
coaxed the Shah of Iran to stop human rights abuses and open up the
political process. In the end, Iran was consumed by an Islamic
revolution that to this day is still unfriendly to the US.
Legacy of the Shah's fall
"What we didn't realize is that the Shah was messing with the
social fabric and religious tradition and it unraveled. It fell
apart," says the US official.
Since then, the official maintains, the US is reluctant to
encourage democracy in the Middle East for fear of new unravelings.
"You don't mind encouraging your enemies, like the Soviet Union,
to democratize," he notes, "but you are loath to encourage your
friends to do something that might produce disorder."
For a brief period after the Gulf war, those fears abated,
especially regarding Kuwait, and the administration strongly
advocated early elections there. But soon it backed off. When the
Kuwaiti government announced elections for October 1992, the Bush
Subsequently, the Washington Post reported that Saudia Arabia had
asked the US to drop the issue of democratization in Kuwait for fear
the movement would spill into its own kingdom. …