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Why can't we do it here?

Posted by Richard Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Never in my wildest dreams would I have even thought to look to the Middle East for a resurgence of democracy, still less to that saddest of countries, Lebanon, torn by decades of civil war and strife.

Viewing the coverage today of the wild celebrations in the streets of Beirut, however, what was most impressive was the picture of the triumphant crowd waving hundreds if not thousands of national flags.

The scenes were not dissimilar to those of the Ukranian "orange revolution" last year, where again the people stormed the streets, waving their national flag, demanding self determination and the restoration of democratic rules.

Nowhere in either event, one notes, were UN or EU flags evident – what we were (and are) seeing was the rise in nationalist sentiment, coupled with a deep yearning for self-government around a national identity.

For all the tranzie propaganda, therefore, about the evils of nationalism, and the need for supranational structures to bring peace and stability to the world, it is in fact resurgent nationalism which is doing the job.

That much is picked up by the incomparable Mark Steyn, whose comment piece today in The Daily Telegraph is headed: "The Arabs' Berlin Wall has crumbled".

He recalls how, three years ago – 6 April 2002, to be precise - he wrote in the Spectator that "The stability junkies in the EU, UN and elsewhere have, as usual, missed the point. The Middle East is too stable."

His view then was that, to achieve change – and with it introduce democracy – you had to create instability. And if you were pick only one regime to topple, why not Iraq? Once you've got rid of the ruling gang, it was the West's best shot at incubating a reasonably non-insane polity. That's why the unravelling of the Middle East had to start not in the West Bank but in Baghdad.

With some justice, Steyn observes that the policy seems to be working.

Mubarak of Egypt is changing the constitution to permit the first multi-choice presidential elections in Egyptian history, in Damascus, Boy Assad, having badly overplayed his hand in Lebanon and after months of denying that he was harbouring any refugee Saddamites, suddenly discovered that Saddam's brother and 29 other bigshot Baghdad Baathists were holed up in north-eastern Syria, and promptly handed them over to the Iraqi government.

And, for perhaps the most remarkable development, Palestinians are expressing anger at the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed four Israelis and threatened a fragile truce - a departure from former times when they welcomed attacks on their Israeli foes.

The reason for all this is, says Steyn, 30 January – the Iraqi elections. He cites Walid Jumblatt, big-time Lebanese Druze leader and a man of impeccable anti-American credentials as saying: "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Berlin Wall has fallen."

In the space of a month, the Iraq election has become the prism through which all other events in the region are seen. Destabilising the Middle East was a win/win proposition.

US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz was right, and so was Bush. The Left, who were wrong about the Berlin Wall, were wrong again, the only difference being that this time they were joined in the dunce's corner of history by far too many British Tories. No surprise there. The EU's political establishment doesn't trust its own people, so why would they trust anybody else's? Bush trusts the American people, and he's happy to extend the same courtesy to the Iraqi people, the Syrian people, the Iranian people, etc.

Steyn concludes with an observation from Prof Glenn Reynolds, America's Instapundit, who notes that "democratisation is a process, not an event". Far too often, it's treated like an event: ship in the monitors, hold the election, get it approved by Jimmy Carter and the UN, and that's it. Doesn't work like that. What's happening in the Middle East is the start of a long-delayed process. Eight million Iraqis did more for the Arab world on 30 January 30 than 7,000 years of Mubarak-pace marching.

The only thing to ask now, as the forces of darkness gather around us in the shape of the EU constitution, is why can't we do it here?