Friday, March 11, 2005

The Beirut Wall 

Isn't coming down as easily as some may think, says Slate's Fred Kaplan.
The tumbling of the Berlin Wall was the product of a peculiar convergence of events. The Soviet empire was collapsing. The Soviet president was a singular man, Mikhail Gorbachev, who actively pushed for reform and Westernization (which he hoped would avert collapse but in fact accelerated it). Meanwhile, indigenous democratic movements were fomenting within the empire (Lech Walesa's Solidarity in Poland, Václav Havel's Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, the perpetual secessionists in the Baltics). Detente, black markets, and jam-free broadcasts had whetted an appetite for Western ways. The nations suffering a generation of Soviet rule—especially the Baltics, East Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia—had longer traditions of democracy, capitalism, and European cosmopolitanism. Finally, their anti-Soviet sentiments were blooming in a bipolar world; repulsion toward Moscow translated very easily into attraction toward America. When the wall came down in '89 and the Soviet Union itself imploded two years later, the adoption (or resumption) of Western-style democracy was natural; emissaries from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the CIA, McDonald's, and all the rest were, at least initially, most welcome.

Now let's look at the aspiring democracies of the Middle East. The nations in question—mainly Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt (with noises rustling in Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia)—are not joined by a common empire or target of revolt. There is no Gorbachev among them, in any case. Nor are there signs of Walesas or Havels. These countries never experienced a Reformation and thus have no Western traditions. And their rebellions are festering in a world that offers many models beyond communism or capitalism, some of them notably hostile to both.

It's a good start so far, but let's hold off on the "Mission Accomplished" banners just yet.


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