hile working at Hebrew University this past year, I took the bus to campus each day. Whenever U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell or Special Envoy Anthony Zinni was dispatched to Israel, colleagues would urge me to stay home until after the suicide bombing. Middle Easterners understand the lesson those in the U.S. and Europe are still learning: When governments engage dictators, civilians suffer.
While European, American,
and United Nations officials lament the cycle of violence in the Middle
East, seldom do they consider that the phenomenon of suicide bombings
developed only after the 1993 Oslo Accords ushered in a period of engagement.
Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat repeatedly used terrorism as a tactic.
In 1996, a rash of suicide bombings hit Israel. When the West employed
extraordinary pressure, Arafat reigned in the terrorists, thereby demonstrating
his culpability. But it was convenient to deal with him, and the results
are clear. Documents seized at Orient House and Arafat's Ramallah compound
detail how exchange-rate manipulations on EU aid helped Arafat build a
slush fund to pay for another five years of terror.
Palestinians are scared to criticize openly, though. Arafat's personal militia repeatedly storm prisons, and execute "collaborators" held within. As in Iran and Iraq, executions are public, and meant to terrorize. Bodies are displayed to send a warning. In April, Arafat's Tanzim militia executed a 22-year-old in Ramallah, after his sister reported seeing him talking to an Israeli; the crime of dialogue. Surprisingly, the same European politicians who harp on human-rights abuses elsewhere, never question the collaborator label. To Arafat, a "collaborator" is anyone who speaks of coexistence or questions into whose bank accounts hundreds of millions of dollars of aid money disappeared. To Palestinians, he is a symbol of greed's triumph over freedom.
Arafat is not the only dictator that Europe and the U.S. have accommodated. In the 1980s, the West sought to engage Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Iran, Kuwait, and the Kurds are still seeking to recover. The day after London unveiled its "smart sanctions" proposal, an illiterate Iraqi farmer asked me, "Why do they talk about war crimes one day, and reward Saddam the next?" After the confirmation of the Bush election victory, Iraqis were ecstatic. "Maybe he will correct his father's mistakes," one Iraqi explained. "Why do people in the West think we want to live under Saddam any more than they do," another asked.
Nowhere is the failure of engagement clearer than in Iran. For more than a decade, the EU has pursued dialogue and trade with the Islamic Republic. Bilateral trade now exceeds $12 billion. Unfortunately, Iranian terror has not abated, and reform remains in the realm of rhetoric rather than reality. On July 8, Isfahan's Friday Prayer Leader Ayatollah Jalalidin Tahiri, one of Iran's most prominent clerics, resigned in disgust from blasting the Islamic Republic for "unemployment, inflation and high prices, the hellish gap between poverty and wealth, the deep and daily-growing distance between the classes, the stagnation and decline of national revenue, a sick economy, bureaucratic corruption, desperately weak administrators, the growing flaws in the country's political structure, embezzlement, bribery and addiction, and the failure to find effective solutions." It is unfortunate, then, that prominent Eurocrats like External Affairs Commission Chris Patten, still insist, "Everybody who supports the reform process in Iran will welcome the steps we have taken." Too bad that on July 29, Iranian reformists issued a statement condemning the EU's "mercantilist policy" toward Iran.
The U.S. has taken a different tact. Responding to the failure of Arafat's dictatorship, Bush declared, "If liberty can blossom in the rocky soil of the West Bank and Gaza, it will inspire men and women around the globe who are equally entitled to the benefits of democratic government." He applied the same policy toward Iran, placing the U.S. squarely with reformists and democrats, declaring on July 12, "As Iran's people move towards a future defined by greater freedom, greater tolerance, they will have no better friend than the United States of America."
Unlike the empty rhetoric of the past, recent actions demonstrate the seriousness of the Bush administration. On August 15, Bush warned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that the U.S. would not supply Egypt with new foreign aid in response to the jailing by an Egyptian kangaroo court of a leading democracy activist. It is the White House, and not traditional NGOs, that is leading the drive to cool relations between the United States and the Saudi autocracy, despite continued American dependence on oil. The era of cynical realpolitik is over, and the age of principle has begun.
In May, a commission of European and American officials concluded that the Sudanese government is complicit in the slave trade. Yet, the EU responded not by calling for democracy or severing its ties to the Islamist regime, but by funding it. The State Department upgraded its diplomatic presence. By appointing a permanent charge d'affaires rather than an ambassador, Foggy Bottom bypassed the need for Senate confirmation. Why respect democracy at home any more than abroad? Troubling, both Europe and the United States appear ready to sacrifice religious freedom for the sake of an effervescent Sudan peace deal. Real peace is possible, but only when Sudan embraces democracy and religious pluralism.
But the tide is turning. Afghanistan has won new freedom, and Iranians and Iraqis will soon know liberty. Even the Palestinians may leave the dictatorship of the past behind. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go. In Lebanon, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, the U.S. and Europe must still place democracy first. The West continues to meet Syria's occupation of Lebanon with deafening silence. Mali, one of the poorest countries on earth, is the only Muslim country that Freedom House rates as completely free and democratic. In fiscal year 2001, the U.S. provided Mali just $33.7 million in development assistance. And yet, USAID provided Lebanon, a country with one-third the population, and host to numerous terrorist groups, $50 million. In Saudi Arabia and Syria, citizens still lack the most fundamental human rights. Even outside the Middle East, China is coddled, while democratic Taiwan is treated as an leper. The concerns of India the world's largest democracy are often ignored.
The age of dictatorship
and autocracies must pass. Their representatives should not be toasted
in the West regardless of their oil wealth. Diplomats and policymakers
must not smugly dismiss the notion that men and women around the globe
are entitled to the benefits of democracy, despite the rejoicing of Afghans,
and the growing chorus of Iranians, Iraqis, and Palestinians demanding
freedom. European Commission officials, academics from organizations like
the Middle East Studies Association and the Royal Institute for International
Affairs, and activists from the American Friends Service Committee, Voices
in the Wilderness, and any number of self-righteous peace groups have
subverted human-rights standards for narrow political agendas for long
enough. They have lost the morale high ground, and by dishonest claims
and selective reporting they have done irreparable harm to those suffering
at the hands of dictators and terrorists.
Michael Rubin is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.