Mid-East expert: U.S. policy failing

The sudden surge of democracy and popular movements in the Middle East are not a result of the United States’ role in Iraq, said Stephen Zunes, senior policy analyst and Middle East editor of Foreign Policy in Focus.

“I applaud the efforts of the Lebanese, but I’m skeptical that the U.S. invasion of Iraq had anything to do with it,” Zunes said before an audience of U students and community members.

Zunes said the United States backed an Israeli occupation of Lebanon and supported the Syrians when they first invaded Lebanon. Meanwhile, he said, the world leader most opposed to Syria’s occupation of Lebanon was Saddam Hussein.

In addition, he said, the recent Palestinian elections were not carryovers of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Rather, they occurred because president Yassar Arafat died and needed to be replaced.

“But elections don’t mean much if they occur under foreign occupation,” Zunes said. “That’s the case in Iraq and in Palestine.”

He said the U.S. government was originally opposed to free elections in Iraq and wanted to install a U.S. leadership or implement Paul Bremer as a viceroy. After hundreds of thousands of Shi’ite Muslims took to the streets in January 2004, the Bush administration finally agreed to push for free elections, though much later than the Iraqis hoped.

By the time elections occurred, Zunes said, the Sunni insurgency had made the climate too dangerous for voters to get to the polls in certain regions-while other Sunnis refused to vote in signs of protest.

“It all made the legitimacy of the election questionable,” Zunes said. “The pro-American slate came in a poor third place and the Shi’ite-led alliance that won called for a U.S. withdrawal as soon as possible.”

However, he said, Americans maintain key roles in every aspect of the Iraqi government, including the judiciary and regulatory commissions until 2009.

In addition, Americans have extraterritorial rights and cannot be arrested or tried by Iraqis.

“The model of imposed democracy in Iraq doesn’t give the people of the Middle East a lot of hope and confidence in democracy,” Zunes said. “It’s giving democracy a bad name just as the Soviets in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan gave socialism a bad name.”

He said he is glad Bush is now denouncing violence and promoting freedom in rhetoric, but said his words are not reflected in his policies.

“Why is the U.S. maintaining a role as the primary supporter of repression?” Zunes said. “We’re forcing people who feel they can’t make changes underground into the hands of reactionary clerics.”

He said the United States gives six times as much military aid to the Middle East as economic aid and the number one commercial export to the region is armaments.

“People in the Mid-East don’t see our democracy and freedom,” Zunes said. “All they see is tear gas and bomb casings.”

He said the true route to democracy is through massive nonviolent movements such as those in Haiti, the Philippines, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Estonia and Lithuania.

“Fax machines, computers and voter monitors go further than tanks and missiles in forming democracy,” Zunes said.

“We need to give moral support and international recognition to human rights movements and critics of the administration need to offer alternatives so they can’t say, ‘our choice is to invade or do nothing.'”

He added that under its current role, the United States is acting as a global vigilante rather than global police.

“We are practicing nuclear apartheid where we get to decide who has nuclear weapons and set double standards,” Zunes said. “There are hopeful signs for peace and democracy, they’re just not coming out of Washington.”

He said the current U.S. policy is not spreading democracy, peace or human rights, nor is it protecting our national security.

“Things will get worse before they get better,” he said. “They could get better, but if they do, it will be despite U.S. policy, not as a result of it.”

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