DEMOCRACY AND WAR….So let’s get right down to it: did the Iraq war spur the democratic reforms that we’ve recently seen sprouting in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East? Is the neocon domino theory correct?

Of the seven writers who tackled that question in our forum this month, I think Heather Hurlburt addressed it most directly:

If President Bush is right about the way to build democracy in the Middle East ? to eject forcibly a bad government, install a formally democratic replacement, and let the spillover begin ? then we know where we should look for democracy’s greatest triumphs over the last two decades:

Cambodia, where the United States supported Japan, Australia, and the United Nations in a massive post-conflict exercise in free elections and democracy-building….Bosnia and Kosovo, where conflicts were followed by free elections and newly-democratic structures of governance….Liberia….and the all-time champion, Haiti.

Heather’s conclusion is that democracy has a pretty rocky record even in those countries themselves, let alone in the surrounding regions. Rather, she says, the only way to build any kind of lasting democracy is “after years of determined domestic opposition and international support have worn down or modified authoritarian regimes. Think South Africa, South Korea, Chile, Ghana, Mali, and Benin.”

This is the heart of the question, I think, and it’s one that I’d like to see our guest bloggers take a stab at. Is Heather right about the relative non-success of military intervention in other regions? If so, is there something different about the Middle East that makes war there more likely to be a successful democratic catalyst than in, say, the regions surrounding Cambodia or Bosnia?

And a related question: how can we judge? If the Iraq war really did catalyze democracy in the Middle East, are there specific things we should expect to see over the next few years? Things that are different from what we’d expect to see if future reforms are unrelated to the war?

And finally, the money question: Is it going to work? Are we likely to see reform of the Middle East in our lifetimes? None of our seven writers really took a firm stand on that question, but maybe our guest bloggers are made of sterner stuff.

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