Liberty Shattered at the Point of an M-1 Abrams Tank
It does little good for Americans to opine whether Iraq is better off than it was before March of 2003, although it clearly is not. The real question is whether Middle Easterners think that any of the Middle East is safer and more open to liberty than it was before the US attack on Iraq almost eight years ago. You'll be hard pressed to find anyone in the Middle East who thinks that the prospects for democracy are better than they were back then.
Freedom activists in nearly every Middle Eastern country have been dealt a severe setback by the heavy-handed assertion of democracy in Iraq.
Ghada Shahbender, freedom activist from Egypt says "In Iraq, Bush set back democracy and freedom in the region more than any other American president. Most Egyptians now raise their eybrows and speak quite sarcastically about American democracy."
Akbar Ganji, one of the most respected anti-clerical activists in Iran, recently complained "No one trusts the American government now. Many people wanted to set up meetings [with the Bush Administration] while I was here [in Washington D.C.]. All the dissidents in Iran asked me not to. Violence and force can never by themselves create genuine beliefs." The Iranian mullahs reaped huge rewards due to the Americans becoming bogged down in Iraq. Ironically, Shiite Iraqis who had socialized with the clerics while in exile in Tehran now make up a large part of the current Iraqi government.
Ironically, with America's foray into liberty-building, authoritarian regimes have been the ones to benefit most. According to Robin Wright, author of Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East, Several dissidents in Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Iran and elsewhere have been rounded up and thrown in prison by regimes emboldened by America's failure (p. 416). "By 2007," writes Wright, "terrorism was a far greater threat. Iraq was more unstable. The sectarian divide across the Middle East was threatening to redraw the Middle Eastmap."
"The complete failure in Iraq will only keep other [oppressive] regimes in power longer," mused Syrian political analyst Sami Moubeyed.
Syria has for several decades had one of the most repressive, authoritarian regimes in the world. Ironically, said Syrian dissident Yassin Haj Saleh, "However opposed Syrians are to our own regime, they now distrust the Americans more."
Shibley Telhami, who conducted a poll for Zogby, stated of the poll's results: "The vast majority in every country believe the Middle East has become less democratic than it was before the Iraq war." Reuters reported that Bush was more reviled throughout the Middle East than even Israel's then Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.
The staff of the most independent voice in Egypt, the newspaper Al-Masri al-Youm wrote an opinion piece entitled "America, we hate you."
Driss Benzekri, who had been imprisoned for several years as a Moroccan dissident worried that "When the principles of democracy are memorialized with the images of war, people become disillusioned."
Iraqi Ali Allawi, in his book The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace, wrote "The corroded and corrupt state of Saddam was replaced by the corroded, inefficient, incompetent, and corrupt state of the new order. Iraq cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be seen as a model for anything worth emulating."
So, when the question "Do you think the prospects for democracy and liberty are brighter since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003?" comes up, don't forget to ask the people who live there. Their opinions count, too.
Kadhim al Jubouri, an erstwhile national weightlifting champion for his country of Iraq, was one of the euphoric instigators of tearing down the statue of Saddam in Firdous Square in Baghdad. Now, says al Jubouri, "I really regret bringing down the statue. The Americans are worse than the dictatorship."