By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
If only matters were half so simple in the Middle East, where the vast majority practices a religion the West doesn’t understand, lives under tyrannical governments (often sanctioned by the U.S.) and, unlike the old Communist bloc, boasts no real movement for democracy — where there is a political opposition, it’s largely fundamentalist. The closest thing to a Middle Eastern Ukraine is Iran, most of whose citizens oppose the rule of the mullahs, but rather than fostering their desire for democracy, we made them part of the axis of evil.
As one who takes the threat of Islamic fascism seriously, I’m horrified at how little energy the Bush administration has put into fighting that threat with something more enduring than mere weapons. In the weeks after September 11, you heard about the need for the U.S. to win the war of ideas against Osama’s medievalist terrorism by launching a decadeslong ideological struggle. But three years after 9/11, the U.S. still doesn’t have enough Arabic speakers to work the Green Zone in Baghdad, let alone a strategy for advancing its ideas in the Middle East. Indeed, a Pentagon advisory group, the Defense Science Board, just issued a crushing report, which notes that the U.S. government has no credibility in the Muslim world, partly because it has portrayed Islamic extremism in a way that offends most Muslims, but mainly because it has no way of reaching that audience: "The United States today is without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims and of Islam."
Rather than build such a channel — the better to win hearts and minds — the administration has put its faith in military intervention. Nearly 12 months after capturing Saddam, we have just destroyed Fallujah in order to save it (to employ the obligatory historical irony), and this was a city that, as former terrorism czar Richard Clarke notes, never posed any threat to the U.S. Now, we’re in the process of trying to ram through a January election that will allow an "honorable" withdrawal. For the sake of the Iraqi people, one must hope it proves successful, although what success means at this point may be little more than averting catastrophe.
Of course, partisan hacks like William Safire admiringly quote Bush’s Wilsonian rhetoric about the need to extend democracy. While I endorse the principle, it is slightly nauseating to hear that "freedom is on the march" from a president who only began using liberty as a fallback position — after the occupation of Iraq went sour. In his State of the Union speech right before the invasion, Bush never uttered the word democracyin connection with that ill-starred country. One presumes he also wouldn’t mention it in connection with Venezuela, where newly released documents reveal that the CIA knew in advance about the April 2002 coup attempt against the democratically elected (if wretched) Hugo Chavez but did nothing to warn him.
As always, democracy’s real heroes are those who claim it for themselves. Which is why the best story to emerge from the Ukrainian election may be that of Natalia Dimitruk, an interpreter for the deaf on the Ukrainian state TV channel UT-1. On the night the channel’s predictably vacuous anchor read the official results — Viktor Yanukovich was declared the victor over Viktor Yushchenko — Dimitruk stood in the corner of the screen signing a radically different message: "The results announced by the Central Election Commission are rigged. Do not believe them."
Watching this rebroadcast on the BBC complete with translation, I could feel the floor melting away — it was like stumbling into a world invented by Philip K. Dick — and I could only imagine how deaf people all over the Ukraine must have reacted to such audacious subversion. Then again, as a journalist in one of the world’s cushiest media countries, I find it easier to identify with their surprise than with Dimitruk’s moral courage in risking everything — "I do not know if you will see me again," her hands informed her audience — to tell a truth that might help realize democracy. Her lonely heroism is a reminder that, while the future may belong to crowds, as Don DeLillo so famously put it, crowds are born of individuals.