The wrong domino effect

The question of a possible positive “Domino Effect” currently underway in the Middle East is really a mute point. To claim that Libya, Iran, and Syria have suddenly become open regarding their alleged weapons of mass destruction programs because they fear American military action ala Iraq is ridiculous. That these countries, which have been shunned internationally for a relatively long time now, have “altered” their stance is not in question. The reasons why are another thing.

The U.S. intervention in Iraq is generally looked upon very negatively in the Arab World. It is seen as the sharp end of a US plan for hegemony in the Middle East, a dangerous spiel where the outcome is less than certain. Most Arabs want the US to fail in Iraq for a wide variety of reasons ranging from Arab nationalism to fear for their seats of power if a democratic regime. Except for those working with the CPA in Iraq, rare is the Arabic voice that speaks out in favor of either the US invasion or its consequences.

On the surface, it may seem that the US’s wielding a very big stick has produced positive results vis a vis Middle East WMD (excluding Israel’s very real WMD arsenal, of course). But, let’s be realistic, Syria, Iran, and Libya know that the United States does not have the political support to do another Iraq on any of them at the present time. Already stretched thin by the Gulf deployment, America would be hard-pressed to politically and militarily engage another country of size, no matter how weak they may be. Iraq has proven that even a quick military victory against a conventional adversary does not necessarily translate into subduing a country. So to assume that Colonel Qaddafi or Bashar Al-Assad are now shaking in their shoes while waiting for the American hammer to fall on their heads is a real stretch.

So how can one explain their “sudden” changes of heart, with Libya paying major Lockerbie reparations and declaring itself WMD free (and inviting inspectors) and Iran opening its doors to inspectors and observers more than a crack? They are afraid of something, but it is not a positive WMD domino effect. They are slowly realizing that one day the middle can no longer hold. They are terrified of democracy and the empowerment of their peoples. It is dawning on them that the only way they are going to keep their seats is if they have as few enemies as possible. Sanctions are a much bigger threat to them then stealth bombers right now and they know it. So they cut their losses, realizing that these “weapons programs” were nothing but an empty farce which would lead to their eventual downfall. None of them can truly survive much longer while taking on the US, Europe, and their own peoples at the same time. So, in the end, it was much easier to neutralize the West by giving in to the international community on this issue. One can already see that enormous gains made by Qaddafi with little effort. He is being welcomed back into the community of nations with open arms both diplomatically and economically. The price, if you look at the big picture, was really quite cheap.

The case of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Kuwait only go to prove this point. Painfully undemocratic with scant respect for human, civil, or political rights, these countries’ rulers are allowed to thrive because they serve the West’s short-term economic/political interests in the region. Therefore, it is reasonable to understand why Col. Qaddafi and Co. would want to join this club, instead of wasting away on the edges of a cold exile. While this may seem prudent from Tripoli, Damascus, and Tehran, I don’t believe that such policies are sustainable in the long run. With the simplicity and speed of communications, which are only getting easier and quicker by the year, the threat of openness and democracy is growing all the time.

If the United States and the European Union would be willing to put their money where there mouths are in the Middle East by supporting reform and democracy through a series of economic carrot and sticks, there could be real and lasting change in the region–”for the good of all involved. By underwriting autocratic regimes that tow the line and isolating those that don’t, the West will never achieve the stability they claim to desire. If one Arab regime would fall through popular and democratic change, then there would be a good chance that a positive domino effect in the region would take hold.