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The U.S. Strategy for the Middle East

How does a former CIA director view the push for democracy in the Middle East?

May 6, 2003

How does a former CIA director view the push for democracy in the Middle East?

Former CIA director R. James Woolsey has never been shy to voice his support for the invasion of Iraq. He is also prepared to admit to prior mistakes in the U.S. dealings with the Middle East. Yet, as far as its democratization is concerned, Mr. Woolsey is convinced that the region has a reasonable chance. In this Globalist Interview, Mr. Woolsey outlines his views.

Why has democracy advanced around the world during the last century?

“This move in the last eight decades from a handful of democracies to over 60 percent of the world's governments being democracies happened as a result primarily of these three world wars — two hot and one cold.”

What is the political situation in the Middle East today?

“The Middle East, outside Israel and Turkey, consists of two types of governments, pathological predators — and vulnerable autocracies.”

Why do democracy and terrorism not go together?

“Bin Laden's definition of democracy is this: Let's have one vote once — and then he and God rule.”

How do you reply to people who say Islam is inherently undemocratic?

“The majority of the world's Muslims live in democracies, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India (which has the second-largest Muslim population in the world), Turkey, Mali.”

How do you assess the situation for the ruling conservatives in Iran?

“If they will be honest at all with themselves, they should feel very much like the inhabitants of the Kremlin around 1988 — or Versailles around 1788.”

Why is that?

“They've lost the students, they've lost the women, they've lost the brave reformers being tortured in prison — and one by one they are losing the grand ayatollahs.”

Why did the United States in the past fail to promote better governance in the Middle East?

“We have regarded the bulk of the oil-producing countries in the Middle East for many years as our filling station — not as places where there are people whom we must help move toward decent government.”

What is the future of democracy in the Middle East?

“Moving toward democracy in the Middle East will not all be done by force of arms. Much of it we hope will be done by influence of one kind or another, the way the Cold War was."

Is al Qaeda just a recent phenomenon?

“Al Qaeda has been at war with us for the better part of a decade. What's new is that we finally noticed.”

Does it make sense to punish governments for the support for al Qaeda?

“Al Qaeda is too rich to be sponsored by anybody. In the two states where they have been present — both poor states, Sudan and Afghanistan — if anything, you had terrorist sponsored states, not state-sponsored terrorism.”

Did the United States bring terrorist attacks on to itself by betting on the wrong people?

“We backed the Afghan Mujahadeen in Washington, but I don't think we should apologize for that at all, just because some of the Mujahadeen went on and became Taliban. We were right to help the Soviets in WW II — we needed them against Hitler. People don't always stay on your side once you help them.”

Why did some governments to oppose the invasion of Iraq?

“Appeasement is popular. It’s very popular to kick the can down the road — and promise people that something is going to work out, and that they don’t have to make hard choices."

In retrospect, how do you view the invasion of Iraq?

“In a sense, we’re dealing with Saddam via arms control. The arms controllers are called the 3rd Infantry Division, the 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne, the First Marines.”

What should the Europeans that were not part of the coalition do now?

Be more helpful on the road to democracy next time.

Does the democratization of Germany and Japan after 1945 provide an example for Iraq?

The Germans couldn’t manage democracy, it was said. The same was said of the Japanese. These days, whether you’re in Berlin or Tokyo, you get the sense that these nations have figured it out.

What if the end result of all this is the emergence of a radical Shiite Republic of Iraq?

It won't be — if we help the vast majority of Shiites and the Iraqis defeat the Iranian, Syrian and Wahhabi-sponsored terrorists.

And finally, what holds the United States together as a multiracial nation?

“We are not a race, we are not a religion, we are not even really a single culture — we are children of Madison's Constitution and his Bill of Rights. It is the limit on anyone getting too much power that is our Constitution's great function — and our greatest asset.”