It's often hard to keep the big picture in focus. Television news tends to center on bombs going off in Iraq and has mostly ignored several million people voting in Afghanistan. We see footage of angry Palestinians, but not much about the ongoing progress toward democracy in Egypt. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in turn have dominated the news and have made it difficult to get a sense of what is happening in the world.
A world spinning out of control: That is what the old-line broadcast networks seem to be showing us. But I see other patterns. George W. Bush has consistently asserted that one reason for removing Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq was to advance freedom and democracy in the Middle East. In spite of the improvised explosive devices, that seems to be happening. Lebanon's Cedar Revolution was as inspiring an example of people power as the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Libya has dismantled its weapons of mass destruction. Egypt, by far the largest Arab nation, had its first contested election this month, and, as the Washington Post's David Ignatius writes from Cairo, "the power of the reform movement in the Arab world today ... is potent because it's coming from the Arab societies themselves and not just from democracy enthusiasts in Washington." Which is evidence that Bush was right: Muslims and Arabs, like people everywhere, want liberty and self-rule. Afghanistan has just voted, and Iraq is about to vote a second time this year. Violence continues, but the more important story is that democracy and freedom are advancing.
True, the news is not positive everywhere. Iran seems determined not to give up its nuclear weapons programs, and the efforts of the British, French and Germans have not stopped them. The good news is that the British, French and Germans appear to recognize this. North Korea also, despite initialing a draft agreement, seems bent on building more nukes. The bright side is that China, the one country with leverage over Kim Jong Il, seems more inclined to use it.
The problem here is evil regimes against which we have no real military options. The best hope for a solution is peaceful regime change, of the kind endorsed by Michael Ledeen on the right and Peter Ackerman on the left.