Rich Tucker

Things just seem to look different through the eyes of The New York Times. The newspaper is now running a television ad featuring a family sitting around having breakfast and reading the Times. You?d expect the ?typical? American family -- wife, husband, two-point-whatever children.

Instead, the father seems to be about 50, the mother about 30 and the daughter about 15. Typical in Manhattan, perhaps, but not Manhattan, Kan.

The Middle East looks different, too.

After Rafiq Hariri, Lebanon?s former prime minister, was assassinated, Times? State Department correspondent Steve Weisman told CNN, ?It means more turmoil than ever in the region. And the fact that our presence there in Iraq is now a factor in the turmoil, I don?t know that it?s a factor in the assassination. But there?s a cleavage in the Middle East now between Sunni and Shiite.?

Now there?s a cleavage between Sunni and Shiite? Stop the presses.

Actually, there?s been a cleavage between those groups since the 7th century -- that?s even before George W. Bush became president. It?s part of the great divide within Islam, the divide that only Muslims can mend. Democracy can help them.

In a way, Hariri?s murder was business as usual. Syria has controlled Lebanon for decades, and in recent months Hariri had made clear that he wanted to change that. ?I want Lebanon to be democratic, not only by respecting free speech, human rights and elections, but also respecting international law and acting as part of the international community,? he said in October as he announced his resignation as prime minister. Syria?s not ready to let Lebanon go; it probably won?t ever be. So it killed the man most likely to challenge the status quo.

That?s where the U.S. comes in. As Weisman put it, the Shiite-Sunni split is, ?a big worry -- a factor -- a potential instability throughout the entire region.? Well, yes. But sometimes instability is good. These days -- because of us -- instability is spreading throughout the Middle East.

After all, nothing?s more unstable than democracy. We don?t know who?ll be president of the United States in 2010. That instability is a source of strength, as it forces various groups to work together to get things done.

But in Syria, stability still rules. Bashar Assad will be president in 2010, as long as he isn?t overthrown in a coup or killed. Unless, that is, the instability of democracy spreads to Syria as it is spreading in Iraq. Because of the United States, people there voted last month.

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for