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The Mideast: Safe for Democracy?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Editor's note: This column was co-authored by Bob Morrison

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was speaking for the Obama administration this week when she issued a sharp demand: Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad should step down and now. The Obama administration is putting its Syria policy in line with its overall goal making the Mideast safe for democracy.


President Obama knows that democracy in the Middle East is not easy to attain. He has blamed the “Arab Spring” for the sharp uptick in oil prices here. That spike in oil prices was, along with the Japanese tsunami, one of the things that led to “a run of bad luck” for the U.S. economy, the president explained. We were coming out of the recession nicely, he said, until we were hit by these events beyond our control, he implied.

Tsunamis, yes, but we can reasonably ask whether our dependence on Mideast oil supplies could be lessened by easing the Obama administration’s bans on drilling offshore and in the Arctic in our own country.

Despite this, the Arab Spring is where this administration sees hope and change. We’d prefer something tangible. So far, we’ve seen nothing in the Mideast but increased turmoil, worse tribal violence, greater influence for the Muslim Brotherhood, and more brutal persecution of religious minorities—especially Christians.

Excepting oil, which they did not discover or develop, the entire Arab world has a GNP less than Denmark. This is clearly a result of tyranny and religious violence. Arabs—both Christian and Muslim—can thrive in Western countries. This proves that when they live in freedom, their natural gifts are equal to any people’s.


An Arab diplomat once put it succinctly: “There are no nations here except Egypt; the rest are only tribes with flags.” He was, of course, leaving out those tribes with one flag: Israel. The Israelis have built a nation, an economy, and a democracy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the air, bound for a White House meeting with the president, when Mr. Obama publicly called for Israel to reopen talks with its rejectionist Arab neighbors—Palestinians and others. And, the president added, those talks should begin on the basis of the 1967 borders of Israel.

He wasn’t talking about Israel’s borders following the Six-Day War. He clearly meant Israel’s borders prior to that war. In that war in June, 1967, Israel simultaneously engaged and militarily defeated Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. In that lightning clash, Israelis’ victory reunited Jerusalem and added the historic Jewish territories of Judea and Samaria. That war also, very problematically, involved Israel in administering lands with large Arab populations.

The Israelis had been invaded in three major wars and in countless border skirmishes because those pre-1967 borders were indefensible. They cannot go back to what is really the Armistice Line of 1949.


Stung by criticisms from some of his most loyal backers in the American Jewish community, President Obama quickly backtracked. He began to emphasize the 1967 borders “with appropriate swaps.” For him, Mideast politics may be a swap meet, but for Israel, it’s survival.

What if Benjamin Netanyahu had countered in their famous May 20th White House face-off: “Okay, Mr. President, Israel will return to the 1967 borders when the U.S. returns to its 1898 borders.”

“After all,” the Prime Minister might have argued, “the United States was a continental power in 1898. Your territory stretched from sea to shining sea then and was wholly defensible. Of course, the 1898 U.S. borders would have excluded Hawaii, and made your long-form birth certificate invalid, Mr. President, but America’s borders in 1898 made a lot more sense than Israel’s borders in 1967.”

That would have been an encounter even more entertaining than the Ultimate Fight Club match the president actually had with the Israeli leader.

It’s only partly a joke. What right did President Obama have to dictate to the Israelis what their negotiating posture must be? He reportedly reacted angrily to Netanyahu’s on-camera geography lesson.


Some questions arise: Why should any of the Mideast’s tribes with flags choose democracy? How has the Obama administration treated the one unquestioned democracy the region has produced? When this administration ceases bowing to Arab despots and stops kicking the Mideast’s only democracy around, then their appeals for liberty will have a basis in realism.

Woodrow Wilson, that other Nobel Peace Prize laureate, took America into World War I. He eloquently said, America must shed her blood “to make the world safe for democracy.”

Because of his impracticality and stubbornness, he failed even to make democracies like France and England safe. Will Barack Obama follow the same dangerous path?

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