MARGARET WARNER: Last night, Pres. Bush laid out his argument that a post-Saddam Iraq could become a flourishing democracy.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values. Well, they were wrong. Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken. (Applause) The nation of Iraq, with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people, is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom. (Applause)
MARGARET WARNER: The president further asserted that a democratic Iraq could transform the entire region in a similar way.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: There are hopeful signs of the desire for freedom in the Middle East. Arab intellectuals have called on Arab governments to address the freedom gap, so their peoples can fully share in the progress of our times. From Morocco to Bahrain and beyond, nations are taking genuine steps toward political reform. A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region. (Applause) It is presumptuous and insulting to suggest that a whole region of the world, or the one-fifth of humanity that is Muslim, is somehow untouched by the most basic aspirations of life.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Bush also said change in Iraq could be a catalyst for Israeli-Palestinian peace, and he said the U.S. would seize every opportunity to make that happen.
MARGARET WARNER: Could Saddam's ouster lead to a democratic Iraq and broad democratic change in the region? We turn to two experts on the region. Patrick Clawson is deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. And Murhaf Jouejati is a resident scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington. Born in Syria, he's now an American citizen. Welcome to you both.
Do you, Patrick Clawson, share the president's optimism that just as Germany and Japan were transformed after an American-led war into democracies, the same could happen in Iraq?
PATRICK CLAWSON: Why not? Indeed we see several million Iraqis living in the northern part of country outside of Saddam's control have done a pretty good job at creating a society where there is a vigorous free press. And I think that the people in the rest of Iraq are tired after 20 years of war and know that they need a complete change, a completely new approach. So I think that they're going to be open towards a democratic Iraq.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you share that optimism, Mr. Jouejati?
MURHAF JOUEJATI: I wish I could; I wish I could be as optimistic as this. I agree totally that people of Iraq are tired of this tyrannical and militarist regime. Where there is a marked difference with Germany, for example, is that before the fascist days of Mr. Hitler there was a democratic tradition in Germany. There is no such thing in Iraq. Iraq, which is a nation of thousands of years of history, has never had a democratic tradition. So although I wish very much for democracy to occur in Iraq it's going to take a very, very long time, if only to build the very human and physical infrastructure that a democracy requires.
MARGARET WARNER: What about that, that's really a very different situation given the history of Iraq?
PATRICK CLAWSON: Consider Japan which had a militaristic society, emperor worship, had a religion based in fact upon sacrificing for the empire, and yet they were able to create democratic institutions. Iraq had a vigorous parliament in the 1930s and the 1940s, so there are some foundations to build upon. It's one of the most literate, educated societies in the Arab world. So, yes, there are going to be problems; it's going to be a slow process. Look, it took 140 years after our own Declaration of Independence before women got the vote here. So the process in Iraq may not be complete the first year, even the first decade, but I'm confident that there is going to be a lot, a lot of progress made.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Murhaf Jouejati, do you think at the very least really thinking of a military style occupation, U.S. occupation and then a kind of civilian administrator, that that could at least, what the president says, he thought he could create an environment in which local people could then create democratic institutions of the kind you're talking about. Do you think that's possible or do you think the fact it starts with a war makes that not possible?
MURHAF JOUEJATI: Well, you said the words here, in the region, I think the perception is that it's going to be an American occupation; it's not going to be a liberation. And this is especially true if the United States acts without a United Nations resolution, or if it acts alone even if there is a U.N. resolution that is let's say vetoed by France or somebody else. It's going to be perceived as an occupation and I cannot imagine that the first year or two Iraq is going to be administered by Americans. That is going to drive even more the point that this is a foreign occupation of an Arab land, and this is rejected on a regional basis and I think it could be rejected also locally, though many Iraqis will be dancing in the streets after the going away of Saddam -- nobody will celebrate him.
They will celebrate his departure, but we have to remember, that loyalty in Iraq is to clan and to tribe. We have to remember this is a heterogeneous society unlike Japan, which is homogeneous, we have here a society that is divided along ethnic and sectarian lines. We have here a potential fragmentation of Iraq and so I cannot be as optimistic as I would like to be.
MARGARET WARNER: Broaden this out now, Patrick Clawson, to the president's broader point, which is that if you could get a representative government going in Iraq, that it could be the catalyst for broader democratic change in the region. How realistic is that?
PATRICK CLAWSON: Well, indeed, we already see the winds of democracy beginning to stir in the region. The president referred, for instance, to one of the most interesting cases, that of Saudi Arabia, where a group of 103 Saudi intellectuals recently petitioned for an elected parliament and for more rights for women. And the response the Saudi government was to meet with these people, not to condemn them. And afterwards, the Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia issued his own more modest call for a charter for Arab reform. So even in place like Saudi Arabia we're beginning to see stirrings of interest in how can we have more democracy in our societies?
MURHAF JOUEJATI: That's all very nice. These stirrings started before the actual crisis in Iraq. And if we have anarchy in Iraq as a result of its fragmentation, what is going to spill over to the rest of the Middle East is not democratization but anarchy.
MARGARET WARNER: What if you accepted the president's premise - just for the purpose of argument - and representative government did begin in Iraq. Then do you think it would have a catalytic effect on other countries, other Arab countries where the regimes are still pretty autocratic?
MURHAF JOUEJATI: The regimes are autocratic and the elites are very entrenched in their power. There will be certain moves to liberalize and democratize but this is going to be top down, it is going to be more cosmetic than anything else, that Iraq suddenly becomes a democracy I do not believe in and that there will be a sudden spillover into to the rest of the region. I think that is, also, overly optimistic.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Clawson, two of the leading countries - I mean, culturally, economically, politically, whatever, Egypt and Saudi Arabia - both autocratic governments, authoritarian governments of different kinds, both major U.S. allies, to have change in those countries what would the U.S. role have to be? Would it have to start pushing harder for reform than it ever has before?
PATRICK CLAWSON: Probably, and also encouraging those governments to reflect what will happen if there isn't reform - that they could face greater social instability if they don't face up now to their social problems.
MARGARET WARNER: But I mean how likely is that, that the U.S. would stop...how likely is that?
PATRICK CLAWSON: What we see in Saudi Arabia is a de facto ruler, the crown prince, who from the first day he stepped into that office was interested in making some reforms, such as allowing local governors to decide if women could drive. And yet he faced opposition within the royal family. If we come along and say, we think this is really important and we want to help you, and if the international mood is different and if a lot of people in Saudi Arabia are talking about the importance of reform, it's more likely we'll see change. Everything in Saudi Arabia comes very slowly. So I don't want to give the impression there is going to be anything dramatic happening but I do think we would see a real speedup in the change.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think the U.S. role would have to be, how likely do you think it is?
MURHAF JOUEJATI: We are talking here at one level Jeffersonian democracy, at another level the right of women to drive. Between the two there is a huge gap. So there is going to be a huge U.S. effort and I don't know that the United States has the attention span to focus for so long on such a resistant region. Again, that is overly optimistic.
PATRICK CLAWSON: If I may say that Jefferson's democracy involved slave ownership and the right to vote only for males who owned property. I think that Iraq will do better than that.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Jouejati, these regimes often say to the U.S., if we open up the Islamists, they're going to win the elections, what about that factor?
MURHAF JOUEJATI: That is very true and there have been grievances for decades on the part of society in any of the Arab Middle Eastern states. And these have been bottled up. There have been no channels of opposition that are legal. So now we are having a society that is radicalized and where fundamentalism reigns almost and so if there is an instant democracy we are talking about, we are going to have a body politic of fundamentalists. Is that what the U.S. wants?
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, and I hate to move on from that, but the third assertion the president made in this area was that democratization in Iraq, regime change in Iraq could bring progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, do you agree with that and if so how?
PATRICK CLAWSON: Pres. Bush has been saying and Palestinians have been agreeing for some time that democratic reform in the Palestinian Authority is key to restoring trust among Palestinians and in their own government and among Israelis in the actions of the Palestinians. So democratization of the Palestinian Authority would be a big step forward. And if there is progress towards democracy in Iraq, a lot of Palestinians are going to say, hey, we wanted that, too. We have got to do more in order get up there. Furthermore, if Israel is not at risk from Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, Israelis may be prepared to take a little more risk with the Palestinians.
MURHAF JOUEJATI: Democratization is wonderful, but the key to peace in the Middle East is the end of occupation and occupation that engenders and triggers terrorism. If we want to defeat terrorism we are going to have to take away its causes, which is the end of Israeli occupation. And if Mr. Bush is as adamant as he says he is about Iraq abiding by U.N. resolutions, then by God, Israel too must abide by U.N. resolutions.
MARGARET WARNER: So, briefly, Mr. Jouejati, you don't agree then that a change in Iraq would make the Israelis feel more secure and thus more open and make the Palestinians turn toward more moderate leadership?
MURHAF JOUEJATI: There was the Arab-Israeli conflict before Saddam Hussein was in power; that should tell us something. So I do not think that the Palestinians need to wait for statehood for Iraq to democratize. I think the occupation needs to end now and that this administration needs to be more serious about Arab-Israeli peace.
MARGARET WARNER: We have to leave it there, Mr. Jouejati and Mr. Clawson, thank you both.