Day By Day

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Limits of Reform -- Uzbekistan [certainly] and Lebanon [maybe]

As I have reminded my readers time and again in the past -- the democratic reform imperative is running up against hard limits. Uzbekistan illustrates what can happen.

Gateway Pundit reports that government troops have killed hundreds of protesters and "gruesome" accounts are beginning to trickle out to the western media. Some samples:
"They shot at us like rabbits," one youth said. Troops later moved in among the bodies, finishing off some of the wounded with a single bullet, according to another witness. Panic broke out as security forces fired on the crowd from roof tops and pursued fleeing demonstrators down narrow alleyways.

"Those wounded who tried to get away were finished with single shots from a Kalashnikov rifle," one man said. "Three or four soldiers were assigned to killing the wounded."

"Soldiers from two armoured vehicles began shooting at the people several times and in a sweeping fashion," one witness told French media.
Check out the posts here.


Writing in the WaPo, Henry Kissinger issues some stern warnings:

· The process of democratization does not depend on a single decision and will not be completed in a single stroke. Elections, however desirable, are only the beginning of a long enterprise. The willingness to accept their outcomes is a more serious hurdle. The establishment of a system that enables the minority to become a majority is even more complex.

· Americans need to understand that successes do not end their engagement but most probably deepen it. For as we involve ourselves, we bear the responsibility even for results we did not anticipate. We must deal with those consequences regardless of our original intentions and not act as if our commitments are as changeable as opinion polls.

· Elections are not an inevitable guarantee of a democratic outcome. Radicals such as Hezbollah and Hamas seem to have learned the mechanics of democracy in order to undermine it and establish total control.

He's right, and the turmoil and bloodshed in Uzbekistan serve as a reminder of just how difficult and dangerous the enterprise of democratic reform can be. President Bush certainly understands this and has time and again emphasized that we are just now embarking on a long and arduous task, every bit as challenging as those that faced us in the Cold War. But how many people, especially here in the blogosphere, have been listening?

Uzbekistan, like Bylorus and Zimbabwe before it, illustrates some of the limits of reform. Others may be emerging in Lebanon:

Among his warnings Dr. Kissinger notes:

The upheaval that expelled Syrian forces is a testimony to the growth of popular consciousness but also to the changed strategic environment. Syria, too weak to resist international pressures, may calculate that withdrawal eventually will return the situation to the chaos that triggered Syrian intervention in the first place.

Three times since 1958 -- the United States that year, Syria in 1976 and Israel in 1981 -- foreign intervention held the ring in Lebanon to prevent collapse into violence and to arbitrate among the Christian, Sunni, Shiite and Druze groups that constitute the Lebanese body politic. The internal conflict is made all the sharper because the established constitutional arrangement no longer reflects the actual demographic balance.

At this point, the driving force in Lebanon is less democratic than populist; it is a contest by which the factions organize competitive demonstrations partially designed to overawe their opponents. The test will be whether the United States and the international community are able to bring about an agreed political framework and whether they can mobilize an international presence to guarantee that the conflicting passions do not once again erupt into violence, and that outside adventures are discouraged.

Kissinger is certainly right to note that the strategic situation made possible Lebanon's successful expulsion of Syrian troops. Syria's military weakness and the presence of a big honkin' US Army just next door, ensured that the demonstrations would be relatively peaceful. But now demonstrations have gone as far as they can and hard political maneuvering has begun. Much hinges on the actions of Hizbullah, which refuses to disarm, and its sponsors in Iran and Syria, and even more so on the willingness of western powers, led by the US, to stay the course if things there get difficult.

As the initial enthusiasm of the democratic revolution begins to fade, and as hard political realities begin to emerge, we would be well advised to heed the warnings of "realists" like Dr. Kissinger.

Read Kissinger's piece here.

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