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Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell
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Middle East 'Democracy'


The Obama administration treated the creation of "democracy" in the Middle East as a Good Thing. Ironically, those who created the United States of America viewed democracy with fear— and created a Constitutional republic instead.

Everything depends on how you define democracy. In its most basic sense, democracy means majority rule. But there can be majority rule in a free country or in a country with an authoritarian or even a dictatorial government.

In this age of sloppy uses of words, many people include freedom in their conception of democracy. But whether democracy leads to freedom is an open question, not a foregone conclusion.

In the United States, when the Union army of occupation withdrew from the South, years after the Civil War, majority rule returned to the Southern states— and the freedom of blacks was drastically restricted from what it had been under military rule.

Those who applauded the spread of democracy in the Middle East seemed to assume that the "Arab Spring" meant greater freedom. But there was no reason to assume that beforehand— and certainly no reason to believe it after the fact. Christians in Egypt have already lost whatever security they had under Hosni Mubarak.

The idea that "all people want freedom" is one of those feel-good phrases that some people indulge in. But you do not get a free country just because everybody wants freedom— for themselves. You can have a free country only when people are willing to let other people have freedom.

Nazis were free to be Nazis under Hitler and Communists were free to be Communists under Stalin and Mao. But nobody else was free.

Toleration for others is a precondition for a free society— and it is hard to think of more intolerant societies than most of those in the Middle East. There have been female heads of state in some other Islamic countries, but not in the Middle East.

Democracy in the Middle East context means majority selection of which individuals get the power to oppress. Why would anyone have seriously believed that it would mean anything more than that? Certainly not from the history of the region.

Too many people tend to think of democracy as a consumer good, so that high voter turnout on election day makes them happy. But the purpose of an election is not to make people feel good about participating. Its purpose is to select the best leaders available, to whom the well-being, and ultimately the lives, of the people can be entrusted. That is serious business.

Voting is not an end in itself. Had there been universal access to the ballot in Europe centuries ago, in an age of mass illiteracy, it is very unlikely that this would have led to freedom, and far more likely that the continent would have collapsed into confusion and anarchy— and been ripe to be enslaved by conquerors with more realistic governments.

Restrictions on who can vote have been based on assessments of who can best choose the nation's leaders. Those assessments have varied from country to country, and from one era to another, and no doubt some restrictions make more sense than others. But the fundamental point here is that elections have far more serious purposes than participation.

Most Western nations had freedom long before they had democracy. Women have been voting in the United States less than a century. But, even before women could vote in England or America, they had freedoms that women in many Middle Eastern countries can only dream about today.

"Arab Spring" democracy has certainly not increased women's freedom, nor was there ever any reason to expect that it would.

Why then was Barack Obama so hyped over his "achievement" in having helped put new rulers into power in the Middle East? First of all, this is a man with a monumental ego, to whom every avenue to self-aggrandizement is welcomed, whether it is ObamaCare or realigning the Middle East.

Either or both may end in utter disaster for others, but that is hardly a deterrent to Obama. What some see as a failure of his Middle East policy is a success in carrying out his vision of a historic realignment. The lives that are lost and the increased dangers of international turmoil are to him just "bumps in the road" on the path to his place in history.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



6 Comments | Post Comment
My sentiments exactly.
Comment: #1
Posted by: mark wells
Wed Dec 26, 2012 3:29 AM
Mr. Williams, do you consider yourself to be a Republican or a Libertarian?
Comment: #2
Posted by: mark wells
Wed Dec 26, 2012 3:33 AM
These Middle East events, the entire Arab Spring, come under the headings of "Be careful what you wish for" and "the Law of Unintended Consequences." At least with Mubarak's Egypt, we had a stabilizing ally. When al-Assad passes, his replacement could be another Morsi and the result another Islamist country to gang up on Israel. Already, the Iraqis allow Russian overflights of weaponry and support for the Islamists.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Derel Schrock
Wed Dec 26, 2012 7:31 AM
I agree it's time for America and Americans to stop being the police of the world, and to keep our nose out of places and where people don't want us. After all, history is proof that after all the wars we've fought on behalf of others--sometimes at their behest, sometimes not--and after thousands of American lives lost, the very people we fought for are the very persons who despise us. It's like the old saying: "The people who OWE US hate us!"

Yet, America and Americans should know and understand we didn't fight wars to bring democracy to people, rather to free them from cruel dictators and regimes, and often death. We fought "just and obligatory wars," when rogue governments beat-up and killed their own people, and when the elderly, women and children could not defend themselves. America and Americans could not and would not stand by and do nothing. Yes, we wish democracy upon them, but democracy was not and is not our aim: Life, living, being, and doing via "freedom" has always been the spirit of America.

People hate police, just like we hate traffic lights--especially stop signs. Yet, we must endeavor to imagine life without them.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Rick Martinez
Wed Dec 26, 2012 3:04 PM
Its ironic that we try to bring democracy to these countries when we really don't practice it ourselves.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Thu Dec 27, 2012 6:29 AM
The only reason we are in the Middle East is for OIL and Israel. We would not be there if they just grew strawberries!
Also,the Israelies try their best to aggravate the Palestinians,thus the rest of the Arab world.
The Muslims do not believe in the separation of Church and State,there Church is their State!!
Comment: #6
Posted by: Ron Lee
Fri Dec 28, 2012 8:17 AM
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