Democracy Fever -- Catch It!

With Lebanon's government resigning en masse, it's worth revisiting David Brooks's much-mocked (but then, aren't they all?) column from this weekend, where he identified the question "why not here?" as being the preeminent query in today's world. As he saw it, Ukrainians looked at the peaceful revolution in Georgia and though, hell, we can do that! And they did. And Arabs are looking at the elections in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan, and thinking they should have those too. And so they are.

What Brooks misses is that the really interesting transformation isn't occurring among the citizenry, but with the monarchs. The death of Arafat, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the two peaceful revolutions in Europe -- democracy, it seems, is in the air, and these guys will be damned if they're going to cause a revolution by choking it off. That explains the Saudis' tentative first step towards elections as well as their recent assurances that women will gradually be given the vote. That's the only possible explanation I can come up with for Mubarak's decision to open the Egyptian elections. The homegrown opposition there was pretty weak, no analysis I read thought it a danger. But having seen those analyses proved so wrong so recently, Mubarak clearly decided to err on the side of pluralism. And after that, the Lebanese puppets stood no chance, as an emboldened citizenry just kept adding to their tent community on the site of the former PM's assassination. Most of the recent revolutions had been peaceful, but there was no reason to think this one would be and, considering the pressure being exerted on Syria, there was little hope that they'd intervene. So off went the marionettes.

We've reached, it seems, some sort of a tipping point, where the revolutions and upheaval we've already seen begin forcing similar paradigm shifts in places we wouldn't have thought vulnerable. And it'll do so not just because the citizenry is emboldened, but because the leaders are afraid. Not only are they vulnerable to the anger of their populaces, but the traditional defenders of the status quo -- America among them -- seem unwilling to invade against democracy. With that calculus in place, democratic reform makes more sense, both in taking the pressure off and cozying up to the US. Like others have, I have to compliment Bush on this, he's been good on the democracy-promotion since his second-term began. How much credit he deserves for all this is unclear -- he did invade Iraq and Afghanistan, but he only accepted elections in the former because Sistani threatened riots, and he certainly wasn't responsible for events in Georgia, Ukraine or Palestine. But since the chain reactions have begun popping, he's been making the right moves, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.