On Whose Back?

There is no question of “material breach.” Opposition to the disarmament of Iraq now centers on calls for a “coalition” and fears of “instability” in the region.

There is no question of “material breach.” Opposition to the disarmament of Iraq now centers on calls for a “coalition” and fears of “instability” in the region.

The coalition is there – necessary regional partners provide territory; Britain, Australia and New Zealand put their troops where their politics are; Japan has declared, and 18 European countries signed statements of support for the President. [Italy, Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, Denmark, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic first. The “Vilnius 10” – Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia – made it official today.] That big hole in the middle is France, Germany, the Benelux, Andorra, Monaco and Liechtenstein. We can live with that.

But “stability” is an odd thing for democrats to desire. There is, of course, democratic stability – where elections take place with proscribed regularity and civilian governments change in response to voter determination in secret ballots. There is the stability that comes from multiple parties and centers of power facing a free press that keeps the public well informed between votes. You don’t need a KGB or Mukhabarat.

That isn’t what they mean. They hanker, we think, for the old bipolar Cold War stability, or the stability of a Middle East and South Asia pumping oil and not facing “regime changes.” Stability in the sense that some country, or group of countries, keeps the United States from having “too much” power.

Then there is another sort of stability – where the lid is kept on by repression and threats and imprisonment and terror. Stalin killed the kulaks and 30 million Russians died of starvation in the 1930s to ensure the stability of the revolution. Millions went to the gulag. Religion and history were denied. Speech was controlled but thoughts never were. This is crucial – 13 of the 18 signed European countries suffered under communist rule. The stable bipolar world was stable on their backs and now, liberated by the strong American commitment to democratic revolution in the 1980s, they can say what they believe: America is not the problem – stability born of terror is the problem.

This is the dirty stability that keeps Saddam in power by murdering the opposition and gassing the Kurds. It keeps the minority Assads in power from father to son. It oppresses Lebanese, Saudis, Yemenis, Iranians and Palestinians. It is stability on the backs of the people of those countries. It is the “better the devil we know” theory.

Americans are believers in revolution, our own having been a resounding success in liberating and empowering people for good. Maybe we have too much faith; it is possible to go from bad to worse. The freedom Americans brought to Central Europe and the Baltics and Afghanistan do incline us to equate revolution and liberation, and we should be careful. But nothing we have seen thus far (including the liberation of France in WWII) can make us believe that the stable continuance of rotten regimes is a foreign policy objective worthy of democratic countries.