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[casi] State Dept. - Democracy Domino Theory Not Credible (LA Times)

Source: Greg Miller, "Democracy Domino Theory 'Not Credible' ", Los Angeles
Times, 14 March 2003,,1,7918653.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Diraq


WASHINGTON -- A classified State Department report expresses doubt that
installing a new regime in Iraq will foster the spread of democracy in the
Middle East, a claim President Bush has made in trying to build support for
a war, according to intelligence officials familiar with the document.

The report exposes significant divisions within the Bush administration over
the so-called democratic domino theory, one of the arguments that underpins
the case for invading Iraq.

The report, which has been distributed to a small group of top government
officials but not publicly disclosed, says that daunting economic and social
problems are likely to undermine basic stability in the region for years,
let alone prospects for democratic reform.

Even if some version of democracy took root  an event the report casts as
unlikely  anti-American sentiment is so pervasive that elections in the
short term could lead to the rise of Islamic-controlled governments hostile
to the United States.

"Liberal democracy would be difficult to achieve," says one passage of the
report, according to an intelligence official who agreed to read portions of
it to The Times.

"Electoral democracy, were it to emerge, could well be subject to
exploitation by anti-American elements."

The thrust of the document, the source said, "is that this idea that you're
going to transform the Middle East and fundamentally alter its trajectory is
not credible."

Even the document's title appears to dismiss the administration argument.
The report is labeled "Iraq, the Middle East and Change: No Dominoes."

The report was produced by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and
Research, the in-house analytical arm.

State Department officials declined to comment on the report. Intelligence
officials said the report does not necessarily reflect the views of
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell or other senior State Department

Daunting Challenges

The obstacles to reform outlined in the report are daunting.

"Middle East societies are riven" by political, economic and social problems
that are likely to undermine stability "regardless of the nature of any
externally influenced or spontaneous, indigenous change," the report said,
according to the source.

The report is dated Feb. 26, officials said, the same day Bush endorsed the
domino theory in a speech to the conservative American Enterprise Institute
in Washington.

It's not clear whether the president has seen the report, but such documents
are typically distributed to top national security officials.

"A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of
freedom for other nations in the region," Bush said.

Other top administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney,
have made similar remarks in recent months.

But the argument has been pushed hardest by a group of officials and
advisors who have been the leading proponents of going to war with Iraq.
Prominent among them are Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary,
and Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an influential
Pentagon advisory panel.

Wolfowitz has said that Iraq could be "the first Arab democracy" and that
even modest democratic progress in Iraq would "cast a very large shadow,
starting with Syria and Iran but across the whole Arab world."

Similarly, Perle has said that a reformed Iraq "has the potential to
transform the thinking of people around the world about the potential for
democracy, even in Arab countries where people have been disparaging of
their potential."

White House officials hold out the promise of a friendly and functional
government in Baghdad to contrast with administration portrayals of
President Saddam Hussein's regime as brutal and bent on building his stock
of biological and chemical weapons.

The domino theory also is used by the administration as a counterargument to
critics in Congress and elsewhere who have expressed concern that invading
Iraq will inflame the Muslim world and fuel terrorist activity against the
United States.

But the theory is disputed by many Middle East experts and is viewed with
skepticism by analysts at the CIA and the State Department, intelligence
officials said.

Divisions in Iraq

Critics say even establishing a democratic government in Iraq will be
extremely difficult. Iraq is made up of ethnic groups deeply hostile to one
another. Ever since its inception in 1932, the country has known little but
bloody coups and brutal dictators.

Even so, it is seen by some as holding more democratic potential  because
of its wealth and educated population  than many of its neighbors.

By some estimates, 65 million adults in the Middle East can't read or write,
and 14 million are unemployed, with an exploding, poorly educated youth

Given such trends, "we'll be lucky to have strong central governments [in
the Middle East], let alone democracy," said one intelligence official with
extensive experience in the region.

The official stressed that no one in intelligence or diplomatic circles
opposes the idea of trying to install a democratic government in Iraq.

"It couldn't hurt," the official said. "But to sell [the war] on the basis
that this is going to cause 1,000 flowers to bloom is naive."

Some officials said the classified document reflects views that are widely
held in the State Department and CIA but that those holding such views have
been muzzled in an administration eager to downplay the costs and risks of

One intelligence official said the CIA has not been asked to produce its own
analysis on the domino question.

CIA Assessment

At a recent hearing on Capitol Hill, CIA Director George J. Tenet offered a
modest assessment of the prospects that overthrowing Hussein could prompt a
wave of reform.

"I don't want to be expansive in, you know, a big domino theory about what
happens in the rest of the Arab world," Tenet said. "But an Iraq whose
territorial integrity has been maintained, that's up and running and
functioning ... may actually have some salutary impact across the region."

The State Department report cites "high levels of corruption, serious
infrastructure degradation, overpopulation" and other forces causing
widespread disenfranchisement in the region.

The report concludes that "political changes conducive to broader and
enduring stability throughout the region will be difficult to achieve for a
very long time."

Middle East experts said there are other factors working against democratic
reform, including a culture that values community and to some extent
conformity over individual rights.

"I don't accept the view that the fall of Saddam Hussein is going to prompt
quick or even discernible movement toward democratization of the Arab
states," said Philip C. Wilcox, director of the Foundation for Middle East
Peace and a former top State Department official. "Those countries are held
back not by the presence of vicious authoritarian regimes in Baghdad but by
a lot of other reasons."

Bush has responded to such assessments by assailing the "soft bigotry of low

In pushing for democracy in the Middle East, he is departing somewhat from a
long track record of U.S. presidents  focused on preserving stability,
economic ties, and access to Middle East oil  backing autocratic regimes.

Still, the Bush White House has been selective in applying pressure for
reform, favoring longtime U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Times staff writer Sonni Efron contributed to this report.


Nathaniel Hurd
NGO Consultant on United Nations' Iraq policy
Tel. (Mobile): 917-407-3389
Fax: 718-504-4224
Residential/Mailing Address:
90 7th Ave.
Apt. #6
Brooklyn, NY  11217

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