EX-PENTAGON AIDE CAUTIONS NEOCONS ON
By E.J. Kessler
February 25, 2005 Issue
A former top-level Pentagon official is opening up a new front in the
Middle East: He's taking aim at the neoconservatives who he says have
been viewing the Iraqi election and other recent regional developments
as an invitation to a full-scale democracy push.
"We're not going to transform the Middle East overnight," Dov Zakheim
told the Forward in a telephone interview, adding that democracy "isn't
a short-term enterprise or one that can be won by force of arms."
Zakheim, who served as under secretary of defense during much of
President Bush's first term, said: "I support the idea of democracy,
but we have to be cautious about it. This is not the first time Iraq
has had an election. We shouldn't view the future with rose-colored
What's more, the former Pentagon official said, those neoconservatives
who viewed President Bush's January 20 inaugural speech as a ringing
call for remaking the Middle East are deluding themselves. In recent
days, neoconservatives have been beating the drums for action to
destabilize the governments of both Iran and Syria.
"What the president is saying is that democracy is a value. He has not
laid out a specific blueprint," Zakheim said. "The president is a
pretty hard-headed guy.... Loads of presidents have laid out
aspirations, in the tradition of Kennedy and Reagan."
Zakheim honed his arguments in a speech January 28 before the World
Affairs Councils of America's national conference in Washington.
Using examples from the 20th-century history of the Middle East,
Zakheim maintained that democracy has never taken hold in the region
because it "was under Ottoman rule for centuries, and thus could not
spawn viable political institutions." Also, he added, "religious
values, representation with authorities... [and] economic security
simply appears to mean more to the average citizens of Middle Eastern
states than does democracy. To assume that their hierarchy of values
should mirror our own is no less Kiplingesque than to argue that they
are incapable of becoming democratic at some future date."
Zakheim told the Forward that little of what he recently has been
saying conflicts with Bush's vision.
"If I'm in disagreement with anyone, it's the neocons, but this is not
a neocon administration by any stretch," Zakheim said. "A lot of
neocons outside the administration have been viewing everything the
administration does with their own perspective. They want to force the
democratic issue across the board in the Middle East. It's not
consonant with the reality on the ground.... The facts and history
don't support them."
Neoconservatives scoffed at Zakheim's arguments.
"Zakheim's objections to the 'neocon' idea of tying foreign policy to
human rights and democratization took quite a blow when Iraqis marched
to the polls two days after his speech," Michael Rubin, a scholar at
the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official,
retorted in an e-mail message. "Democracy is a process. Friendly
dictators may be better than prickly democracies for businessmen, but
not for American national security. Friendly dictators can also
backfire. Isn't that the story of Washington's relations with Baghdad?
Consistent betrayal of people's democratic aspirations can also turn
ugly. Take Iran: In 1953 and 1979, American officials sided with a
friendly dictator over the will of the people, and just look at where
that got us. We shouldn't make the same mistake three times."
"It's not only arrogant, but ignorant if not racist to suggest that
certain peoples aren't capable of democracy," Rubin continued. "Arabs
who live in the West have no problem with democracy. That suggests the
problem is not culture, but rather rule of law. I'd argue that
Zakheim's tendency to look down upon the 'natives' is ...
Finally, Rubin argued, "The president's job is to deliver the vision.
The bureaucracy's job is to draw the blueprint. What stymies foreign
policy is when policymakers don't all work toward the same goals, or
when they cast aside guiding principles for wont of ever more specific
Zakheim, an Orthodox Jew, has a history of speaking his mind. In June
2004, after he left the government, he gave an interview to the Israeli
daily Ha'aretz in which he warned that the Israeli government "has in
the past three years lost a strategic opportunity to make progress with
the Palestinians" and that it was making "a huge mistake" if it thought
that the Bush administration wasn't eager to promote a solution to the
Arab-Israel conflict. He's also a longtime critic of Israel's settlers.
In his January 28 speech, Zakheim argued that the "neo-Wilsonian notion
that somehow America is the best vehicle for spreading democracy, or
even that it is in America's interests that the Middle East be
politically 'transformed' in the near term, may be as fanciful, and
indeed, as counterproductive, as was Woodrow Wilson's own vision nearly
a century ago." In its policies abroad, Zakheim stated, the United
States "must consider whether democracy is always superior to other
forms of government" because "it is not merely democracies that we seek
to support, but, far more important, friendly democracies" and "the
choice between unfriendly, or even hostile, democracies, and friendly,
or even supportive, authoritarian regimes is not a foregone conclusion
in favor of the former."