|George Bush, the US president, gave Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president, an ultimatum to leave Iraq 48 hours before the launch of the war [Getty]|
On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior poltical analyst, warned of the dangers of imposing democracy on sovereign nations in the region.
Citing the bitter memories of western colonialism and imperialism on Arab lands in the first few decades of the 20th century, Bishara predicted that invading Iraq would lead to untenable chaos.
His predictions and calls at the time remain poignant today.
The Bush administration should be careful when it talks about democracy in the Middle East. The idea is too valuable, and too vital, to be used as cynical camouflage for other agendas, whether those are based on oil interests, or Israel's, or the desire to have a solid military beachhead in a volatile region.
America does not seem to realise what bitter memories we Arabs have of foreign democracies trying to shape and dominate our region.
It is dismaying to watch as America, which long ago rejected the notion of colonialism, seems about to repeat the mistakes of an old Europe whose past attempts to dominate the region by force have lead to more than a million Arab deaths.
America is also mimicking the preemptive war doctrine and policies of Israel, which have failed utterly to bring peace or security.
Washington has a history of double standards in the region. Its closest allies have long included some of the least democratic.
Applying the law
Like Americans, the Arab and Iraqi people would like to see regime change in Iraq, but not at any price. Not by installing an American military governor in Baghdad after killing more innocent civilians and possibly provoking an environmental disaster from burning oil fields.
And certainly not through a possible retaliatory use of nuclear weapons, which the Bush administration has been openly contemplating.
|In the early days of the war, opposition voices|
in the US were drown out [Getty]
Only totalitarian regimes and ideologies preach that the end justifies the means. For democrats, the means counts no less than the end. That's called applying the law.
War would lead to regime change in Iraq, but rather than bringing about democracy it would probably lead to chaos, the enemy of democracy, in a land that continues to suffer from tribal, ethnic and religious divisions.
While Saddam is temporary - his long tenure has been possible in part thanks to two decades of support from Washington - the Iraqi and Arab people and civilisation are here to stay.
After decades of conflict, the region needs not another devastating war but stability so that it can advance toward democracy incrementally and cumulatively.
This means containing the spread of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the whole region while supporting freedom and gradual reform.
Democracy is based on individuals freely consenting to assume their civic responsibilities toward one another and toward the community of nations.
Dictators like Saddam lose when the fear of totalitarianism is defeated in the hearts and minds of the people, who must be the true agents for democratic change.
But if democratic values are not allowed the time to take root in Arab society, the dictators will be replaced by Islamist extremists who pay lip service to democracy to get into power.
A need to confront
It is important to realise that Iraq gained urgency in the White House not for Iraqis' sake, but because September 11 destabilised America's security.
The Bush administration's attempts to lump Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden together, while unconvincing to most audiences around the world, have scared the hell out of the American people.
Today what Arabs have to fear most is America's fear, real and imagined. They watch helplessly as the Bush administration uses Americans' worries to whip the UN Security Council into agreeing to its war plans.
Arab democrats can only hope that democratic America will restrain Washington's imperial drive to war. Otherwise no one will be able to deter the eschatological politics of Arab fundamentalists and those of the American right.
It's time for democrats, Westerners, Arabs and others to confront warmongering politicians with a geo-ethics, to oppose war with the same unwavering opposition they oppose dictators.
Democrats the world over, foremost among them American democrats, must put their values above their interests, their humanity above their fear, to help create coalitions across continents and religions to make peace and democracy possible for all.