Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is one of the Bush Administration's leading strategists, and in a recent interview with BusinessWeek Senior Correspondent Stan Crock, he discussed the prospects for democratic development in the Middle East and how the White House hopes to assist that process. Following are edited excerpts of their conversation:
Q: Over what time frame do you expect change in the Middle East to occur?
A: I find the East Asian experience very instructive. It was a 20-year process that began with Japan as the only democracy in East Asia. And over the course of two decades, which is a long time for policymakers but a short time historically, there has been a sea change in East Asia. It's not nirvana. It's not Westminster democracy all over East Asia. But it's such an advance over 20 years ago.
Q: Are you concerned that such changes could undermine regimes that the U.S. relies on for stability, help on terrorism, and oil?
A: It's really a strategic interest of the U.S. to see progress toward representative government and free government and free markets and economic development. Why? Because I think over the long run, that's the source of real stability. The kind of stability that's produced by a government that represses all opposition and economic initiatives is a short-term stasis, which I wouldn't call stability. Eventually you build up the ingredients of a chaotic sort of collapse.
Q: Let's talk about countries where there have been changes, such as Bahrain, Morocco, and Qatar.
A: All three of the countries are monarchies of one sort or another. If you go back to our founding, I think the single work of political thought that most influenced our founders was Montesquieu's The Spirit of Laws, in which he described how the British monarchy system evolved. It became a modern liberal democracy. We did a lot of creative construction back in the founding. It was an incredible period of time.
We sometimes forget just how much we owe to the British system, which evolved through and under a monarchy over two centuries. I think it's not just accidental that some regimes where the rulers enjoy certain legitimacy can loosen the constraints on free expression and democratic rule and evolve in a gradual way.
Of course one of our biggest hopes -- the President has been very vocal about this -- is the Palestinians. There's a completely different model. But if ever there were people in the Arab world at least who have most of the skills or all of the skills needed to run a democratic country, it's the Palestinians. The tragedy of this terrorism is that it has thrown a huge barrier in the way. They're talented. They're educated. They see on Israeli television on a daily basis how democratic institutions function.
Q: How do you think the Arab world will respond if we oust Saddam Hussein?
A: Initially, I think a lot of people in the Arab world and the West are going to hang their heads in shame for having been on the other side of this when Iraqis reproach them for having suffered this dictator for so long and treated him as legitimate. I do think we have to be careful not to misuse our role in that situation and not to conduct ourselves in a way in which we just appear to be a new colonial power.
Q: While there have been some elections in the Middle East, none of the countries is a Jeffersonian democracy. Is it better for the U.S. to applaud the progress to date, or say it's not enough and apply pressure for more change?
A: I think you applaud progress where you see it. Not only applaud it where you see it, but you should on the whole defend it against people who say it doesn't go far enough. Steps that may look small to us are very bold to the people taking them, often. And one way to encourage them to take the next bold step is not have them feel that every time they give a little, you say, "Why didn't you give everything?"
How many places besides England and the U.S. really are Jeffersonian democracies? There are a few. But there are an awful lot of imperfect democracies that are just huge strides ahead of where they were 10 or 20 years ago.
Q: If you have a fair election and the outcome puts in power a party antithetical to our interests, does the U.S. let them lose popular support by themselves, as in Iran and Afghanistan, or do we do act?
A: It may not be up to us to choose. There are limits on what people really can do, as the East Asian example shows. We had a lot of influence over what happened in the Philippines and what happened in Korea, but it was primarily the Filipinos and the Koreans [who decided]. We couldn't have written the blueprint for them.
We helped to create some conditions. We were pressing Marcos to reform. If Marcos had reformed, he would have alleviated most of the pressure he was getting from the U.S., and he might well have stayed in power. But he would have been a reformed Marcos.
Democracy is certainly about more than one man, one vote, one time. That's why a free press is so important. That's why free markets are so important. That's why the institutions of civil society have come to be recognized increasingly as important. And those kinds of things -- institutional foundations of democracy and liberty -- require an institutional setting that has to grow. We can't create them ourselves. We certainly can't impose them on people who don't want them or don't have the commitment or energy or education levels.
That is the purpose of the initiative announced today [Dec. 12] by Secretary [of State Colin] Powell. As he summarized it eloquently, the
program is designed to "place the United States firmly on the side of change, of reform, and of a modern future for the Middle East." And that, "we recognize that hope built from economic, political, and educational opportunity is critical to the success of all of our efforts."
Q: What happens if a party is elected that's antithetical to U.S. interests?
A: You just had a Muslim party elected in Turkey that is pro-European. And you had a President elected in Indonesia who's pro-American. Rather than conjuring up every worst case that could come to mind, there are a lot of people struggling to succeed who ought to be getting more attention and help from us and from our European friends: Turkey, Indonesia, Morocco, Bahrain, Jordan.