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Spread of Democracy Will Make World Safer, Historian Says

Hoover Institution's Victor Davis Hanson sees positive changes under way

Posted: September 23, 2005

Washington – Author Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian with Stanford University's Hoover Institution, led an Internet chat September 21 to discuss the spread of freedom and democracy and how that can make the world a safer place.

The day after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States was faced with tough decisions that the result of years of tolerance for nondemocratic governments, he said.

But today, “positive changes are under way in Egypt and Libya; the Taliban and Saddam [Hussein] are gone, and elected governments in Afghanistan and Iraq are fighting terrorists,” Hanson noted. “Syrians are out of Lebanon, and Dr. Khan has ceased his nuclear antics.” [Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani nuclear scientist, admitted in 2004 to sharing nuclear technology with Iran, Libya and North Korea.]

His comments echoed those of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who, during a major policy speech in Cairo in June, said that “for 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East -- and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.” (See related article.)

Hanson, the author of some 170 articles, book reviews and newspaper editorials on Greek, agrarian and military history and contemporary culture, had a diverse audience for the webchat that included participants from Turkmenistan, Sudan, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Israel, United Arab Emirates, France, Niger, Uzbekistan and the United States.

He said the United States is not trying to promote “one system or the other of democracy – there are many – but simply the general idea of legitimate voting, independent courts, free expression, and the infrastructure of constitutional government.”

Hanson noted that creating a “democracy is easier in prosperous countries with educated populations, but it is not impossible in emerging societies, and in fact may be a catalyst to material improvement itself.”

“Democracy is not just majority rule through voting, but an entire protocol -- free expression, property rights, protection of minority rights, economic liberality, civilian control of the military. Otherwise we simply have a ‘democracy’ when a tyrant rigs one election and claims legitimacy,” he said.

He told a webchat participant from Kazakhstan, who expressed concern about the upcoming presidential elections there, that “I hope we can be firm in our efforts to support liberalization and galvanize allies to do the same.”

Hanson said democracy and Islam are not incompatible, and that Turkey could probably serve as a model for Iraq in the future – “a democracy with a strong Islamic flavor.”

“I think the U.S. seeks a variety of nongovernmental ways to bring Western notions of freedom to the Middle East,” he said. The United States tries to promote freedom but not to dictate how it should come about, and suggests that freedom “is natural to the Arab world as it is natural to man.”

America must continue “to support the democratic aspirations of those living under autocracies,” he said.

“Iraq is slowly emerging from a 30-year nightmare,” said Hanson. “As long as the majority of the population and the elected parliament wish us to stay to protect the nascent democracy, then we should.”

Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a teaching fellow at Hillsdale College in Michigan for the month of September. His upcoming book, A War Like No Other, examines the Peloponnesian War.

For more information on Mr. Hanson, see his biography at the Hoover Institute.

Tim Receveur
Washington File Staff Writer

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