Not everyone will choose to be free


President Barack Obama's speech Wednesday at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate certainly had an historical setting — calling to mind President John F. Kennedy's speech there in 1963.

Disappointingly, Obama's speech reiterated an historical mistake — President George W. Bush's contention that if given the choice, people everywhere will choose freedom.

That's just not so. We know that now.

"Different peoples and cultures will follow their own path, but we must reject the lie that those who live in distant places don't yearn for freedom and self-determination just like we do; that they don't somehow yearn for dignity and rule of law just like we do," Obama said. "We cannot dictate the pace of change in places like the Arab world, but we must reject the excuse that we can do nothing to support it."

That's an argument for further involvement in the Middle East, especially in Syria. But as our recent experiences in Afghanistan, Libya and Egypt demonstrate, the Islamists are far more committed to winning control of the region than we are. And they have the backing of the people.

Pakistani writer Ahmed Rashid, whose book "Taliban" became required reading at the White House after the Sept. 11 attacks, points out that "democracy-building" didn't work in Afghanistan.

"America came, liberated Afghanistan from the Taliban and al-Qaida, came to an arrangement with Hamid Karzai, wanted to organize elections as soon as possible and then withdraw," he wrote recently. "The Bush administration had an obsession with democracy building. They thought that once there is a democracy, everything else will fall into place."

It didn't. Now the U.S. is forced to go the negotiating table with the Taliban itself. Karzai's regime has only gotten more corrupt and more unpopular.

In Libya, an "Arab Spring revolution led to the complete dissolution of civil order.

"Since the rebels ousted Moammar Gadhafi's forces, first in eastern Libya in February 2011 and then countrywide six months later, militias have largely ruled the roost, preventing the country's elected government from asserting itself," The Economist reports. "The new rulers in Tripoli also seem prone to the old ways. The congress has stopped live coverage of its sessions and bars journalists from its proceedings on the grounds that Libyans are not yet ready for full-blown democracy."

In Egypt, newly freed people freely elected Islamist candidates who are now becoming increasingly authoritarian.

"Last year, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi issued an order preventing any court from overturning his decisions, essentially allowing him to run the country unchecked until a new constitution is drafted," CNN points out.

Behind Morsi is the Muslim Brotherhood. Its stated goal is to impose Sharia law in that new constitution.

Which leads us to Syria, and the president's plan to arm Syrian rebels. It's clearly a Sunni-Shiite civil war, and the rebels are just as clearly dominated by Islamist fighters (many from Hezbollah and Iran).

We've made this mistake before. Not everyone chooses freedom.





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