FROM THE EDITOR

What a wasted opportunity.

The collapse of communism in 1989 plugged the pipeline of Soviet support to Arab regimes, opening a window of opportunity to change the face of the Middle East which the democratic powers should have seized. In the last eight years, these nations could have used the great weight of their influence, resources and, in some cases, latent military might, to bring about enormous changes in this region - for the benefit of all its peoples and, ultimately, their own.

Instead, that chance of the century has been squandered in efforts to force Israel, the free West's only Middle Eastern democratic ally, into compliance with the demands of the dictators all around. And from Damascus to Baghdad, the despots that could have been forced into opening their doors to democracy remain on their thrones and prepare to drag the world onto the battlefield of non-conventional warfare.

Perhaps its naïveté, but one can't help thinking about how things could have appeared today if, instead of singling out little Israel as the easy victim, the US and EU had come together to read the facts of life to the enormous Arab states so suddenly bereft of their principal sponsor.

What would have happened, one wonders, if all the air-miles logged by James Baker, Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright - all the energy expended to create and keep the "peace" process alive - had been channelled into pressuring the despots to welcome in meaningful reform?

'You need money, investment, help in taking care of your millions of needy and unemployed,' these states could have been told. 'We can assist you, pouring aid and expertise into your countries, working with you to restructure your economies along western lines, create jobs, improve your health-care, cut back your infant mortality rate, stabilise your governments, and dramatically increase your standard of living. All you need do is open yourselves up and let democracy take root.'

It is thought-provoking to contemplate what could have been attempted, and perhaps accomplished to some degree already, if only the nations that have so enjoyed the good fruits of democracy had prioritised sharing it with those who, because they have not, have for so long endangered the world.


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