Democracy in Arabia

March 19, 1991

Iraq's Saddam Hussein, desperately seeking to hold onto his power if not his life, emerged from his bunker over the weekend long enough to appear on television to promise the citizens of his wrecked and ruined nation something new: democracy.

Saddam's promissory notes don't carry a lot of value these days, least of all, one would think, with his own people, whose blood he has spilled without cease for 10 years in two wars which won Iraq nothing but the obloquy of the world.

But suppose, just suppose, that the guy has really undergone what might be called a deathbed conversion and is genuinely committed to democracy -- if only to save his own skin.

And suppose that he were able to bring Iraq's warring factions of Kurds, Sunnites, Shiites, Christians and other assorted religious and ethnic groups into a democracy out of the sheer necessity of surviving and perhaps avoiding a Lebanon-style self-destruction.

Would the United States then urge its erstwhile allies, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, to forsake their medieval monarchies in favor of Iraqi-style democracy? Or would we, in fact, prefer the "stability" of the monarchies in supplying us with cheap oil as opposed to the popular demand of "the masses" in a democracy for higher oil prices?

Don't hold your breath on any of those counts.

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