Forging Better Government Out of Chaos

Kuwait should be a laboratory for Arab democracy

PRESIDENT Bush did not lead 32 nations into war in the most unstable region of the globe for anything short of total victory. Bush needed such an unequivocal outcome in the war with Iraq, and kept pressing until he achieved it. What is less clear is whether Mr. Bush will emulate President Truman in using his new-found power to demand democracy in a region torn apart by war - beginning in this case with Kuwait and Iraq. To date, the administration's response has not been encouraging. When White House chief of staff John Sununu was asked whether the United States would push for democracy in the Persian Gulf, he said: "We would like them to move toward a more democratic structure, but we are not going to dictate terms to them." This lack of enthusiasm is disappointing because it means that America may overlook the opportunity to help the Iraqis, in particular, find a new way of choosing leaders who can reflect the national will within the community of nations.

In contrast to the current administration's approach, at the end of World War II, with total victory in hand, the US had no qualms, as a part of establishing the peace, about dictating the future parameters of political life in Japan and Germany. As a result, both countries can boast stable democracies. Since then, the US has repeatedly pushed for democratic emancipation in disparate countries around the globe. In the 1980s, America's efforts for democracy in the Philippines, Nicaragua, and Poland are p articularly noteworthy.

Americans have long been convinced that promoting the rule of law - not the rule of men - overseas is critical to US well-being. It responds to Americans' desire to share with others what they already enjoy. It alleviates pressures and enhances America's sense of security. It dramatically lowers the likelihood of war: Democracies do not go to war against each other. Why should it be different in the Gulf?

Bush's vision of a new world order and peace in the Middle East cannot rest solely on a military outcome. Now that the Iraqi political system which produced Saddam Hussein has been reduced to rubble, the US and its coalition partners need to lay down the plans for a more viable political architecture in the region, one that is more hospitable to peace.

As proof that it is not a colonial power bent on securing oil supplies and pliant local potentates, the US should demonstrate a commitment to democracy in the region, thereby empowering the haves and have-nots alike. But if the British call for a democratic government in Iraq cannot be addressed immediately, the US ought to look to other parties in the conflict to set the stage.

Kuwait offers itself, with the apparent growing approval of its people, as such a laboratory for Arab democracy. The US could have sent out an early signal of its support for Kuwaiti democracy by suggesting that when the emir's emissary first returned to liberated Kuwait City, he should have sought from the Kuwaiti parliament the emergency powers necessary to govern during the first months of reconstruction.

To reconvene the very parliament the emir surrendered in 1986 would have been a powerful symbol. Instead, the old government simply took the reins with a promise of democratic evolution down the road.

The US missed this opportunity. But other options are open. Secretary of State Baker should heed the increasingly vocal calls of Kuwaiti opposition leaders. He should not accept promissory notes. Instead, the secretary must secure a clear timetable for the reinstatement of the 1962 constitution, the reopening of Kuwait's parliament, the introduction of the right to vote for women, and early elections.

Beyond those steps in Kuwait, as a part of both a regional political settlement and Iraq's war reparations, America should press for rapid progress toward broad political pluralism.

The stakes are clear. In Truman's words: "The free people of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedom. 201> If we falter in our leadership we may endanger the peace of the world - and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation."

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