Iran may be best known in the United States as one of the
countries President Bush included in his “Axis of Evil.” But Los
Angeles Times Global Affairs Correspondent Robin Wright said the
seeds of democratic revolution in the Islamic world might start
from Iranians, who are unhappy with their government’s
“Some of the most energetic and dynamic ideas are coming from
thinkers in Iran, who hate the ruling regime,” Wright, a journalist
who lived and reported from Iran, said yesterday at the second
annual Josh Rosenthal Memorial Lecture.
“The vast majority of Muslims have the same ambitions as the
rest of us. … The extremists are on the fringe of a far greater
movement that reflects the political reality” that most Muslims
want to be freed from oppressive regimes, she said.
Wright, a University alum, said her optimism that the people of
Islamic nations can lead their own democratic revolutions is based
on progressive Islamic philosophers’ ideas, a large number of
discontent youth and the spread of diverse ideas due to
But democracy’s success in spreading through the Islamic world
also depends on the United States refraining from imposing its
ideas on Islamic nations such as Iraq, she said. The Arab world
will watch Iraq’s process of drafting a constitution and only grant
it legitimacy if it believes the ideas drafted were important to
the Iraqis, she said.
“Creating a democracy (in Iraq) is a decades-long process, and
the United States is not going to be able to create a full
democracy in one year,” she said. “After elections, the United
States is going to have to be fairly tolerant and open-minded of
what is going to happen in Iraq, and realize that it may not be
perfect. … But the Iraqis must believe that they were allowed to
do it themselves.”
Wright added that to encourage reform, the United States should
educate the Islamic world and develop alternative sources of energy
to eliminate dependence on Middle Eastern oil. She added that the
latter solution is politically unattractive.
Despite her long-term optimism, Wright said she is pessimistic
about the outcome of some the immediate challenges for the United
States in the Islamic world, including the ongoing reconstruction
of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the roadmap for peace in the
“The trouble we’ve witnessed so far may well continue into next
year. … Iraq reminds me a lot of Lebanon 15 years ago on the eve
of its civil war,” she said. “The outcome in each area will have a
tremendous impact on America’s credibility.”
She said many Iraqi politicians – some of whom enjoy U.S.
support – are building militias and that the Bush administration
has lowered its expectations of success in the country. Afghanistan
is an even more precarious situation because President Hamid Karzai
enjoys little support and parts of the nation have succumbed to
warlords or anarchy, she added.
Both countries are at risk of suffering outbreaks of renewed
hostilities between ethnic groups within their borders, she
Time is an additional burden due to several deadlines the United
States has set, such as free elections in Afghanistan next summer
or the creation of an interim Palestinian state by the end of the
year, Wright said. Failure to meet such deadlines could threaten
the long-term success of the roadmap and reconstruction
Wright added that other threats from the Islamic world come from
Iran – whose government is probably trying to develop nuclear
weapons, she said – Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which she said has
the worst human rights record in the world.
Yet little pressure for change in these countries will come from
the United States because “we don’t have the time, the resources or
the military troops for another intervention,” Wright said.
She also highlighted a third tier of countries, such as Turkey,
Egypt, Syria and Jordan, which she said may but hopefully will not
create problematic political situations.
The lecture, entitled “The Middle East Challenge: Coming to
Grips with Islam, Democracy and Terrorism,” was held at the
Michigan Union in honor of University alum and Sept. 11th victim
Josh Rosenthal. The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
sponsored the event.