It is often said that Israel is the only Democracy in the Middle East. That assertion comes with certain difficulties considering that Lebanon has elections, Iraq has elections, Jordan has elections, Egypt has elections, Kuwait has elections, and even Saudi Arabia has local elections. Certainly Iran has elections and a democratic form of government, although true power resides with an unelected and unaccountable Council of Guardians. And Israel, while allowing Arab-Israelis to vote, does not allow Arab-Palestinians to vote. But I don’t want to debate Israel’s democracy. The point of saying that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East is that the other countries have more or less authoritarian forms of government. And, excepting Syria, those authoritarian regimes are allies of the United States. That’s why Bush’s rhetoric wears so thin.

President Bush accused Iran Sunday of undermining peace in Lebanon, funding terrorist groups, trying to intimidate its neighbors and refusing to be open about its nuclear program and ambitions.

In a speech described by the White House as the centerpiece of his eight-day trip to the Middle East, Bush tried to speak directly to the people of Iran as he urged nations to help the United States “confront this danger before it is too late.”

“You have a right to live under a government that listens to your wishes, respects your talents and allows you to build better lives for your families,” Bush said to Iranians. “Unfortunately, your government denies you these opportunities, and threatens the peace and stability of your neighbors. So we call on the regime in Tehran to heed your will, and to make itself accountable to you.”

Bush is correct that the people of Iran have the right to live under a democratic form of government not emasculated by religious leaders. But what of the Saudis? How about the Egyptians? Or the Jordanians? Do not they not also have that right? As if to drive home the unintentional irony of Bush’s double standard…

Bush is trying to persuade Arab countries to join U.S. efforts to pressure Iran, though many have displayed ambivalence about the administration’s campaign amid a new U.S. intelligence report that concluded Iran stopped a nuclear weapons program in 2003.

The president will travel Monday to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, viewed by many inside and out of the administration as the lynchpin of its efforts to develop an anti-Iran coalition.

Ah, yes…the Saudis…those paragons of democracy. Need I remind you that al-Qaeda is a hybrid terrorist group combining those that oppose the Saudi regime with those that oppose the Egyptian regime. They are not democrats by any stretch of the imagination, but their beef is still with the undemocratic governments of those two countries. Until we understand how empty our rhetoric sounds in the Middle East we will continue to blunder into one morass after another.

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