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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

THE BUSH REVOLUTION: A Firm Commitment to Arab Democracy: #1 of 2 Articles

The title of this mini-series, two articles in all, will no doubt surprise most of you. Many will guffaw; others rub their eyes in disbelief. The US supporting democratic changes in the 22 Arab dictatorships, vigorously and in concrete ways easy to trace even now? Come on, is it possible?

Yes, quite possible; and what's more, it happens to be the current reality. Not that skepticism here is unwarranted. Until recently, American foreign policy in the Middle East --- like that of all the industrial democratic countries --- courted all but the most brutal of Arab dictatorships (the Baathist regimes in Syria and Iraq); was primarily concerned with their stability and friendliness irrespective of their systematic human rights violations; and was equally concerned, at times with edgy intensity, to continue tapping the vast oil resources of the Arab countries in North Africa and the Persian Gulf arena. The motive forces here mixed diplomacy, security concerns, and economics. Democratic reform was never mentioned, whether by a Republican or Democratic administration . . . any more than it was by the EU countries, Japan, or the other English-speaking countries.


Yes, to repeat, changed . . . explicitly and probably once-and-for-all. The previous policy was wrong and proved harmful to US interests, as 9/11's murderous attacks by alienated and fanatical Arab terrorists showed, and no on less than President Bush himself has acknowledged this. In a pathbreaking speech at the National Endowment for Freedom last November, he said clearly, with no reservations, that . . .

"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe --- and in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty . . . As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish," the President added, "it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export.

"And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo."

The President then went on to criticize, as we'll see, traditional US allies in the region, starting with the dictatorial regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. His criticisms have continued, right through last week, when another traditional US ally in the region, Tunsia, came in for similar reproaches. See AP



Skepticism Justified?

Given past US policies in the Middle East --- in line with all diplomacy practiced by all the democratic countries there --- yes, some skepticism seems justified. Is the buggy prof repeating himself? Yep, you bet. All the same, purposefully; with a wait-and-see attitude as the best counsel here despite the clear changes currently at work. The changes are real, not electoral tricks; they can be pinned down concretely in easy ways; and they promise to be boldly sweeping. Even so, it's what happens in the future that counts --- the concrete follow-through.

In particular, even if unlike the EU countries (or Japan or Canada) the US never cozied up to the most brutal and mass-murdering of the Middle East Muslim countries --- Baathist Syria, the clerical-fascist regime in Iran, or Saddamite Iraq in the late 1990s (Saddam lavishly signing big-bucks industrial contracts with the Europeans and Russians) --- the diplomacy of the Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations still pulsated with the same motive-forces that had marked all US policies toward the Middle East in the cold war period: the desire for stable, friendly Arab allies no matter how dictatorial their politics, and edgy, worried concerns about continued access to Middle East oil and its price levels.

Did the initial Bush Jr. policies toward the region break with this bipartisan diplomatic line?

No; not in the first 8 months of the new administration's life. Then came the shock and blood of the 9/11 murderous attacks on US soil, and the turnaround. Along with other significant changes in US foreign policy that the attacks initiated --- all summarized under the War-on-Terrorism rubric --- our policies toward the Arab world began to change, first at a measured pace, then in 2002 and into the next year with galloping speed: the preventive war strategy, the thrust to destroy the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and next the Saddamite dictatorship in Iraq --- a government that had used poison-gas and biological warfare against its own citizens; had mass-murdered hundreds of thousands of them in other ways; had invaded two neighboring states; had tried to annex one of them, Kuwait, a member of the UN, in 1990; and had defied 16 UN Security Council resolutions on human rights violations and the production of WMD.

Since 2002's end, and especially starting last fall, the weighty changes in our diplomacy toward the Arab countries --- even the friendliest --- have been multiplying in numerous concrete ways. Even now, though, few Americans --- and fewer Europeans or Canadians or Australians or Japanese -- seem aware of the revolutionary changes at work in US policies toward region, all in a bold democratic direction.


A Key Qualification about Foreign Policy

Note quickly though. Important as they now are in the war on terrorism, the promotion of democracy and moral concerns can be clearly moved upward in policy priorities, but they can't always be at the very top of the foreign policy agenda --- whether in the Middle East or elsewhere. Foreign policy can't be conducted that way. No less than in other forms of politics, it has to usually be a compromise between competing goals and interests, and if anything with more need most of the time. To think otherwise is utopian.

Three reasons explain why.

First, most foreign policy is reactive, and necessarily so --- a day-to-day struggle with new problems and issues or ongoing ones that aren't fully susceptible to American control; just the contrary. At the same time, just as there are big vested interests in domestic policies --- among Congressmen, parts of the electorate, economic and cause-groups galore, even stubbornly hard-to-change bureaucracies within the Executive Branch --- so the same interests and restraints exist in foreign policy . . . if anything, with more weight, what with the need simultaneously to deal with 190 sovereign countries, some with considerable power, plus dozens of international organizations from the EU and the UN to the WTO or the Arab League or APEC in Asia: not to forget NATO or other military obligations of a structured alliance sort.

Second, inevitably these days, the agenda ranges widely in foreign policy. We are far removed from the 18th and 19th centuries when security or imperial concerns trumped all others. Trade, investment flows, environmental cooperation, immigration, terrorist threats, multinational outsourcing, the ups-and-downs of the dollar, and the state of the global economy all compete for the time, energy, and money of the American Executive. On all these matters, public opinion now weighs heavily in policymaking circles.

To ignore these realities is to spit boorishly in the very face of the facts.

And third, the US may be a super-power globally, and the most influential outside state in the Middle East. Even so, it isn't an imperial power, able to directly or indirectly choose the leaders and policies of Arab countries the ways, say, France was able to until the late 1950s in North Africa, or the British in the Persian Gulf region until 1945 and in some cases until the late 1960s. We have to work with or through existing governments, unless --- as with the monstrous totalitarian Saddamite regime in Iraq --- it's a clear menace and should be toppled one way or another.


And So?

And so what follows from this trio of reasons should be clear.

Invariably, with no escape, there are necessary trade-offs in foreign policy . . . including at times with democratic and moral concerns. Otherwise, how explain the alliance with the monstrous, mass-exterminating Stalinist Communists in WWII? Or allying indirectly with Maoist China in the 1970s in the cold war against Stalin's successors in the Soviet Union. To ignore these trade-offs --- a clear sign of rigid ideology or cheap moralizing, nothing less --- is to demand that the US government switch to a single-minded global crusade to push its own agenda and goals irrespective of others' interests and power. It's not a formula for foreign-policy; rather, a recipe for disaster. For us, and for others.

Agreed: these are weighty matters, these trade-offs and competing concerns, and they deserve a more thorough analysis. Don't worry. They will be discussed thoroughly, with abundant examples, in this series' second article.




The radical shifts in US policies toward the Middle East, all in a democratic direction, are real and soon to be set out in crisp detail. They are not an election stunt, far from it; and even up to now, the evidence pointing to the most revolutionary of the sweeping Bush changes in US foreign policy over the last 3 years is concrete and beginning to add up in impressive ways. Formally embraced by President Bush in public speeches the last few months, the weighty policy changes have been followed up by a commitment of money; by specific criticisms of the human rights policies of traditional US allies in the region (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Tunisia); and most important of all --- the core revolution in US foreign, equal in momentous impact potentially to the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Aid and NATO and the promotion of West European unity back in the late 1940s --- by a new fully detailed plan for promoting democratic changes in the 22 Arab dictatorships whose finishing touches are being put on it by the State Department.

That detailed plan, awkwardly called for the moment the Great Middle East Initiative, will then be unfurled with public fanfare at the forthcoming meeting of the G8 industrial countries: the US, Japan, Canada, the four big EU countries, and Russia. That's scheduled for June. In Savannah, Georgia. Mark the meeting on your calendar.

. . . It's a sweeping change in the way we approach the Middle East," a senior State Department official told The Washington Post (among others). "We hope to roll out some of the principles for reform in talks with the Europeans over the next few weeks, with specific ideas of how to support them," the official added.



So far, there has been a mixture of dramatic public stances taken by the administration, not least President Bush himself, plus the efforts to reorient the State Department and other US agencies and departments in ways that align them with the new democratic commitments. The most important of these, the Great Middle East Initiative, will be unveiled as we've noted at the forthcoming G-8 meeting. In the meantime, consider the evidence we do have:

(i.) The President's speech at the National Endowment for Freedom, with its specific criticisms later on of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

(ii.) To back up the language --- only a start --- Secretary of State Powell announced last December that $29 million was immediately being slated to promote democratic change in the Middle East and other Islamic countries

(iii.) More recently, when the strongman dictator of Tunisia visited the White House on February 18, 2004, President Bush explicitly said, in the presence of the dictator, that he intended in their private talks to champion "the need to have a press corps that is vibrant and free, as well as an open political process." Did he mean it? At least one Middle East specialist on democracy, Tamara Wittes of the Brookings Institute, not only thought that, she went on to stress that Bush's public statement "will make [Arab] leaders sit up and take notice. They don't want the public pressure. They constantly make the argument that public pressure is counterproductive." L.A. Times

(iv.) Secretary of State Colin Powell directed more vocal criticisms of human rights violations at another country the US has been courting diplomatically when he visited Putin's Russia in January last month. His criticisms of the manipulation of the media and the electoral process, note, were not confined to chummy tête-à-tête chats with Putin, then leaked to the US press. He made them openly in a press conference in Moscow, where the representatives of the Russian media were fully present.

(v) Then too --- the boldest commitment by far ever undertaken by a US administration in the region, backed by 140,000 American troops on the ground, loss of lives over 500, and tens of billions of dollars --- there is the sustained effort embraced by even the former critics of the war in Iraq in West Europe (Germany and France) and by the UN --- to promote a freely elected, consensual government sharing wide power in Iraq. Even now, despite the terrorism in the Sunni triangle, Iraq has the only free media in the Arab world --- hundreds of dailies and radio and TV stations --- while the Kurds in the North, about 15-20% of the population , continue the consolidation of their moderate, consensual regime that the US and the UK have promoted vigorously since the end of the first Gulf War in 1991.

(vi.) Bringing in the allies. Predictably, the Great Middle East Initiative, has into general skepticism around the EU, save for the German government. There, Joschka Fischer --- the head of the Green Party and the German Foreign Minister --- has immediately embraced the project. In late February, to overcome the skepticism elsewhere, Colin Power pushed the plan with enthusiasm in talks with the French and Dutch governments. Denmark and, closer to the US, Canada also share the Bush administration's enthusiasm about a clear set of international accords --- modeled after the Helsinki Treaty of 1975 that helped promote democratic activism in parts of the Soviet-run empire in East and Central Europe.



As we've indicated earlier, the proper answer is . . . it depends mainly on the follow-up, particularly after the Middle East Democratic Initiative --- as momentous in its own ways, to repeat, as the revolutionary changes marked in the late 1940s by the Truman Doctrine, Containment, Marshall Aid, and NATO --- is unveiled at the next G-8 Summit meeting of major industrial countries this June in Savannah, Georgia.

Some critics, it's true --- full of rancor even in the US with the Bush presidency --- won't be convinced, now or in the future. No matter, can't be helped. They're rigid ideologues, crammed with the same frenzied irrational vitriol toward George Bush as were the extravagant, overwrought right-wing critics of President Clinton earlier on. Sadly, too, even if inevitably in an electoral year, most of the Democratic candidates for the party's nomination remain stuck in a 78 RPM record-groove, the vocals replayed endlessly with static galore, about alleged American isolation from our European allies, at a time when the opposite is the case: when, specifically, all of them --- including the French and Germans --- are bandwagoning with brisk energy to repair relations with the US . . . to the point that the French are indicating that they would be willing to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq once sovereignty is transferred to that country. As it is, , 21 of NATO's 26 members this year have troops on the ground there already.


European Governments Are One Thing, The Media, Intellectual and
Numerous Political Circles Are Another

Something to ponder though. It's European governments that are rallying to the US and a strengthened NATO, led by leaders who have to calculate their countries' national interests and where they lie. Clearly, on their view, those interests lie with reaffirmed solidarity with the US and a strong NATO. Period. As for the EU media, that's another matter. It's so full of not just anti-Bush vitriol and animus, but kinetically charged anti-American hostility, that crackling cynicism --- not skepticism --- seems a much more apt term.

Note: this isn't just a buggy view. Far from that, it also happens to be the view of Josef Joffe, the most prominent of German journalists these days . . . a Harvard-trained Ph.D. in political science and the editor of the influential weekly, Die Zeit. See, for some illumination here, Joffe's argument in The Demons of Europe --- where he likens the bursting, high-strung animus toward the US in media and intellectual and left-wing and far-right circles in West Europe to the simultaneous eruption there of determined anti-Semitism in many of the same circles --- along with the extensive buggy comments here.

As you'll see if you read the Demons' article, Joffe unfolds a no-holds-barred assault on West European prejudices as reflected in the media and intellectual and some political circles that is fully in line with the several articles on the subject the buggy prof has published over the last few months, only with far more attention to hard evidence . . . especially survey data: blatant double-standards and selective moralizing, scapegoating, obsessive demonization, and a mix of overwrought envy and resentments that look forward to what Joffe calls, no doubt in an annoyed if understandable state-of-mind at the time, "elimination-lite" Elimination-hard, of course, refers to the Holocaust.