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Sunday, December 05, 2004

Democracy Promotion in the Middle East 

I had a conversation with one of my favorite hawks a week or two back. Favorite not just because he's a badass guy, but because he believes the war is justified on liberal grounds of democracy promotion of the Wilsonian "war to end all wars" sort.

I have often disparaged this position (not the people who hold it) as the "triple bank shot democracy promotion justification." I'm all for democracy, I just harbor a few reservations.

First, I find it unclear whether democracy through force is a viable method of engendering a truly pluralistic, liberal government or society.

Second, I don't believe for a second that Bush really gives a good goddamn about whether people in the Middle East end up in democracies or not. But then again I am a notorious Bush basher and even I admit my judgment concerning the man can be clouded by my deep distaste for him.

This second reason is why headlines in the New York Times like "U.S. Slows Bid to Advance Democracy in Arab World" tend to catch my eye.
President Bush started speaking in 2002 about the need to bring democracy to the Arab nations. Since then, however, the popular view of the United States in the region has grown so dark, even hateful, that American officials are approaching the meeting with caution and with a package of financial and social initiatives that have only a scant relationship to the original goal of political change.
I'm shocked...just absolutely shocked. Now I know this does not mean, necessarily, that democracy promotion will completely fall by the wayside. But it's hard to get a populace fired up about a war, and then get them fired up about helping those people rebuild immediately thereafter. The constant use of 9/11 during the lead up to the war, not to mention the Bush campaign, has led to some general, vague ill-will against Arabs in many in our own populace. Surprised? Me neither. It's hard to build a policy of nation-building on a platform of revenge.

The reason I mentioned my friend earlier, and he knows who he is and will hopefully argue cogently against me as he usually does in comments, is that I know he is serious about democracy promotion. I gather his seriousness about it is, in large part, the basis on which his support of this administration rests.

I hope he's right and that these people are serious about helping to build legitimate democracies in the Middle East. But stuff like this makes me worry:
A senior administration official involved in Middle East policy said that if the American program remained largely centered on business and financial initiatives, "that's not good enough." The United States needs "to hold people accountable," he added.

Another official working in the same area added that Arab leaders were "willing to take the aid, but they're not willing to carry out the reform."
Now I recognize that most of the problem here is with the Arab leaders, who have a vested interest in not-democracy. But shouldn't we at least be a little more strident in making true reform a contingency of any aid and business development?

Perhaps the new sheepishness can be attributed to this:
The senior Arab diplomat offered a broader warning.

"Something must happen as a result of this meeting," he said. "If nothing happens, it will be very difficult to keep this alive because there are lots of people who want to kill it."
I can only hope that this is all a matter of pragmatism to keep reform efforts alive long enough for them to eventually take root and flourish. If that's the case, then I'll be happy if proved wrong, as is the case with so much involving Iraq and the new interest in democracy promotion on the right.

If I'm proven right, and this is just the first step in a wholesale abandonment of democracy promotion in favor of self-interest and "stability" (i.e., stability that is good for our corporations), then Guantanamo is too good for Bush Co.

UPDATE: Relatedly, here's Bush on "President" Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan:
One of the interesting lessons that the world can look at is Pakistan. You see, there are some in the world who do not believe that a Muslim society can self-govern. Some believe that the only solution for government in parts of the world is for there to be tyranny or despotism. I don't believe that. The Pakistan people have proven that those cynics are wrong. And where President Musharraf can help in world peace is to help remind people what is possible. And the solution in the Middle East is for there to be a world effort to help the Palestinians develop a state that is truly free--one that's got an independent judiciary, one that's got a civil society, one that's got the capacity to fight off the terrorists, one that allows for dissent, one in which people can vote. And President Musharraf can play a big role in helping achieve that objective.
WHA?!?! Our model of democracy in the Middle East is a "president" who came to power through a military coup and then changed the rules to solidify his power for life? The same guy who allowed his nuclear scientists to give nuclear secrets and materials to the likes of Iran and North Korea and then pardoned him when he got caught?

You gotta be kidding me.

UPDATE on the update: Okay, that sounds like I think ol' Pervez is unmitigated evil, which isn't the case. I think he runs a reasonably moderate government in the face of an increasingly fundamentalist population and for that he should be commended. But to hold up his government as an examplar at this stage is still laughable.

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