In an article on the ongoing democratic transformation in the Arab World, published in the Financial Times newspaper, on 29 th June 2005, Danielle Pletka , the Deputy Director for Foreign and Defense Policies, at the American Enterprise Institute, discussed the encouraging signs of upcoming change in the region, as indicated by recent political developments in several countries, such as Lebanon, Iraq, and Kuwait.
Pletka added that no improvement would have happened had it not been for ongoing US pressure, as represented by several initiatives publicly announced by President George W. Bush on many occasions where he signaled his desire for real democratic change in a part of the world that continues to lag behind in the freedom stakes.
However, the author also highlighted the disconnect between the moral and political commitment of the current administration to the pledges made by the President and the behavior of the US diplomatic establishment and its ethos of pragmatic realism. This principle prioritizes the stability of allied regimes over the requirements of political reform. For Pletka, this divide is negatively affecting US foreign policy. It is weakening the pace of reform by not offering the necessary support for human rights activists, democratic forces, and other reformist tendencies. It is also undermining “ The Greater Middle East Initiative”, the first US project to bring about democracy in the region, by allowing its opponents to accuse it of double standards and serving short-term political gains.
Despite some shortcomings in the article, Pletka correctly expresses the dilemma currently facing the US strategy in the Middle East . The security and military problems the US military faces, on a daily basis, which undermine the legitimacy of the war with the American public, are for all to see. Indeed, some Iraqis who supported the war in its early days as a means to topple Saddam Hussein are changing course. More importantly, however, is the continuing US failure in the ideological war, launched in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq , by the neo-conservative administration and its allies.
This war on the Arab and Muslim Worlds is being waged on three fronts: In the first instance, it seeks to change the image of the United States from a hostile power into that of a country that seeks to liberate others from despotism and tyranny and strives for peace, security, and stability in the region. Secondly, it hopes to encourage Arab and Muslims to adopt far-reaching religious and cultural reforms to eradicate the intellectual roots of terrorism and choose modernity and liberalism instead. The US government also wants to present itself as a model for Muslims to follow, as opposed to the secular, somewhat anti-religious European version. Thirdly, the US is allying itself with local forces calling for changes such as representatives of civil society groups and oppositions parties to protect the struggle for democracy from the repression of governments in the region. This is based on an assumption that Washington is the only actor able to pressure Arab regimes whilst protecting the reformist camp.
Despite a number of political, media, and intellectual initiatives undertaken by the US administration, which has earmarked a large sum of money of this ideological conflict, many US officials privately confess that their government is losing its battle and has so far been unable to reach the hearts and minds of Arabs and Muslims. This failure goes beyond the human rights violations in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison. It is directly related to the essence of the project which suffers from a fundamental imbalance between the new US ideology and the world’s only superpower’s strategic aims. Notwithstanding the recent efforts to associate the spread of freedom to US national interests, the fact remains that the Bush administration is not motivated by democratic idealism or religious conflict.
The reality is closer to what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced on her latest visit to Egypt, where she gave a lecture at the American University of Cairo, saying the pressures on the region to reform serve vital US interests because they aim to replace unpopular weak regimes with stable and secure governments that control their territories and are able to halt the spread of terrorism. While previous administrations opted for stability over freedom, after the attacks on September 11, 2001 , the government of Bush Jnr. came to the realization that stability hasn’t been achieved despite a loss of freedom. This why the US has become focused on achieving stability in the Middle East by way of promoting democracy and elimination tyranny which is responsible for extremism and terrorism. Nevertheless, the fact remains, this latest push for freedom might bring to power anti-American forces, a worrying outcome for all concerned. In Iraq , for example, when elections were held earlier in the year, under the eyes of the US military, the coalition allied to the conservative Shiaa religious establishment came to power.
Secretary Rice continues to assert that her administration is willing to pay the price of democracy in the Middle East , preferring what it calls a constructive chaos to the present conditions. However, the situation in the region, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, makes it likely the US will have to retreat to its original strategic approach and move away from taking uncalculated risks in its quest for democratizing the Middle East. It is therefore safe to assume that the inconsistent and selective US pressure will become an obstacle for real democratic change. Most importantly, liberal and modernizing currents will be viewed with suspicion and equated with US interference and occupation, with their members ostracized from their societies, further paving the way for extremism.