Is the failure of the Arab Summit a Failure of Bush’s Democratization Plan?
Rob Collier of the San Francisco Chronicle examines the issues around the collapse of the Arab League summit that had been planned for Tunis, asking if the “Greater Middle East” plan of the Bush administration, which pushes democratization, is having any effect.
‘ U.S. officials hoped that the summit would set the region on a path toward Western-style free elections and free markets. But commentators in the United States and the Middle East say the administration has instead made matters worse by appearing to shove democracy down the throats of reluctant Arab leaders.
“The Greater Middle East Initiative is going nowhere fast,” said Andrew Apostolou, a Mideast analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a conservative Washington think tank. “The problem is that Arab states are in no mood to agree to any form of externally generated freedoms, and I see no way out of this. I don’t think the Bush administration has handled this well.” ‘
I am quoted saying that I thought the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq have if anything caused severe setbacks for civil liberties and democratization in the region. Iraq’s chaos is enough to scare anyone in the region into thinking maybe a little authoritarianism is better, as long as you don’t have to worry about your kids being kidnapped or your mosque being blown up. The US has encouraged governments like Tunisia and Yemen to take Draconian measures because of the war on terror (it should be recognized that terrorists are mostly only conspirators before they pull off an operation, so the temptation, as in Egypt in the 1990s, is to put thousands in jail for thought crimes). The Iranian hardliners have encaged the reformers. I don’t see any positive effect of Bush administration policies in the region. Positive views of the US in the region have fallen to like 10% a lot of places. The US vetoing UN SC condemnation of Sharon’s government for firing helicopter gunship rockets at a paraplegic was probably the last straw for a lot of people. I doubt the Bush administration has any credibility anywhere in the region. That it is going to “reshape” anything when its HQ in Baghdad is under routine rocket attack seems to me a little unlikely.