Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Democracy in the Middle East: A realistic ambition or a pipe dream?

By Kash Kheirkhah

US Secretary of States Condoleezza Rice's op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post is a clear acknowledgement of the inefficiency of what the US Secretary of States refers to as " US doctrines and debates of the past" toward the region which has now become the world's hotbed of terrorism :

The Middle East.For more than half a century, U.S. Foreign policy in the Middle East was based on "maintaining the status quo". Under the specter of Cold War, pro-Americanism in foreign policy turned into the only criteria by which the US measured its relationship with the local regimes. All they were required to do was make sure US economic and political interests in the region were protected against the immediate threat of Soviet Union. In return, Washington's post-World War policy of spreading the "cause of freedom" would take a back seat to the oppressive domestic policies of these regimes.

This unfortunate US diplomacy toward the Middle Eastern regimes step by tragic step led to what Dr Rice calls the "freedom deficit", a deficit which most unfortunately has, over time, turned the Middle East into a breeding ground for unprovoked terror and blind ideological hatred:

"The 'freedom deficit' in the broader Middle East provides fertile ground for the growth of an ideology of hatred so vicious and virulent that it leads people to strap suicide bombs to their bodies and fly airplanes into buildings. When the citizens of this region cannot advance their interests and redress their grievances through an open political process, they retreat hopelessly into the shadows to be preyed upon by evil men with violent designs. In these societies, it is illusory to encourage economic reform by itself and hope that the freedom deficit will work itself out over time."

What opened the US eyes to the failures of its previous doctrine and subsequently caused a major shift in US foreign policy approach toward the Middle East, in particular, was the tragedy of 9/11 which proved the US could no longer ensure its own national security without changing the "status quo" in the Middle East.

The Greater Middle Eastern Initiative was born into existence in late 2003 with that vision in mind : To promote democracy and good governance, build a knowledge society; and expand economic opportunities in the world's most vulnerable region to poverty, corruption, ethnic conflicts and radical ideologies. To quote Dr Rice again:

"Our experience of this new world leads us to conclude that the fundamental character of regimes matters more today than the international distribution of power. Insisting otherwise is imprudent and impractical. The goal of our statecraft is to help create a world of democratic, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system."

It is far too soon for any certainties about the ultimate outcome of the US ambitious vision for the Middle East. In Iraq, a brutal insurgency is still doing all it can to wreak havoc with a democratically-elected government. Syria is still defiant of international demands to stop sponsoring terrorism in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestinian territories, and Iran is still pursuing its nuclear plans and continue to suppress its people and their wish for freedom and democracy.

Still, considering what we have seen happening in much of the region in the past two years, the Greater Middle East is definitely entering a new era of reform. It could take years if not decades to replace a culture of despotism and terror with one of freedom and democracy but the process that started with regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq could come to fruition in the not too distant future, if the United States stands firm on its promise of helping the peoples of the Middle East build their own democracies and "govern themselves in liberty."

Update - President Bush: "Elections in Iraq, a watershed moment in the story of freedom."

...The story of freedom has just begun in the Middle East. And when the history of these days is written, it will tell how America once again defended its own freedom by using liberty to transform nations from bitter foes to strong allies. And history will say that this generation, like generations before, laid the foundation of peace for generations.
to come.