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Written by Louay Safi   
Dec 06, 2004 at 02:00 PM
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Democracy, Freedom, and Imposition
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How Best Can the US Effect Democratization in the Middle East

Democratization of the Middle East is now the official policy of the Bush Administration. This is a welcome departure from the “stability” approach that characterized US policy toward the region throughout the better part of the last century. Although never clearly and openly stated, the Bush Administration has finally recognized the intimate connection between global terrorism and the authoritarian regime system of the Middle East, and decided to make “democracy” and “freedom” the cornerstone of its policy towards the Middle East. The words “freedom” and “democracy” are most dominant terms used by President Bush and his advisors and lieutenants. Fighting terrorism and advancing freedom and democracy are the main declared objectives of the US intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yet efforts to advance freedom and democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan compete with other less pronounced but apparently more important objectives: extending US hegemony in the region, and using US overwhelming power to preempt and contain rogue states. This linkage between the war on terrorism and the advancement of democracy on the one hand, and singling out less cooperative and friendly regimes for rough treatment makes many observers of Middle East politics uncomfortable. Using overwhelming force and relying heavily on military power to bring about democracy raise a host of issues as to whether the advocates of democratization have thought through the socio-political conditions presupposed by democratic governments, or whether they have examined the role of the United States in advancing authoritarianism in the Middle East.

 A close examination of the Bush Administration strategy to advance democracy and freedom reveals serious problems and flaws:

¨      Incongruence between intentions and actions, and between self-perception and perception of others.

¨      Competing goals pursued by the Administration, most significantly advancing democracy and preserving hegemony.

¨      Lack of clarity in the principles that guide US foreign policy toward the Middle Eat, including conflating terrorism with national struggles for freedom and independence.

¨      Inconsistency in appealing to international law and Security Council resolutions, and the mixed messages the US government sends to Middle East actors.

¨      Ambivalence in relating national interests with moral values, including concerns about human rights, freedom, and democracy.

The Bush Doctrine of Military Preeminence

The current Middle East policy has been shaped by the principles annunciated by George W. Bush in a June 1, 2002, during a speech to the graduating class of West Point.

  • The new policy stresses the need to promote democracy and freedom in all regions of the world, and insisted, as Bush stated at West Point, that "America has no empire to extend or utopia to establish. We wish for others only what we wish for ourselves -- safety from violence, the rewards of liberty, and the hope for a better life."
  • The policy made it clear that the US intends to take actions as necessary to continue its status as the world's sole military superpower. As Bush put it: "America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge."
  • The policy further insisted that the US has the right to pursue unilateral military action when acceptable multi-lateral solutions cannot be found.

Combining preemption with unilateralism has already led to the two major wars in which the US is currently involved: Afghanistan and Iraq. President Bush and senior officials insist that the two countries are only the tip of the iceberg, stressing that Al-Qaida terrorists are spread in over 60 countries, and underscoring the long term nature of the war on terror, which could run over many years, even decades. Given the cost of this war, in both human and economic terms, and given the fact that the Bush Administration’s response to global terrorism has so far led to the rise in terrorist incidents around the world, as the State Department was forced to revise its early assessments and declare 2003 the worst year in terrorism record, a quick examination of US policy toward the Middle East, and the current strategy to fighting terrorism is in order.

Incongruence between Intentions and Actions

US foreign policy is often characterized by American leaders and foreign policy analysts as one of benevolence and good will toward foreign countries. American actions toward other nations are frequently expressed in such terms as the provision of foreign aide, the promotion of human rights, and the defense and strengthening of democratic rule. President Bush’s assertion in his West Point speech that "America has no empire to extend or utopia to establish" is indicative of the overwhelming American self-perception.

Indeed, American leaders have always been careful to distance US policies and actions from those associated with empires and empire building. A nation that came to existence by rejecting imperialistic policies and fighting imperialist armies under the banner of freedom and democracy, the United States has never been comfortable to send its troops to control other nations. And despite its short flirtations with colonial adventures in the Philippines, the United States has managed to stay away from ruling other counties directly.

Still, the United States’ projection of power in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East is often subsumed by popular movements in those regions under the rubric of imperialism or neo-colonialism. In fact, the charge of imperialism was made against US foreign policy by one of its brilliant children. John Dewey, a great American philosopher and sociologist of international repute, accused American political leaders in an article published in 1927 in The Republic, under the title “Imperialism is Easy,” of this very embarrassing stigma. Dewey was aware of the dichotomy of action and intention in American foreign policy, and, therefore, stressed that “[i]mperialism is a result, not a purpose or plan.”[1] He went on to argue that American actions towards Mexico have all the features of imperialism, even when the American government acts to protect the freedom of movement and private property of ordinary American businesses. He, thus, concluded that imperialism “can be prevented only by regulating the conditions out of which it proceeds.”[2]

The Tension between American Ideals and Interests

Political leaders, mindful of the public abhorring of imperialist objectives, have always coached the aim of military adventures in a language that stress democracy and human rights. The sad reality, though, is that concerns for human rights have been aligned with US national interests to the point where the overwhelming perception today is that the US government uses human rights as an instrument for advancing national interests.

The Heritage Foundation (HF) published in 1996 a foreign policy paper entitled Restoring American Leadership: US Foreign Policy and Defense Blueprint. The paper brings to focus and makes explicit what has been silently practiced and implicitly upheld by successive US administrations, beginning with the Nixon’s. The Blueprint urges US leaders to champion liberty around the world. “By nurturing this dream of liberty for others,” HF contends, “the United States i


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