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Ramzy Baroud: Managed Democracy

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    Washington s Prospective Policy in the Middle East Managed Democracy Ramzy Baroud June 30, 2005
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 14, 2005
      Washington's Prospective Policy in the Middle East

      Managed Democracy
      Ramzy Baroud
      June 30, 2005

      US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's highly publicized tour in the
      Middle East, Asia and Europe carried with it little or no surprises.
      But even then, one must not altogether write off the possibility of
      some lessons to be learned, even if indirectly.

      The Middle East leg of her journey, which lasted from June 17-20, was
      saturated with the same kind of duplicitous rhetoric that defined her
      legacy during President George W. Bush's first term in office. She
      verbally reprimanded and threatened Syria and Iran for not fully and
      unconditionally embracing democratic reforms, while expressing
      "encouragement" regarding the Palestinian, Iraqi and Lebanese endeavor
      for democracy, following the supposed democratic elections enjoyed by
      these countries.

      However, those who are even slightly familiar with the logic of US
      foreign policy in the Middle East need not bother to decode Rice's
      rhetoric or the rhetoric of any US official when it comes to the
      Middle East and the United States' substantial interests there. US
      allies in the region - i.e. those who unreservedly labor to serve and
      cater to American economic, military and strategic interests - are
      either entirely immune to any criticism or, if criticism is
      inevitable, their most horrific sins are curtailed to barely warrant a
      few mild words of censure.

      While, on the other hand, the sins of America's foes are augmented,
      embellished and often right-out fabricated to necessitate diplomatic
      pressure, economic sanctions and as a "last resort", war. Iraq was an
      example of the latter, while Iran's current political attitude toward
      US interests in the region is qualifying it for the important, albeit
      ominous role of being the Middle East's most formidable boogeyman
      that, in one way or another, must be taken down.

      This logic, simply put, is absurd. While there is no doubt that both
      Egypt and Iran are redoubtable violators of human rights, who can
      possibly contest that Iran, despite all its blunders, has taken more
      steps toward democracy than has Egypt? This is not to deny that Iran's
      democracy will never be complete without an open and intimidation-free
      electoral system, which impedes the state's meddling regarding who is
      qualified and who is not to run for parliament or for office, what
      party agenda is acceptable and what is not, and so forth. Nonetheless,
      civil society in Iran and the direct involvement of the populace in
      determining the countries' internal affairs, despite its many
      hindrances, is vastly more advanced than that of Egypt, where mass
      arrests, crackdowns, and torture are all too common.

      Yet while Iran received disproportionately higher criticism than any
      other country during Rice's trip, Bush's closest trustee strangely
      declared that Egypt's "President Mubarak has unlocked the door for
      change.", even though, ironically, the Egyptian president has reigned
      Egypt for 23 years and fully intends to carry out another term of
      authoritarian rule.

      This is of course another "encouraging" sign according to the flimsy
      logic of the Bush administration's newly forged doctrine on how to
      manage the Middle East. Washington's new style manual is based on its
      comprehension of two inevitable scenarios. First, there is the United
      Nations-sponsored Arab Human Rights Development Report of 2004, which
      warns that "power will be transformed through armed violence" if Arab
      states don't adopt serious political reforms and significantly raise
      the margin of freedom in their societies.

      But the second scenario is equally harmful to US Middle East policy,
      for a genuine democracy will most likely bring to power the repressed
      anti-US forces dotting the Arab world. After all, opposition groups
      within Egypt, which are very much in favor of democracy, reforms and
      civil society, refused to meet with secretary Rice during her stopover
      in Egypt.

      "We are against the US policies in the region and we cannot have any
      negotiations with them, and all the opposition parties in the country
      agree on what I'm saying," Georges Isaac, a co-founder of the Egyptian
      Movement for Change, known as Kefaya (Enough), told Arab News. "If we
      want political reform to be implemented in the country we want to do
      it ourselves, not to be imposed or to be even discussed with Rice."

      Washington's undeclared new dogma professes a new Middle East policy
      that works both toward avoiding complete political meltdown, chaos and
      violence throughout the Arab world - evidently very harmful
      considering the United States' disastrous debacle in Iraq - while
      trying to maintain first-class rapport with friendly regimes; key
      phrase: managed democracy.

      Managed democracy is as superficial as it is cosmetic, but it can work
      miracles, or so Washington believes. Not that such democracy is a new
      phenomenon. It was, in fact, the subject of awesome experiments
      immediately following the end of World War II, initiated in Europe,
      extending to Central America and was later utilized in Eastern Europe
      following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

      But in my opinion, nothing shall mount to the challenge facing the US
      government in managing democracy in the Middle East, not only because
      of the formidable task of cosmetically reforming a plethora of
      countries all at once, but most urgently because of the zero
      credibility that Washington enjoys anywhere in the Arab or Muslim world.

      Washington seems to be counting on the fact that the Arab peoples are
      so desperately fed up with their governments, that they are willing to
      forge alliances with whomever to get rid of these oppressive and
      degenerate regimes. True, but what Washington is failing to factor in
      is the fact that, according to common political dogmas in the Middle
      East, the oppressiveness of the regimes can hardly be separated from
      Washington's own regional designs that compelled a decades-long sinful
      matrimony between oppressive rulers and equally domineering American
      foreign policy.

      Thus an American withdrawal from Iraq and an end to the unbalanced
      policy toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are often amalgamated
      with the Arab peoples' most pertinent demands for political rights,
      human rights and civil liberties. Perhaps Washington is too arrogant
      to grasp this logic; nonetheless it is prevailing and most fitting.

      While Condoleezza Rice's Middle East trip appeared benign and casual,
      in reality it was tantamount to an official declaration of
      Washington's prospective Middle East approach. This approach as I see
      it, is a blend between the US' traditional policies of designations -
      friendly allies vs. evil enemies - and carefully premeditated
      "democratic" reforms that uphold the status quo without tipping the
      political balance in favor of those critical of Washington's regional
      role and foreign policy. And in the Middle East, they are many.

      Ramzy Baroud, a veteran journalist, is editor in chief of
      PalestineChronicle.com. He is the author of the upcoming book, "A
      Force to Be Reckoned With: Writings on the Second Palestinian Uprising."



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