Thursday, March 22, 2007

As Bush Loses Leverage in Middle East, Democracy Going Nowhere

Was the invasion in Iraq really about democracy? I don't know the answer. Democracy certainly was never the sole reason we went to Iraq. The cynical side of me concludes more and more that it was just public relations to distract Americans from the Bush Administration's many less than admirable reasons for the invasion. And then there's the fact that several of the administration's goals were in fact contradictory. Abu Ghraib and setting up Paul Bremer as a viceroy was about as contradictory as you can get if democracy was the goal.

One sign of Bush's failed foreign policy is simply the fact that democracy is not faring all that well in the broader Middle East. There have been several pessimistic stories about Egypt in the last couple of years when it comes to democracy. Here's a post by Kevin Drum of The Washinton Monthy on the subject:
DEMOCRACY DEMOTION IN EGYPT....The Egyptian ruling party has passed a raft of constitutional changes and has set a date for a referendum to approve them: March 26, five days from now. Why so fast? Because that gives the opposition no time to mobilize protests. Marc Lynch explains the proposed modifications:
The changes are blatantly, almost absurdly, authoritarian and antidemocratic. Judicial oversight of elections will be eliminated....Contested Presidential elections will be virtually impossible....Parties based on religion would be explicitly banned....the regime, under NDP control, will retain an iron grip on the licensing of political parties...."Counter-terrorism" provisions will render a whole range of highly controversial, intrusive security practices Constitutional, making the de facto security state into a de jure security state.

One thing to keep in mind is that as America's credibility has fallen around the world, and as Bush's negative numbers have shot up in nation after nation, there is little patience in the broader Middle East these days for Bush Administration figures who wag their fingers at lack of progress on democracy or human rights. This is a big deal. We're not talking about a political cycle that will change with a Democratic president or a different kind of Republican president coming to office. The damage that Bush has done will take time to repair.

There are also growing problems in Pakistan. It's not certain which way things will go in the next year or two or three. Musharraf is not exactly a great example of democracy and yet there is a real danger that Pakistani extremists may soon gain the upper hand. Ahmed Rashid of The Washington Post writes on the growing crisis in Pakistan:
In the rapidly unfolding crisis in Pakistan, no matter what happens to President Pervez Musharraf -- whether he survives politically or not -- he is a lame duck. He is unable to rein in Talibanization in Pakistan or guide the country toward a more democratic future.

Since March 9, when Musharraf suspended the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, public protests have escalated every day -- as has a violent crackdown by the police and intelligence agencies on the media and the nation's legal fraternity.


Musharraf is now too weak to pursue policies that could keep his back-stabbers in check, restore his credibility at home and abroad, and pursue his agenda of remaining in power for the next five years.

It is far better that he revert to the promise he made when he seized power in 1999: to return the country to democracy. ...

It is in the interest of the United States to support such an exit strategy. The military can no longer counter the phenomenal growth of Islamic extremism in Pakistan through offensives alone. What the country needs is greater political consensus and a popularly elected government, and to replace the extortions of the mullahs with the return of day-to-day parliamentary politics. ...

I can't emphasize often enough the blunder that Bush and Cheney made by taking their eyes off of Afghanistan and putting Pakistan on the same back burner. Iraq was contained; it was Afghanistan and Pakistan that needed the attention of the Bush Administration. Now it's uncertain what's going to happen in Pakistan and what kind of government and policies will follow.

By going to Iraq, the United States has lost enormous leverage in foreign affairs.

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Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Right you are about the disastrous Bush blunders and their dire consequences. Your points about Pakistan, Egypt and general regard for democracy in the region are well taken, too.

However, regarding terrorism and Islamic extremism, both antithetical to democracy, Saudi Arabia must not be forgotten. The kingdom remains a twilight zone where organizations and individuals conduct pro-terrorist, Islamic extremist business as usual, mostly unmolested by the prince's government or external forces.

This parallels the situation in Pakistan, but only somewhat. The Saudis appear to put more money and more-sophisticated operatives into the Islamic-terrorist movement than the Pakistanis.

For about three years I've held that we've got to develop ways of dealing effectively with the internal demons of Mideast countries whose central governments are nominally and ineffectually our allies.

It's a tough problem, but until we solve it we're not going to get very far toward eliminating the terrorist threat. Neither will we get very far promoting democracy in the Mideast.

10:36 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

S.W., your point about Saudi Arabia is well taken. We have a complicated, schizoid relationship with them (as we did with Chiang Kai Shek and Franco, just to name two). And the bizarre tilt in the Bush Administration back towards Iraqi Sunnis is just more evidence that we need to disengage from Iraq and its civil war.

It's been said that Tony Blair is overawed by Bush but it can also be said that Bush is overawed by Prince Bandar, Saudi Arabia's former ambassador to the US. Cheney and Bush really are married to oil.

12:23 AM  

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