View Full Version : What Bush Got Right In The Middle East


Nimrod's Son
03-09-2005, 01:06 AM
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7103517/site/newsweek/

This is an interesting column by Fareed Zakaria from Newsweek, usually recognized as moderate or slightly left leaning.

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What Bush Got Right
Freedom's march: The president has been right on some big questions. Now, if he can get the little stuff right, he'll change the world
Rising storm: Lebanese fill the streets, calling for withdrawal of Syria's troops

By Fareed Zakaria
NewsweekMarch 14 issue - Events in the Middle East over the past few weeks have confirmed the theories of that great scholar of the region, Thomas (Tip) O'Neill. The late speaker of the House's most memorable aphorism was "All politics is local." It's true even of the politics of rage. As long-repressed societies in the Middle East open up, we are discovering that their core concerns are not global but local. Most ordinary Arabs, it turns out, are not consumed by grand theories about the clash between Islam and the West, or the imperialism of American culture, or even the Palestinian cause. When you let the Lebanese speak, they want to talk about Syria's occupation of their country. When Iraqis got a chance to congregate, they voted for a government, not an insurgency. When a majority of Palestinians were heard from, they endorsed not holy terror to throw Israel into the sea, but practical diplomacy to get a state.



Tomorrow, were the Egyptian Street to voice its views—I mean the real Egyptian Street, not President Mubarak's state-controlled media—we would probably discover that its deepest discontent is directed not at the president of the United States, but at the president of Egypt. Perhaps Arabs and Muslims are not some strange species after all. It is their rulers who are strange.


The other noted political scientist who has been vindicated in recent weeks is George W. Bush. Across New York, Los Angeles and Chicago—and probably Europe and Asia as well—people are nervously asking themselves a question: "Could he possibly have been right?" The short answer is yes. Whether or not Bush deserves credit for everything that is happening in the Middle East, he has been fundamentally right about some big things.


Bush never accepted the view that Islamic terrorism had its roots in religion or culture or the Arab-Israeli conflict. Instead he veered toward the analysis that the region was breeding terror because it had developed deep dysfunctions caused by decades of repression and an almost total lack of political, economic and social modernization. The Arab world, in this analysis, was almost unique in that over the past three decades it had become increasingly unfree, even as the rest of the world was opening up. His solution, therefore, was to push for reform in these lands.


The theory did not originate with Bush's administration. Others had made this case: scholars like Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, the Arab intellectuals who wrote the United Nations' now famous "Arab Human Development Report" and even this writer. (Three weeks after 9/11 I wrote an essay titled "Why Do They Hate Us?" that made this case.) These ideas were gaining some ground in the Arab world, especially after 9/11. But Bush's adoption of them was absolutely crucial because he had the power to pressure the region's regimes. Efforts to change the dynamics of the Middle East had always collapsed in the past as its wily rulers would delay, obstruct and obfuscate. Bush has pushed them with persistence and, increasingly, he is trying to build a broader international effort. The results might surprise.

Repressive regimes are often extremely fragile. Syria is the perfect example. Bashar al-Assad's rule rests on the narrowest base of fear and coercion. His ruling clique, mostly coming from the country's small Alawite sect, is well aware that it lacks support in their society. That's why it is so easily rattled and why the events in Lebanon could snowball into something much, much bigger. The other Arab regimes are less fragile. Mubarak, while unpopular, is not despised. The Saudi royal family is more stable than many think. It uses money, marriage and connections—and yet more money—to create an elaborate patronage network that sustains it. But everywhere, there is pressure to change.

The Middle East would do well with incremental but persistent reform, as is taking place in Jordan, Qatar and Dubai. But in too many places, small, gradual reforms have been a smoke screen for doing nothing. Economic reforms are the most crucial because they modernize the whole society. But they are also the most difficult because they threaten the power and wealth of the oligarchies that run these countries. So far there has been more talk than action on this front.

People have often wished that the president had traveled more over the years. But Bush's capacity to imagine a different Middle East may actually be related to his relative ignorance of the region. Had he traveled to the Middle East and seen its many dysfunctions, he might have been disheartened. Freed from looking at the day-to-day realities, Bush maintained a vision of what the region could look like.

But therein lies the danger. It is easier to imagine liberal democracy than to achieve it. Ronald Reagan imagined a Soviet Union that was politically and economically free. Twenty years later, except for the Baltic states, not one country of the former Soviet Union has achieved that. There have been more than 50 elections in Africa in the past 15 years—some as moving as those in Iraq, had we bothered to notice them—but only a few of those countries can be described as free. Haiti has had elections and American intervention, and still has foreign troops stationed there. Yet only a few of these elections have led to successful and free societies.

Every country, culture and people yearns for freedom. But building real, sustainable democracy with rights and protections is complex. In Lebanon, for example, the absence of Syria will not mean the presence of a stable democracy. It was the collapse of Lebanon's internal political order that triggered the Syrian intervention in 1976. That problem will have to be solved, even after Syrian forces go home. In Iraq, the end of the old order has produced growing tendencies toward separatism and intolerance. Building democracy takes patience, deep and specific knowledge and, most important, the ability to partner with the locals.

If Bush is to be credited for the benefits of his policies, he must also take responsibility for their costs. Over the past three years, his administration has racked up enormous costs, many of which could easily have been lowered or avoided altogether. The pointless snubbing of allies, the brusque manner in which it went to war in Iraq, the undermanned occupation and the stubborn insistence (until last summer) on pursuing policies that were fueling both an insurgency and anti-Americanism in Iraq—all have taken their toll in thousands of American and Iraqi lives and almost $300 billion.


Perhaps an even more lasting cost is the broad and deep shifts in public opinion against America around the world. Look at countries as disparate as Britain, Poland, Turkey and Japan, all allies of the United States. In every one of them, public views have changed significantly in the past few years, and being pro-American is now a political liability. Tony Blair, once the most popular British leader in decades, has fallen far in public esteem, largely because of his unflinching support for the Bush administration.

For most countries, the debate over Iraq was not really about Iraq. It was about how America would wield its enormous global power. And to many countries, it seemed that the Bush administration was doing it irresponsibly. On this front, the signs from Bush's second term are heartening. In the Middle East, however, everything will depend on success on the ground. If, five years from now, Iraq, Afghanistan and perhaps an independent Palestine and a democratic Lebanon are thriving countries with modern political and economic systems, America will be honored and respected—and the talk of anti-American terror will have dissipated considerably. If, on the other hand, these countries are chaotic and troubled—more like Central Asia than Central Europe—people there will blame America. Remember, all politics is local.

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

DeviousJ
03-12-2005, 04:29 PM
I don't know, is the article really saying much? All it talks about with Bush is that he believed terror was being bred as a result of the conditions there, but later on it says he was actually ignorant of the region and was largely unaware of the realities. And Saddam or no, before the first Gulf War Iraq was a very developed country in a number of respects, especially for the region

Future Boy
03-12-2005, 07:27 PM
Hey, is it written from the standpoint of what we originally went there for, or the bullshit "freedom is on the march" stuff that he was peddling around after things went badly? I ust dont feel like reading it yet.

wally
03-12-2005, 10:45 PM
if Bush truly understood the middle east, he would do something about the repressive regime of Saudi Arabia. change there would actually mean something. change in Iraq never happened because there was never an opposition big enough to handle the mess Sadaam brought on the country.

Mariner
03-12-2005, 11:00 PM
if Bush truly understood anything, he would do everything he could to turn america into the world leader in weaning itself off of oil

DeviousJ
03-13-2005, 05:36 PM
Originally posted by Mariner
if Bush truly understood anything, he would do everything he could to turn america into the world leader in weaning itself off of oil

Well, isn't the US' economy really strongly tied into petrodollars at the moment? I can see why wanting to keep the status quo would make sense until the defecit's lessened, if the US starts to push for a less oil-dependent society it might encourage others to do the same (not to mention it might piss the opec countries off enough to make them consider dropping the dollar)

Mariner
03-13-2005, 06:17 PM
Originally posted by DeviousJ


Well, isn't the US' economy really strongly tied into petrodollars at the moment? I can see why wanting to keep the status quo would make sense until the defecit's lessened, if the US starts to push for a less oil-dependent society it might encourage others to do the same (not to mention it might piss the opec countries off enough to make them consider dropping the dollar)

Well, at this point it is not wise to have our economy tied so strongly to petrodollars for a number of reasons, regardless of where we are in terms of oil depletion. Most of OPEC already dislikes the U.S. the way a pimp dislikes his hoes, so it's not like anyone should be too worried about ruining that relationship. And the dollar needs to be "dropped" badly, and it's going to happen whether anyone likes it or not; the entire global economy is wrapped around itself in the most unhealthy ways, and the dollar is at the center of a lot of it. I say bring it on. It will be ugly but it is inevitable.

If we want to be profitable in the long term then we have to get past these looming problems. Doing anything else is like signing up to work on the Titanic 'cause the pay for the first few days of the voyage will be great.

Nimrod's Son
03-13-2005, 06:21 PM
Originally posted by DeviousJ


Well, isn't the US' economy really strongly tied into petrodollars at the moment? Yes. Especially in South America

Unfortunately the US may have to bite the bullet on it and just deflate the dollar a bit

DeviousJ
03-13-2005, 09:12 PM
Well that's what I mean, obviously it needs to happen but the longer the whole process can be dragged out the less of an impact it will have on the US economy. Not that there aren't other factors which could bring the whole things down, so it does need to be dealt with as soon as possible. Increasing the defecit isn't exactly the best way to go about it though.

Incidentally I know next to nothing about economics so feel free to jump in and school me here

Nimrod's Son
03-14-2005, 05:15 AM
Originally posted by DeviousJ
Well that's what I mean, obviously it needs to happen but the longer the whole process can be dragged out the less of an impact it will have on the US economy. Not that there aren't other factors which could bring the whole things down, so it does need to be dealt with as soon as possible. Increasing the defecit isn't exactly the best way to go about it though.

Incidentally I know next to nothing about economics so feel free to jump in and school me here Defecits are never a problem.

Debts can be

A defecit is essentially taking a loan in a way

A debt is essentially owing money to pay back

We do need to pay down the debt, but actually, a weaker dollar can make it easier to pay down a debt, since the dollar would be worth less but the dollar amount of the debt would remain the same

A weaker dollar will cause a weaker euro and a weaker yen, and eventually, a worldwide recession. However it would be a "paper recession" which would not be disasterous

Mariner is 100% right though when he said the best thing the US can do is no longer rely on foreign oil, which would mean oil, period.

I hate to being up a girlie mag here, but there's a very interesting article in this month's Maxim about vegetable oil fuel