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 outright 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
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
Thus an American withdrawal from Iraq and an end to the unbalanced policy toward
the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are often amalgamated with the Arab people's
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's 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.