So long as the deceit ran along quiet and monotonous, all of us let ourselves be deceived, abetting it unawares or maybe through cowardice...
William Faulkner
Original Blog US Casualties Contact Donate

August 7, 2006

Baghdad, Beirut, Doha

Trade-talks failure a blow
to US strategy in Mideast

by Leon Hadar

In addition to being the capitals of three Middle Eastern countries, Baghdad (Iraq), Beirut (Lebanon), and Doha (Qatar) have something else in common, and it's President George W. Bush's global policy. While the violence taking place in Baghdad and Beirut is a direct consequence of the collapse of Bush's Middle East policy and much of its geo-strategic approach, the breakdown of the Doha round of trade talks is a reflection of the failure of the Bush administration to project U.S. leadership in the global economic arena. If Washington does not take immediate steps to reevaluate and re-energize its role in global affairs, then not only the United States but the entire international system could be threatened.

Clearly, the Doha Round was a way to link America's strategy to promote its interests and values in the Middle East, the efforts to continue to liberalize global trade and the U.S.-led war on terrorism. In fact, one of the reasons that the latest round of trade negotiations was launched in the capital of one of the most prosperous economies in the Middle East after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was to demonstrate that contrary to al-Qaeda's ideology, Islam and capitalism were compatible, and that an economy like that of Qatar, committed as it is to the principles of free trade, can thrive at the center of the Arab Middle East.

Moreover, the message coming out of the post-9/11 Doha meeting was that liberalizing global trade, which creates the conditions for economic growth in the Third World, could also be the most effective way to weaken the appeal of Islamic radicalism. It was al-Qaeda and its terrorist networks – and not the Middle East and the Muslim world – that were not compatible with free markets and economic prosperity.

It is in this context that we have to consider the collapse of the talks in Geneva aimed at reaching a global market-opening agreement under the auspices of the World Trade Organization. Yes, the breakdown in the talks had to do with the technical and somewhat esoteric problems involving farm subsidies and related trade policies and their intertwining with domestic politics. But against the backdrop of the mess in Iraq and Lebanon and the inability of the U.S. and its allies to resolve the crises there, the decision to shelve the 5-year-old talks to dismantle market barriers provided a very dramatic and even tragic soundtrack to the current depressing Middle Eastern movie.

Indeed, the original ambition of the Doha Round was to produce an agreement by the end of 2004 and boost trade by as much as $800 billion, according to the World Bank. The bank has already scaled back its prediction of a trade accord's value to as little as $96 billion, and the current deadlock would threaten even this kind of modest gain. Estimates show that relatively open economies had a gross domestic product more than seven times higher, and grew at a rate more than eight times faster, than the least open economies. Hence the stalemate in the Doha Round will only make it more certain that it will be impossible to lift out of poverty millions of people in the Middle East (and elsewhere), ensuring that the environment in that region will be conducive to promoting Osama bin Laden's strategy of hatred and violence.

As most analysts agree, there is a lot of blame to go around in trying to figure out who was responsible for the collapse of the trade negotiations, including the refusal of India and Brazil to cut customs duties in industrial goods and the resistance by the European Union to cut its protective tariffs on commodity tariffs. But the main obstacle to the agreement was the failure by political leaders in the major economies to stand up to their respective agricultural lobbies. From that perspective, the Bush administration has been certainly guilty of pandering to American farmers by dispensing to them huge subsidies.

But in the previous global trade rounds, U.S. officials recognized that America's willingness to open its markets to foreign imports was not really a form of concession but a necessary step to be taken by the driving force in the multilateral trading system to ensure that it remains open. After all, it is the American economy that ends up enjoying the greatest benefits from global free trade. Unfortunately, the White House and Congress seem to be more inclined now to respond to protectionist pressure than to pursue the kind of trade policy that will benefit both the American and the global economy. And after the White House loses its fast-track trade negotiating authority next year, it will become even more difficult to push for trade liberalization in Washington.

There is no doubt that President George W. Bush's political weakness at home, resulting primarily from the growing costs of U.S. policies in Iraq and the Middle East, made it challenging for him to win domestic support for adopting a more courageous stand in Geneva, which could have prevented the collapse of the talks.

But the irony is that this blow to the Doha Round and the new obstacles to the process of free trade will make it even more difficult to ignite economic growth in the Middle East. That could prove to be a setback to the effort to deal with the core political problems affecting Baghdad and Beirut, or for that matter, Gaza, Cairo, and Amman.

Copyright © 2006 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

comments on this article?

  • The Pillorying of Charles Freeman and America's Loss

  • The Return of Realist Interventionism

  • Islam and the West:
    The Myth of the Green Peril

  • Israel's Not-So-Future Perfect

  • Beware of Big Ideas

  • Peace Not Near on Middle East's 'Time Horizon'

  • Who Lost the Middle East?

  • Military Humanitarianism Won't Help Myanmar

  • Need a (Nuclear) Umbrella? Call Hillary

  • Futile Surges and Bailouts

  • The Pitfalls of Forecasting Foreign Policy

  • Balance of Power Is Continuing to Shift From the US

  • Bye, Bye Tora Bora; Hello Subprime Mortgages

  • Neocons Won't Let Facts Stand in the Way of Iran 'Threat'

  • The Mideast Strategic- Consensus Fantasy

  • Look Who's Downplaying Iran's Nuclear Threat

  • US Cannot Force Regime Change in Pakistan

  • The Tunnel at the
    End of the Light

  • When Reel Tales Rewrite
    Real History

  • The Costs of Isolating Myanmar

  • The Surge Scam: Getting Rid of the Goat

  • Dangerous Delusions

  • Hayek's Insights Apply to Iraq War as Well

  • Time to Ignore the Middle East?

  • The Wolfowitz Touch – or How to Lose US Credibility

  • Iraq War May End With an Isolationist US

  • The Bush Legacy:
    Headed for Hisses?

  • Another Victim of the Anti-Neocon Revolution?

  • Is Washington Being Sidelined on the Middle East?

  • The Axis of Evil: And Then There Was One

  • Listen to the Foxes, Not Hedgehogs, on Iraq

  • Expanding the War to Iran: Another 'Urban Legend'?

  • A Military 'Surge' to a
    Political Nowhere

  • Brace Yourself for 2007

  • The Right Men, the Wrong President

  • The Baker-Hamilton Recommendations: Too Little, Too Late?

  • A Losing War, a Failed President, a Weak Dollar: We've Been Here Before

  • Rumors of Neoconservatism's Death Exaggerated

  • Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword

  • Can Jim Baker Save the American Establishment?

  • The Humbling of the Hegemon

  • A New Kind of Neocon?

  • US-Iran Shootout Is Inevitable

  • Has the Hegemon Been Humbled in Lebanon?

  • And the Loser Is... Everyone

  • Playing Cowboy – and Falling Off the Horse

  • Baghdad, Beirut, Doha

  • The US Can't Run the Show in the Middle East

  • 'Birth Pangs of a
    New Middle East'?

  • All Hell Breaks Loose in the Middle East

  • Is Anyone Still Listening to the Flaming Bush?

  • Israel's Failed Strategy: The Writing Is on the Wall

  • Nationalism: The Last Refuge of the Political Loser

  • The Ever Elusive 'Tipping Point' in Iraq

  • US Stumbles Onto Road to Diplomacy With Iran

  • Iraq Like Water Off a Duck's Back to Bush, Blair

  • Why Can't the US Apply Its New North Korea Policy to Iran?

  • US-Iran Ties: Is the Pen Mightier Than the Sword?

  • Bush's Slow Race
    in the Last Lap

  • If Only Bill Gates
    Made Foreign Policy

  • The War on Terror Is Over,
    and China Won

  • From the China Lobby to the Israel Lobby

  • 'Democratizing' Iran:
    A Case of Déjà Vu

  • Muddling Through

  • Saying Good Bye to Dubai; Bidding Adieu to Globalization?
  • Leon Hadar is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan). He is the former United Nations bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post and is currently the Washington correspondent for the Business Times of Singapore. Visit his blog.

    Reproduction of material from any original Antiwar.com pages
    without written permission is strictly prohibited.
    Copyright 2017 Antiwar.com