‘US Greater ME initiative may fail if poorly presented’
WASHINGTON: A sweeping proposal by the government of President George W Bush to promote democratic reforms in the Middle East has many positives, but also serious gaps and may be crippled if poorly introduced, according to some US analysts.
Bush wants to make this “Greater Middle East” initiative a top agenda item at the upcoming Group of Eight meeting — the summit of the worldd’s seven main industrial nations and Russia — to be held in June in the southern US state of Georgia..
Details of the initiative are still being hammered out, but the goal is for it to be the long-term regional peaceful component to US military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The initiative consists of a broad “package” of incentives that encourages regional democratic, social and economic reforms in the region. The idea is to improve conditions across the region in an attempt to eliminate frustrations and social injustices that provide fertile ground for terrorism and extremist ideology.
Washington also wants to involve the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in this effort.
Many specialists are happy to see that fundamental problems of the Middle East, including its misunderstandings with Western nations, are being addressed in a comprehensive manner, comparable to the reconstruction of Europe and Japan after World War II, or Eastern Europe after the collapse of communism.
But initial reactions to the initiative in many Arab capitals has been one of mistrust or even hostility. Critics say the initiative is too condescending, too centred on Western values, and does not address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I think that talking about participatory government and the rights of people is long overdue in the Middle East,” said Judith Kipper, a Middle East specialist with the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.
“Arabs and others know very well what we did in Eastern Europe (after the fall of communism), and we’ve never even spoken about it in the Middle East until after September 11,” she said.
And it wasn’t until after the 2001 terror attacks that it became a priority for Washington to address issues of why people in the Arab and Muslim world hate the United States so much. But to present the initiative at the meeting of the club of richest nations of the world could cripple it at birth.
“Doing it as a pronouncement at the G8 will confirm the local suspicions of imperialism, that it’s the Judeo-Christian Western countries that are going to impose the Western style of governance, or try to,” Kipper said.
For Marina Ottaway, a specialist in democratisation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the United States also faces a frightening lack of credibility as a pro-democratic advocate in the Arab world.
“Although many Americans may feel that America’s bona fides as a pro-democratic actor are unquestionable, the stubborn fact remains that many people in other parts of the world, especially the Middle East, have a different opinion,” Ottaway wrote in research that appeared in March. “If left un-addressed, this credibility gap will undermine even the most well-intentioned efforts by the United States to promote positive political change in the region.” —AFP