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January 03, 2003 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-01-03

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Bringing Democracy
To Desert Despots

Arabia, whose leaders have
done their utmost to snuff out
s democracy the answer
every flicker of democracy.
for a part of the world
The Bush administration,
that is plunging deeper
the lead of its pred-
into the abyss of author-
to cut
itarian rule and religious
Mubarak tremendous slack.
Increasingly, that's the view
Sure he's repressive, officials
of the Bush administration.
but it's repression in
The recent appointment of
of fighting Islamic
Elliot Abrams as top White
Spec ial •
House Middle East adviser
Comm entag
The Saudi regime is equally
and the announcement of a
but Washington
new initiative to promote civil
continues to view it as a critical ally
society throughout the Arab world are
and to protect it from criticism of its
just two indications of the shift.
longtime support of many of the same
But it is far from clear whether the
terrorists U.S. forces are now battling.
administration means to apply this
But the Saudis have America over a
standard universally; if it does, it
— millions of barrels.
would mean an upheaval in relations
accident that the Saudi gov-
with key U.S. allies in the Middle East.
ernment is cranking up oil production
Arid while the long-term goal of
in an effort to increase our depend-
exporting democracy may be a noble
ence on their oil, knowing full well
one, rising Middle East violence may
that Americans have no interest in giv-
demand more immediate remedies,
ing up their SUVs to fight terrorism,
including renewed U.S. efforts aimed
much less to bring democracy to the
at peace between Israel and her neigh-
Saudi people.
White House officials say the shift in
It would be nice if Syria, Egypt,
focus to democracy building will be
Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian
gradual and cautious. But if gradualism
Authority started electing leaders with
is merely an excuse to make exceptions
votes, not bullets, but a besieged Israel
for certain desert despots, the policy
may not be able to wait that long.
have little success in spreading
The focus on democracy building
throughout the Arab world.
has been an increasingly prominent
In Israel, the U.S. call for Arab
thrust of U.S. foreign policy since the
democratization has been a welcome
arrival of a new administration top-
one. In part that reflects simple reality:
heavy with neo-conservatives like
Abrams, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz Egypt, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere have
for years defused domestic unrest by
and Douglas Feith.
redirecting the rage of their citizens to
That coincides with a major shift in
favorite punching bag —
Israel, where major figures like Knesset
member Natan Sharansky now insist
Making these countries more demo-
that negotiations with ruthless dicta-
cratic, many believe, will mean there
tors can't succeed.
will be less of a need to whip up an
In Washington, momentum for the
irrational hatred of Israel as a diversion.
new policy has surged because of the
But the heightened Israeli focus on
need to justify war against Iraq.
democracy is also a pretext by
Administration defenders argue that
to put off substantive talks
toppling Saddam Hussein will open the
into the indefinite future.
floodgates to regional democratization.
The problem facing Israel is this: If
And that, the theory goes, will make
it waits for its neighbors to move fur-
it possible to pursue genuine peace in
ther down the road to democracy, it
a region where Israel is the only
may be guaranteeing additional
decades of terrorism, international iso-
But there is a big complication:
lation and economic decline.
What to do about Egypt and Saudi
That means the new democracy ini-
tiative can't replace strong U.S. efforts
James D. Besser is a Washington
to find some formula for curbing the
columnist and reporter. His e mail
bloody violence that is wracking Israel
address is jbesser@att.net
today. ❑


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