Friday, July 18, 2003

# Posted 10:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BRAVO, NYT: Kinds words for the NYT are not common on OxBlog, but today they are very much in order. On the op-ed page, the Times has published a column by Jordan's Prince Hassan which upraids the occupation forces in Iraq for their hypocritical rhetoric and cultural insensitivity. As Prince Hassan would have it,
The occupying coalition talks of transitional justice. But how can it explain the absence of an Iraqi court to deal with the affairs of its citizens? Other than a new, relatively powerless governing council, why are Iraq's people — inheritors of the cradle of human civilization itself and arguably some of the most sophisticated and advanced in the Arab world — having to watch while others impose their will and their plans on the country?

The people now in charge of Iraq, be they in Baghdad or Washington, seem to lack the cultural sensitivity and proper knowledge of Iraq and its neighbors, and to have little regard for the religious and spiritual values of the Iraqi people, lacking even an appreciation of Iraq's ecumenical and cosmopolitan past. Nor has the de facto authority shown any intention to put to use the intellectual and technical potential of the Iraqi people, causing even greater frustration, confusion and anger.
At this point you might be thinking to yourself, "So what? Trite anti-American banter is par for the course on the NYT op-ed page." But hold on just a second. What makes Prince Hassan's comments so delightful is that the Times has run his column side-by-side with this essay by Fawaz Gerges, in which the author blasts the monarchs and dictators of the Middle East for their shallow and hypocritical embrace of democratic rhetoric. I can only imagine the look on Hassan's face when he picked up his copy of the paper this morning...

Anyhow, Gerges main point (one that OxBlog made two months ago...) is that the emergence of democratic rhetoric in the Middle East is part and parcel of cynical strategy designed to placate the United States for long enough to ensure that the Bush Administration forgets its declared interest in promoting democracy in the region. Gerges observes that
Shamefully, President Bush and his senior aides spent most of their meeting last month with the leaders of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia pressing them to fight terrorism. What they should have been talking about was the importance of promoting democracy and reform. This emphasis sends the wrong message to Arab rulers and citizens by reinforcing the widely held perception that the United States uses democracy as a whip to punish its enemies, like Iraq, while doing business as usual with its autocratic allies.

Moreover, it is shortsighted. If America wants to end terrorism, it needs to understand that ultimately, democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law are the most effective way to undermine extremism. That change will come about only when the United States begins exerting pressure on its allies, not just its foes.
Even I have to admit that Gerges is going a little too far. There is no question that the President and his senior advisors had to focus on terrorism in their meetings with Middle Eastern heads of state. But what Bush and his advisors apparently failed to do was make it clear to those heads of state that (as Gerges says) promoting democracy and fighting terror are all part of the same war.

While that sort of rhetoric may sound nice on a website or on the NYT op-ed page, if the President of the United States is willing to make the exact same point in closed door meetings with Middle Eastern heads of state, it can have a tremendous impact. Much as the people of the Middle East seem to want greater freedom, their governments will not give it to them unless they have no other choice.
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