**** WORLD EXCLUSIVE! MUST CREDIT THE AARDVARK ****UPDATE: here's the link, as promised - go read the whole thing!
Okay, maybe not that big a deal, but I always wanted to do that Wonkette thing.
Anyway, I got hold of a pre-publication copy of an interesting piece in the next Foreign Affairs on Arab reform by Steven Cook (link to the full-text should be available on-line some time tomorrow, I hear): "The Right Way to Promote Arab Reform."
Cook argues that promoting Arab reform is an urgent security need, but that Bush's policies to date have been minimal and ineffective. Nothing surprising there. Cook then argues that "one principle should guide U.S. leaders: punitive policies have proven, time and again, to be of limited value or even counter-productive. Washington needs, instead, to adopt an incentive-based approach, one that will lead Arab countries to fundamentally revise their institutions."
This means abandoning both "reliance on civil society" and "pressure for economic reform", neither of which offers a viable route to real reform in his estimation (Amy Hawthorne had some similar thoughts on the civil society question last year). From this perspective, both the Middle East Partnership Initiative and the USAID development approaches are misguided; they might provide some nice returns on their own merits, but won't contribute to serious reform. Cook also correctly notes the simple problem that America's "dismal image in the Arab world" means that "many local activists refuse to work with Americans" - and, I would, those tend to be the most able, most popular, most independent local activists.
So what will work? Focusing on the "flawed institutions" which are the real obstacle to reform:
"Contrary to conventional wisdom, Arab states boast such institutions in spades; the problem is not with their number but with their nature. In the Arab world, these institutions are designed to ensure the authoritarian character of the regimes. Rather than guarantee rights or give citizens a voice, Arab political institutions tend to restrict political participation, limit individual freedom, and vest overwhelming power in the executive branch."
Cook may be arguing with a bit of a straw man here - who disagrees that Arab political institutions stink? But his broader point is an important one: as long as those authoritarian institutions are setting the rules of the political game, then even progressive-looking developments such as local elections will have little real impact.
So how does Cook suggest getting at these institutions? Basically by the US offering more aid and mebership in valuable international organizations in exchange for specific, measurable institutional changes promoting pluralism, the rule of law, power sharing, property rights, and free markets. As he points out, American aid has generally not been tied to such specific changes, with aid to countries like Jordan and Egypt far more conditional on their cooperation on grand strategy and high politics than on internal reform.
Unfortunately, the specific ideas Cook offers don't seem like they'll have the punch needed to really make a decisive difference. As he admits, the US doesn't have anything to offer like the EU membership which has driven Turkish internal change. It is unclear why Arab regimes would accept anything which looked like a poison pill or a trojan horse. Egypt may like to get another $700 million from the US, but does it need that $700 million so badly that it would make fundamental internal changes to get it? And why would Egyptian leaders place any stock in such a conditional offer, when their long experience tells them that Americans care far more about how Egypt treats Israel than it does about how it treats its internal opposition?
I also think Cook goes a bit awry by lumping together political and economic reforms. Most Egyptians, or other Arab regimes, would have little problem with the economic changes suggested, but would balk at anything which challenges their internal rule. By lumping them together, this avoids priortizing what we should really care about. Should free speech and the right to political assembly and public opposition be given greater or lesser weight than, say, privatization of state monopolies or protection of property rights? Arguments could be made either way, but Cook doesn't really break it down.
Finally, I fear that Cook falls into the same trap as have others who have emphasized economic incentives: assuming that such indirect, incentive based approaches would be well-received by the Arab public. Au contraire: few images are more potent than that of the Arab ruler as prostitute, exchanging services to Washington for American cash.
Anyway, it should be a valuable contribution to the Arab reform debate, and you should check it out when it comes on line. While I'm thinking about it, Ray Takeyh has an interesting piece in the National Interest, too, which I don't have time to discuss but you might want to read. Takeyh seems to be working the same turf as Cook, though, suggesting a trend:
If Washington is serious about democratization in the Middle East, as opposed to liberalization, it has to change strategies....A viable democratization strategy would employ the considerable economic leverage that the United States and Europe possess to pressure these states toward viable reforms. Preferential trade agreements, foreign assistance and access to U.S. markets should be contingent on the level of progress that regimes make toward democracy. The U.S. experience vis-a-vis Latin America, especially Mexico during the 1980s and 1990s, and that of the EU towards its eastern periphery make it clear that when political reform is linked to economic benefits, regimes can be induced to introduce changes that lay the basis for a democratic transformation. The West should link aid to reforms designed to reduce state controls over both political life and the economy.