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February 02, 2005

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» Arab Reform Roundup from Liberals Against Terrorism

Lots of other bloggers are talking about reform in the Middle East.

Brad Plumer reacts to my [Read More]

Comments

praktike

Good scoop. I'll blog about this later ... btw, you might want to read this WSJ editorial: http://tinyurl.com/4y4eu

Let me know if you're not a subscriber, and I'll shoot you an email.

the aardvark

Not a subscriber - send me the text, or tell me what it's about!

Issandr El Amrani

please post or email it on if you get it!

Peter

One of the problems an approach like Tayekh, or any effort at Arab reform had led by the United States, is that Arab public opinion is overwhelmingly hostile to American attempts to promote internal reform or democratization. In the context of America's policies in Iraq and Israel/Palestine and overall military dominance vis-a-vis the Arab world, many of Arabs see democracy promotion as an unacceptable interference in their internal affairs, or, even worse,as a new form of imperialism.

I'm not defending this attitude, but it does exist. Without support from the Arab public, any American attempt to pressure Arab leaders to make reforms will have a very limited impact.

Dung Beetle

Dear Abu,

This may sound simplistic, but why exactly do experts like Mr. Cook always argue that Arab political and economic reform is an urgent matter for US security interests? After the Oklahoma bombing, I don't remember anyone calling for urgent economic and social reform in all of the filler states of America. I agree that after 9/11, the US needs to fight Al Qaeda and other extremist organizations. But does that require reforming the politics and economy of the entire region? Wouldn't it be more efficient just to increase funding for domestic security, spying and counter-terrorism? Moreover, wouldn't it be less costly and more effective to reduce anti-American sentiments by reducing all overt aid and intervention (incentive based or punitive or whatever) in the region rather than trying a new style of intervention? Isn't the real source of anti-Americanism due to US intervention in the region in the first place? Why do regional experts always advocate "big picture" solutions to relatively managable security threats?

In terms of the economy, the entire Middle East/North Africa region is hardly a drop in the bucket in terms of total US trade (especially if we exclude oil - which the US seems to be able to obtain without too much trouble). Why is it so urgent from an American national security perspective for this insignificant region to reform economically?

Of course any good hearted human being would like all other people to be free and prosperous, but I don't see why is it in the US national security interest to carry this out unilaterally. Is the importance of the Middle East being overblown by area experts? Just wondering...

Yours humbly,
Dung Beetle

Jonathan Dresner

Dung Beetle: if you didn't hear plenty of fulminating about our extremists and the danger they pose and their relation to our broader culture it's because the "liberal mainstream media" kept... oh, wait, it was liberals talking about those things, wasn't it?

praktike

Dung Beetle, you may have heard something about an attack on September 11th ... something about WMDs, and so forth. We can't keep the lid on this region forever.

Dung Beetle

Dear Praktike,

Of course I have heard of September 11th (and I mentioned it in my post if you read carefully), I just think that the most efficient solution to terrorism is 1) increasing domestic security; 2) ending overt meddling in the region; and 3) investing in covert counter-terrorism.

As for Weapons of Mass Destruction -- I have heard of this too. I don't think the US found any lying around in Iraq, did they?

Even if the region has WMD (and the ability to deliver those weapons onto US soil) why is that an urgent threat to US security interests? A limited WMD stockpile (vis-a-vis a massive American WMD stockpile) is useful for deterrence not compellance. If you think that authoritarian regimes can't be trusted with even a limited deterrence capability, I would assume you support attempting to disarm China or Pakistan as well... I think the reality is that the discourse about WMD becomes a bit hysterical when people talk about Arab regimes.

Perhaps you believe that authoritarian states in the region will give their WMDs to terrorist groups to do their bidding. I never accepted the idea that a dictator like Saddam would have lent such weapons to terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda. Did you? The risk of detection and massive retaliation is just too great to believe in such silly scenarios.

Loose nukes and dirty bombs are a serious problem, but these problems can be dealt with without comprehensive political and economic reform in the Middle East/North Africa. In fact if the US stops meddling in the region, will it not eliminate one of the major reasons for terrorist's targeting the US?

In any case, if there are still loose nukes out there, it is likely that they come from post-political and economic reform Russia. Perhaps policy wonks with grand reform schemes should be careful about what they wish for ...

I am just arguing for a more sane and cost effective foreign policy that reduces intervention in the region while efficiently targeting the specific source of the threat to US national security.

Sincerely,
Dung Beetle

praktike

Ah, I get you now. I agree that the terrorist threat should be put into its proper context, and that the unilateral reform of the ME is neither likely to succeed nor be cost-effective. I thought you were saying something else. As far as gov'ts giving WMDs to terrorists, well, I think that deterrence tends to work. Iran, for instance, has never given its chemical weapons to Hizb'allah as far as I can tell. I think we're on the same page in many respects, but I submit that the U.S. does need to recast its relationships with autocratic Arab regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

David Holiday

Briefly, on the Takeyh reference to Mexico. "Preferential trade agreements, foreign assistance and access to U.S. markets" were definitely not made contingent to democratic progress in Mexico by the U.S. government, before, during or after NAFTA. The argument, in fact, was the reverse -- that economic reforms and free trade would favorably impact democratization, but it was a only matter of faith that this would happen.

Ironically, political pluralism got a huge boost in 1988 when a faction of the PRI that rejected austerity policies pushed by the US broke away, and formed the PRD. So in a sense, but not the sense that Takeyh argues, I suppose economic reforms DID lead to political reforms.

Leila Abu-Saba

Sometime in the late 1980s the NY Times printed a piece on Islamist organizing in Cairo's slums. The government had essentially given up on providing basic services like sewage, schools and hospitals. The Islamists (I forget the name of the party or group- i'm no poli scientist) had stepped in and were winning hearts and minds with free medical care, free schools and so forth.

At the time I thought - we give Egypt billions of dollars a year. What are we getting for our money? At least when the Soviets were helping Egypt, they built (ugly) housing and schools, and that (environmentally disastrous) dam.

After September 11, I believe the question is even more to the point. Now the muscle for 9/11 was said to be Saudi but Atta and Aiyman Az-Zawaihiri, the planners, were Egyptians, scarred by the anti-Islamist torture and imprisonment of the 80s. Whoever their Egyptian supporters may be, I am certain that the sha'abi ones (the poor, the so-called "street") are influenced by the government's indifference to their pressing problems. The fundamentalist groups are in there doing something for them.

Again, we're giving Mubarak all this money - is he using it to improve the condition of Egypt's populace? Why can't Egypt take care of basic business, and why did they let the Islamists do it for them? The question was obvious when I was an exchange student in 1983, and it's still obvious.

We're giving them guns, is the answer. Our government doesn't give a s**t if the mass of Egyptians fester in oozing sores and die slowly of malnutrition. But of course it does affect us - we're mostly just too dense to see it in the USA.

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