Day By Day

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Limits of Reform in the Middle East

Michael Young, Opinion Editor for Beirut's Daily Star and one of the most perceptive commentators on the Middle East has a nice peace in Reason. He notes that the reform imperative sparked by revolutions in Eastern Europe and by the US invasion of Iraq have pretty much reached its limits, but argues forcefully that a return to the cynical “realism” of the past would be a mistake.

Young argues for a middle course between the “idealism” of the early days of Bush’s Iraq adventure, and the cold, interest based, realism of the first Bush administration. He writes:

[T]he U.S. [should] declare the spread of democracy [to be] a strategic interest (not an open-ended desire), one that must be advanced where and when possible, even if it is temporarily delayed by intervening objectives. Arab regimes should be pushed to take specific measures within specific timeframes to open up their societies, and the U.S. can tie this to other forms of bilateral cooperation. Finally, no administration should ever hail as progress what is patently an effort by dictatorships to sell it a defective bill of democratic goods.

Young is right that a retreat into Scowcroftian "realism" would be ultimately self-defeating. It is US support for dictatorial regimes throughout the Cold War and after that nurtured the Islamic radicalism that today threatens us. Reform must come to the region and the US must remain fully engaged to ensure that reform moves in the direction of democratic liberalism, not toward Islamic radicalism. And he is also right to argue that advancement of the democratic agenda should be closely tied to realist goals of promoting and protecting US interests in the region, if only for the reason that a substantial proportion of the American public will not support purely idealistic intiatives over the long run.

Read the whole thing here.

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