Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Is Middle East Democratization a Neocon Plot?

As debates on Iraq get intensified, some war opponents argue that the idea of Middle East democratization is a plot by neoconservatives and oil industry. Apparently, this is wrong. Regardless of pro or con to the Iraq War, American policymakers have been exploring to promote democracy in the Middle East. Not only neocons but also liberals, centrists, and other ideological sects, are working hard for this endeavor. Furthermore, Europeans are tackling for this issue, either with Americans or by themselves.

Nor does this idea symbolize American belligerence. People are liable to associate Middle East democratization with the War on terror and the Iraq War. Certainly, defeating terrorists and dictators constitutes an important agenda in this policy. However, policymakers discuss non-military aspects, such as political freedom, socio-economic equality, gender, education, development, civil society, and empowerment as well. Quite often, the media and experts dismiss this point, whether deliberately or unintentionally.

Therefore, it is utterly wrong to label the endeavor for Middle East democracy to be a neocon driven unilateralist plot. Let me review some policy researches related to this issue, conducted on both sides of the Atlantic.

Centrist analysts are not totally in agreement with the Bush administration’s plan for regime change in Iraq. Thomas Carothers, Director of the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has been conducting researches for promoting democracy in the Middle East, although he is critical to the plan for regime change in Iraq. Just before the Iraq War, he published a policy brief, entitled “Democratic Mirage in the Middle East” in October 2002. In this essay, he criticized the idea of quick promotion of democracy throughout the Middle East, simply by overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Despite this, he welcomes American commitment to Middle East democracy after the post Cold War. Carothers laments meager involvement by the Unites States during the Cold War to spread democracy in the Middle East. Thomas Carothers endorses modest and long term commitment, rather than quick and domino effect changes.

The media and our grassroots focus on non-Arab nations like Iran and Afghanistan, and Arab nations, including Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine. The Arab Reform Bulletin, published by the Carnegie Endowment presents policy recommendation and analysis on democratization throughout the Arab world. In the most recent Bulletin, published in this July, Moataz El Fegiery, Program Director at the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies, analyze governmental repression to freedom of opinion and expression in the Arab world. Dina Bishara, Assistant Editor of the Bulletin, advocates that the United States refrain from providing aid to specific parties in Arab nations.

Center for American Progress, an anti-Bush liberal think tank, has also been publishing articles on Middle East democratization. Mara Rudman, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress concludes the United States needs to make sure its investment in democracy whoever runs Palestine, in “Vote Reaffirms Need for America to Invest in Democracy” (Forward, February 6, 2006). On December 20, 2005, the Center held an event to discuss the next step to support democracy in Iraq after the first election since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Europeans are no less enthusiastic to Middle East democracy initiatives than Americans. The Arab Reform Initiative was launched on December 27, 2005, is constituted by top institutions from Europe and the Arab world. This consortium explores policy researches to promote democratic reform by Arab, European, and American partners. It is noteworthy that continental think tanks join this initiative. Despite the rift before the Iraq War, Europeans pursue common agendas with Americans.

In Iran, civil societies grow without relying substantially on Western governments and NGOs. Blog talks are popular, although the authority arrested some bloggers. Progressive journalists and bloggers in Iran establish an online community in English, called Persian Journal. With strong civil movements, Ex-Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi advocates a Ukrainian style Orange Revolution, instead of war, in order to achieve regime change. Lionel Beehner, Staff Writer at, insists that the US government should promote dialogues between Iranian and Western civil societies and business communities, but not directly involved in these interactions. Iranians see campaigns sponsored by the US government negatively, Beehner says.

It is no use to bash neoconservatives and oil business. Rather, I would recommend further understanding regarding the genesis of Middle East democratization initiatives. Even before 9-11 attacks, policymakers in America talked about Middle East reform. As I mentioned in a previous post, “Pro or Con on American Attack against Iraq before the War”, invasion to Iraq has been a crucial agenda since the Clinton era. This is beyond party politics. Promotion of democracy is the key agenda in American foreign policy. This is beyond the Iraq debate at the Hill. Also, the end of the Cold War has changed the notion of security. Civil society based approaches are becoming increasingly important, whether attacking the target or not. The United States used force in Iraq, but not in Ukraine. Middle East democratization is a vital step toward world peace.

Middle East reform is a critical agenda not only for neocons but also for liberals, Europeans, and Middle Eastern citizens.