THE TYRANNY DOCTRINE
By Danielle Pletka & Michael Rubin
At his second inauguration, U.S. President George W. Bush declared:
Since that soaring pronouncement, the Bush administration has watched Egypt abrogate elections, ignored the collapse of the socalled Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, and abandoned imprisoned Chinese dissidents; now Washington is mulling a peace treaty with Stalinist North Korea.
The rhetoric of constitutional democracy, it turns out, comes more easily than its implementation. Washington worries that Egypt will bow out of the fight against Al-Qa'ida, if the U.S.A. presses for reform. It worries that China will bar investment, if Bush presses for the release of political prisoners. Are these fears realistic? No. These countries still have interests that parallel ours. But that won't be clear, unless the U.S. President forces the tyrants to make a choice: reform or face isolation.
The case of Fathi El Jahmi, Libya's foremost liberty and democracy activist, is among the most poignant. When El Jahmi was briefly furloughed from prison in 2004, Bush hailed his release as a sign of change in Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi. But El Jahmi's freedom lasted just two weeks, and his name hasn't passed the President's lips again. Rice's announcement welcoming Libya back into the fold of civilized nations mentioned neither constitutional democracy nor El Jahmi.
In Egypt, where only last year Rice made herself a heroine to reformers by demanding competitive elections, the government has accelerated repression. It has imprisoned Ayman Nour, the leading opposition leader, on spurious charges. Where once the Bush administration threatened to withhold aid and won the release of a prominent liberty and democracy advocate, it is now silent. In early May, 2006, Egyptian police rounded up hundreds of demonstrators rallying in support of two judges who said that parliamentary elections were rigged. Yet Washington does not seek to reduce Egypt's $1.8 billion in annual aid. Instead, this month it hosted President Hosni Mubarak's son (and anointed successor).
Pressure for changes also has lessened in Syria and Lebanon. In March, 2005, in the wake of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese people rose up to demand democracy and reform. The Bush administration cheered, but it soon lost interest. A July, 2005, visit to Beirut by Rice, replete with the "obligatory" meeting with the puppet Lebanese President installed by Syria, sowed doubt about the U.S. commitment to Lebanese independence. Washington's blunders have ensured that a Syrian stooge will likely govern Lebanon for another year.
The same devotion to form over substance has been apparent in our China policy. Before his 2005 visit, Bush asked for the release of several political prisoners, including a New York Times researcher, Zhao Yan. The Chinese government ignored the request. The same polite query went to Beijing before President Hu Jintao's April, 2006, visit to Washington. This time, Zhao was released, only to be indicted again once Hu's world tour was complete. Signs of White House displeasure? Not one.
Is it possible that the Bush administration is questioning the wisdom of promoting constitutional democracy as a longterm solution to U.S. national security woes? Foreign policy "realists" suggest that the President has finally woken up and smelled the coffee. They say democracy gave us an Islamist government in Iraq and Hamas in Palestine. It could give us the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Heaven knows what it would spawn in China or Libya. Better the devil you know.
But there is no sign the White House has done any strategic rethinking. The President continues to believe his own preaching, but his administration has become incapable of making the hard choices those beliefs require. Instead, it has been quick to embrace the showy, if transitory, political advantages that come from welcoming Kadafi into the family of nations and China's President on a tour of Boeing.
The many foreign dissidents and reformers who took Bush at his word are the first to pay the price for Washington's lack of backbone. They were told that, if they took risks for freedom, the U.S.A. would stand with them. Letting them down will make it all the more difficult to find constitutional democratic allies. Brave individuals are the real building blocks for transitions to constitutional democracy. Without them, as we have learned in Iraq, there are few alternatives to the tyranny that threatens us all.
Middle East -- Arabs, Arab States,
& Their Middle Eastern Neighbors
The Middle East -- Lebanon as a Geopolitical Problem
The Middle East & the Problem of Syria
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Danielle Pletka is Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Ms. Pletka's areas of research and analysis include the Middle East, South Asia (India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan), terrorism, and weapons proliferation. In her capacity as the American Enterprise Institute's expert on Iraq, Pletka has developed a series of conferences on rebuilding post-Saddam Iraq, as well as a project designed to promote constitutional democracy in the Arab world. From 1992 to 2002, she was a senior professional staff member for Near East and South Asia with the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where she was Chief Aide to Senator Jesse Helms. Prior to working with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Pletka was a staff writer for Insight Magazine (1987-1992) and a editorial assistant with the Los Angeles Time and Reuters, in Jerusalem (1984-1985).
Dr. Michael Rubin, a Ph.D. in History (Yale University) and a specialist in Middle Eastern politics, Islamic culture and Islamist ideology, is Editor of the Middle East Quarterly and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Dr Rubin is author of Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami's Iran (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001) and is co-author, with Dr. Patrick Clawson, of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Dr. Rubin served as political advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad (2003-2004); staff advisor on Iran and Iraq in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (2002-2004); visiting lecturer in the Departments of History and International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2001-2002); visiting lecturer at the Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan (2000-2001); Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1999-2000); and visiting lecturer in the Department of History at Yale University (1999-2000). He has been a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, the Leonard Davis Institute at Hebrew University, and the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.
The foregoing article by Danielle Pletka was originally published in the Los Angeles Times, May 26, 2006, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum.
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