Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Who wins in Iraq? Arab dictators!

Marina Ottaway has written a piece in the March-April issue of Foreign Policy Magazine . One of my favourite academics, currently the director for the Middle East program at Carnegie endowment for International Peace.

The piece is basically about how the ¨autocratic allegators¨ of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the key beneficiaries of the current American quagmire in Iraq and the overall sense of crisis in the neighourhood.

here is a sample:

¨The pro-Western stance of Egypt and Saudi Arabia protected them from criticism, until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that is. Almost overnight, the two countries became U.S. enemies, accused of fostering terrorism by denying their citizens democracy and wealth-generating free market policies. Authoritarianism and bad economic policy, according to Washington’s new creed, engendered frustrations that found release in terrorism. The antidote was democracy.

For a few years, Egypt and Saudi Arabia thus found themselves in the unaccustomed and uncomfortable position of being lectured on democracy by U.S. officials. Egypt bore the brunt of the criticism because it was obvious what reforms the government needed to introduce to become more democratic. Egyptian officials were repeatedly lectured on competitive elections and constitutional amendments; most seriously, the United States postponed discussion of a free trade agreement after the Egyptian government sentenced a moderate opposition leader to a five-year prison term on charges that were flimsy at best. Saudi Arabia got off more easily, partly because nobody had a blueprint on how to transform that kingdom into a democracy, and partly because of America’s dependency on its oil. Nevertheless, the country fell under a pall of suspicion, accused of financing the spread of radical Islam and even terrorist groups. Never again, administration officials and pundits proclaimed, would the United States support authoritarian regimes for the sake of short-run stability. September 11 put an end to that policy. Well, at least for a few years.

As the United States has become mired in bloody chaos in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have wound up back in the Bush administration’s good graces. But it’s not because they’ve become more democratic. Saudi Arabia has not changed. The Egyptian regime is backsliding, becoming increasingly intolerant of dissent as it nears the inevitable end of the 25-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak and braces for a difficult succession. Nevertheless, the two countries have been rehabilitated, or at least relabeled: Sadly, they are now what passes for “moderate.” As Franklin D. Roosevelt might have put it in more frank language, they are still the same S.O.B.s, but they are once again “our S.O.B.s.”

It’s back to Cold War politics in the Middle East. The lofty ideals of democracy promotion may still find their way into the administration’s speeches, but when it comes to policy, America’s enemies’ enemies are its friends. The enemy is Iran and, like the Soviet Union of yore, Iran has surrounded itself with dangerous minions—Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria. Iran wants to dominate the region, and Washington will support countries that have an interest in resisting such domination. Saudi Arabia and Egypt can be counted upon to do so. That makes them “moderates,” and that is good enough.¨

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