Michael: Bush Not Serious About Spreading DemocracyThe recent visit by the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah illustrates more clearly than almost anything else could how Bush is not serious about spreading freedom and democracy in the Middle East. The fact that the summit passed without demands, nor even public mentions, of liberalization and human rights in Saudi Arabia by Bush speaks volumes about his real priorities in Middle Eastern politics.
Christians were recently prosecuted in Saudi Arabia simply for practicing their faith, yet Bush says not a word to Abdullah. Reformers were jailed for a year for petitioning the government for a constitution, yet Bush says nothing to Abdullah. The Saudi Regime is in many ways more repressive and brutal than Saddam’s regime was, but Bush is focused solely on increasing and protecting Saudi oil production, and any agenda item that might detract from that goal is ignored. Instead, meaningless gestures such as the recent local advisory council elections are pointed to as progress, when any Saudi or serious observer of Saudi politics discounts them as mere public relations.
Bush’s hypocrisy on Middle East politics does not stop with the Saudi ‘special relationship’, however. In Lebanon, the Administration is bringing pressure to bear to curtail anti-American student demonstrations at our embassy. In Afghanistan, the Administration pressured the UN Human Rights Commission to fire Cherif Bassiouni, the monitor for Afghanistan, in clear retaliation for issuing a report accusing the U.S. forces and contractors of extra-legal detainments and widespread rape and torture of civilians. In Pakistan, Bush slapped the wrist of worst nuclear proliferation ring in the world and coddles an unconstitutional dictator. The Bush Administration continues to look the other way regarding Israeli abuses in the occupied territories, including grave and routine human rights violations and the continuing expansion of illegal settlements, while allowing Israel to effectively walk away from the negotiating table.
The lesson to be drawn from this is that while many of Bush’s supporters are serious about seeing democratic reforms, human rights and civil rights spread in the Middle East, there is no real evidence of the Bush Administration’s commitment to that goal. Even the crown jewel of Middle East democratization - the Iraqi elections - were seriously flawed by any standard of electoral integrity, and the government, once formed, will lack any real sovereign power or legitimacy in the eyes of many Iraqis. The new government in Iraq is little more than the same sort of democratic window dressing that the Israelis have allowed in Palestine to make it seem as if they are dealing with an equal partner when, if fact, they are dictating terms to a occupied people.
Once you scratch the surface of the propaganda about democratization in the Middle East, you find underneath the same coddling of dictators who offer stability and ‘reliable’ military assistance in the GWOT, not to mention economic advantage for favored constituencies, at the expense of repression and stagnation for the region’s people that has been the foundation of American foreign policy in the region (and arguably most of the world) for the past 60 years. Bush has not changed the political equation in the Middle East significantly, and the same catastrophic failures that have plagued American policy in the region in the past will await future Administrations as a result of Bush’s policies.