June 09, 2004

Linkage Revisited

Remember linkage?

Saddam would try to link (disingenuously) his 1990 invasion of Kuwait to Palestinian rights.

Or UBL would, in various taped messages, try to link his theocratic fanaticism to the status of long exiled Arab residents of Haifa or such.

Well, there appears to be a new variant in the air--progress on the Arab-Israeli front is being explicitly linked to President Bush's Middle East democratization initiative.

From today's joint G-8 statement:

"Our support for reform in the region will go hand-in-hand with our support for a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli-conflict" based on U.N. resolutions, said a statement issued by the G8 major industrial nations at their summit in Sea Island, Georgia."

So, skeptics will say: just words. Will the peace processing really become more intense in disciplined (read: non-episodic) fashion?

Well, perhaps not.

But note that the Bush Administration is recently putting more pressure on Israel to start making tangible concessions.

Typical CW is no pressure on Israel during an election year. I wouldn't be so sure.

Bush is serious, to a fashion at least, about pursuing a region-wide democratization effort. And it appears that the Joshka Fischers and King Abdullahs of the world have persuaded him that forward movement on the Arab-Israeli peace process front is critical in this regard.

So, wondering how the Broader Middle East and North Africa ("BMEI") initiative is going? [ed. note: You mean the Greater Middle East Initiative? No, I don't, see below for more]

This ICG report gives you a good flavor. It also describes and reminds us about how the U.S.-led democratization initiative initially got such a chilly reception in most Arab and Euro quarters.

And so there has been a lot of effort exerted of late, mostly by Foggy Bottom, to get the reform initiative back on track.

Several such compromises (smart ones, in my view) confirm my "linkage" analysis above:

"U.S. diplomats have been active in the nearly four months since the leak of their initial working paper, and some of the early damage has been repaired. In particular, extensive consultations have been conducted with both Europeans and regional states. Suspicions remain on all sides but it appears likely that enough common interest -- or at least common words and procedure -- have been identified to allow the BMEI to play out reasonably smoothly during the busy diplomatic month of June 2004.

With Europe, the effort was primarily to demonstrate sensitivity to the EU conviction that a democratisation initiative required linkage to the Arab-Israeli crisis. A number of EU member states, including Germany, whose foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, has repeatedly declared himself interested in reform issues, were insistent on this to the point of proposing draft language for the projected G-8 declaration. It was relatively easy for Washington to repair this omission in the working paper by accepting a reference to the problem, though not one that implied any change in either the substance or the intensity of the U.S. policy.

A second repair exercise required the Americans to address a deep-seated EU suspicion that, in a phrase heard frequently around Brussels, “they want us to write the cheques and leave the policy direction to them”. The U.S. has appeared to want both parties to place their ideas and programs on the table to be examined for complementarity or duplication, after which they would be moved under a single, BMEI umbrella and focussed more explicitly on core reform issues in a manner that would make the total greater than the sum of its parts. There are, however, disparities in the resources the U.S. and the EU have devoted to these purposes. While U.S. spending under the MEPI since 2002 and projected spending at least in the initial phase of the BMEI is at most in the low hundreds of millions of dollars, the EU has pursued its Barcelona Process, or Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, with the littoral states since 1995. During that period it has spent more than the U.S. on technical and financial measures -- and with a single, integrated concept -- to promote economic, social and political reform, though, as discussed below, often with disappointing results.

Against this background, the Europeans were naturally cautious that they not compromise such political standing in the Middle East as their major efforts over a decade have brought them. EU officials insist that they have resisted and will continue to resist anything that implies loss of independence for their policy instruments. The final results will not be known at least until the various summits are concluded, but it appears the Americans have had to pull back from any idea they may have once entertained of merging programs and sharing management or even strategic decisions to the softer ground of pledges for more regular information exchange

A third topic requiring diplomatic finesse has been the geographic extent of the BMEI. All appear to agree that it should be more extensive than the boundaries of the EU's Barcelona Process, which does not (yet) include Libya, much less other obvious members of the classical Middle East such as Iraq and Iran. The EU is sceptical of the utility of adding Afghanistan and Pakistan, as the U.S. desires, pointing out that those two countries have political dynamics that are distinctive from the more traditional Middle East and only one fundamental characteristic in common -- religion. They argue sensibly that joining them to the initiative on this narrow basis would strengthen suspicion in the region that the BMEI is directed against Islam. The likeliest solution will be that the area of coverage will be left undefined, purposely blurred at the edges.

U.S. diplomats made up for lost time by taking extensive soundings within the region. The operational purpose was to elicit a statement of interest in reform that could then be used to explain subsequent policy announcements at the G-8 and elsewhere as, in effect, a response to a home-grown endeavour, if not a specific request. The kind of essentially empty rhetorical flourish about the peace process that was offered to the Europeans was obviously of no more than minimal value with the Arab states. The suspicion must be that the primary assurance on offer was to the effect that the U.S. would move cautiously in promoting reform and would not put at risk its relationship with non-democratic but cooperative governments

Hmmm. Who says Bush isn't capable of "gray" policy (his hair is sure turning grayer)?

A second Bush Administration, in my view, will prove more nuanced in much of its diplomacy (but still robust and conviction-driven in neo-Reaganite fashion).

That's a strong combo. And, deep down, I suspect Rand Beers knows that.

Still, of course, the G-8 statement is merely that, a non-binding declaration. Real linkage between democratization in the Middle East, proceeding concomittantly with progress on the Arab-Israeli peace process, requires follow-through on both fronts. And it won't be easy!

Mubarak and such will doubtless ask Bush why he is so cozy with Musharraf and Karimov if he is on a democratization kick. Sharon will complain of not appeasing the Arabs on the backs of Israelis. The Saudis will likely be given a pass arguing that loosening of governmental controls at this stage might push the Kingdom towards more anarchic conditions. And so on.

All told, this will be tougher than European unification and healing Cold War divides in Europe. The Enlightenment never touched the BME (or Broader Middle East). There is an American history of propping up (rather than fighting) dictators in the region (unlike in Europe and until Saddam). Abu Ghraib doesn't help. And many Muslims fear the U.S. is hostile towards Islam. Yep, it's a generational challenge all right.

Posted by Gregory at June 9, 2004 08:55 PM
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