Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Listen To Arab Voices

WP editorializes The third Arab Human Development Report, finally released by the U.N. Development Program after a lengthy controversy, should be required reading for Bush administration officials and for anyone interested in promoting Middle East democracy. The report reveals a complete acceptance of democratic principles and a complete mistrust of the Bush administration's efforts to promote democracy. This mixed message is at the heart of the conundrum the United States faces in pursuing a policy of political change in the Mideast.

The report, authored by a group of prominent Arab intellectuals (many of whom embraced Arab nationalism and Arab socialism in the past), represents an unambiguous embrace of liberal democratic ideals. There are no "buts" and "ifs" in the report, no claim that Arab countries need to develop their own form of democracy in keeping with the cultural specificity and conditions of the region. There is no claim that each country must be allowed to proceed toward democracy at its own pace and in its own time, or that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict must be settled first. On the contrary, the report addresses and rebuts all such claims, concluding instead that liberal democratic values are not Western but universal, and that change must come now.


This part of the report will be music to the Bush administration's ears, but it will be soured by the strident anti-Americanism of other sections. The report is critical of U.S. policies, denouncing the occupation of Iraq and the unstinting support for Israel as setbacks for Arab human development. Furthermore, the report exudes mistrust and hostility toward the Bush administration, doubting the sincerity of its commitment to democratization in the Arab world.

What else should we expect. It came from the UN.

The report will undoubtedly be criticized by some U.S. officials, who will focus on its negative assessment of American policies.

The Democrats will certainly try to use it to complain about the Administration

But, like the 2002 and 2003 reports, the new document will also be seized on by the Bush administration as proof that Arabs are embracing democracy and that U.S. policy in the region is helping further the will of the people, not imposing an alien system on the Arab world. It is a foregone conclusion that President Bush and administration officials will quote freely from the report in their speeches.

And they are entitled to do so

And, as they have done in the past, the report's authors and many liberal intellectuals will denounce such references as a cynical exploitation of Arab aspirations by a government that, in their eyes, has shown no regard for Arab interests.

That government freed both the people of Afganistan from the rule of the Taliban, and Iraq from the rule of Saadam. Whether that represents a regard for Arab interests or not, depends on your point of view. I realize the Taliban and Saadam might not care for what the US did.

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