Disillusioned Arab responds to U.S. election
Consistently second only to Ariel Sharon in terms of unpopularity among Arabs, US President George W. Bush's re-election victory was greeted in the Arab world with a sense of disillusionment and foreboding.
"Just like 9/11 became a watershed in American foreign policy, this election seems to me another watershed that might be much more ominous," said Samir Khalaf, professor of sociology at the American University of Beirut.
"I think it's unfortunate that he has been re-elected," said Patrick McGreavy, director for American Studies and Research at the American University of Beirut. "I think he has made some horrible blunders and I think the United States will be less safe because of this. I am amazed that the American people have voted this way."
Although the unfolding debacle in Iraq featured high in the election campaign, American voters refused to punish Bush, apparently more interested in the candidates' stands on domestic social issues such as gay marriage and abortion.
"Bush had fairly skillfully portrayed Iraq as part of the war on terrorism and so when the bad things happen, that's the terrorists doing bad things to America. There's a kind of patriotic response that we can't give in to these people," said William Quandt, professor of politics at the University of Virginia and former Middle East specialist at the National Security Council during the Carter administration.
As for the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it barely surfaced at all during the campaign, yet it remains by far the most pressing issue of concern in the Mideast.
"Anyone who lives in the Middle East and policy experts all over the world realize that this is a burning issue which somebody at least needs to attempt to resolve," McGreavy said.
Bush's commitment to the Mideast peace process has been faltering at best. His main initiative was the much-vaunted "road map" unveiled in spring 2003 which outlined a path to peace between the Israelis and Palestinians by 2005. Despite the fanfare surrounding the scheme, the road map has been allowed to fall by the wayside as Sharon pursues his own unilateralist agenda - building a concrete barrier sealing off the West Bank from Israel and proposing to withdraw from Gaza next year.
"I would like to see a different US policy," said Khalil Shikaki, director of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, "a more active search for a settlement, more focus on the permanent settlement ... and the articulation of a more detailed vision for the permanent status settlement, a vision based on the achievements of previous bi-lateral Palestinian-Israeli negotiations."
Syrian President Bashar Assad has indicated several times in the past year that he is willing to resume peace talks with Israel. But the Bush administration has shown no interest in encouraging Sharon to accept the offer, preferring instead to squeeze Damascus with sanctions and a United Nations Security Council resolution for its alleged lack of cooperation on Iraq and terrorism.
Optimists suggest that Bush will follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Bill Clinton, in his second term and pay greater attention to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.
But others fear that Bush's near unquestioning support for the hard-line policies of the Sharon government stems from personal conviction rather than political expediency.
"It remains to be seen whether there will be a mellowing of his attitudes and policies," said Ghaith Armanazi, executive director of the British-Syrian Society and former Arab League ambassador to London. "But one can't have too many illusions because there seems to be some kind of ideological synergy between Bush, and the people surrounding Bush, and the extremist Likud politics followed in Israel."
John Kerry, Bush's challenger, was regarded in the region as someone who would have played a more active role in the Middle East peace process. Yet not all Arab officials relished the prospect of a Kerry victory. Given Kerry's criticism of the Bush's Iraq policy, there was a concern among some Iraqi officials that as president he would have been less inclined to commit to a long-term American military presence.
Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, the former national security advisor to the interim Iraqi government, said that another Bush term would give Iraq policy "some continuity."
"Bush's vision in Iraq is clear and his determination with liberal democracy is liked by most Iraqis," Rubaie said.
At present, a liberal democracy in Iraq seems little more than wishful thinking, given the inability of the Americans and their allies to quash the ever-worsening insurgency.
Abdullah al-Faqih, assistant professor of politics at Sanaa University in Yemen, said that he wants to see "the blood river" in Iraq brought to an end "and the genie President Bush released from the bottle either controlled or put back into the bottle before it spills over into neighboring countries."
Fostering democracy in the Arab world has been a key element of the Bush administration's foreign policy, pushed principally by the neoconservatives. The ousting of Saddam Hussein was supposed to set in motion a domino effect in which Arab dictatorships would tumble and be replaced with budding democracies. But the neocons' democratic experiment in Iraq is foundering due to a violent resistance feeding and growing on inadequate post-invasion policies. The reality of the situation in Iraq may have dampened enthusiasm for democracy in the Arab world in favor of a more traditional tolerance for benign autocrats.
"You can now sense that even the most enthusiastic neocons would settle for a Pinochet-like outcome in Iraq," Quandt said, referring to the dictatorial but US-friendly former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet.
Faqih said: "We do not want another American administration that publicly denounces dictatorships in the Middle East and sleeps with dictators every night."
Indeed, the next Bush administration needs to re-engage more thoroughly with the Arab world, rather than treating the region as part nexus of terrorism and part convenient gas station, analysts say.
Yahya Sadowski, professor of politics at the American University of Beirut, said the US needs to invest seriously in programs that improve the lives of average citizens in the Arab world, such as literacy and child healthcare.
"For a fraction of what the US is spending to demolish Iraq it could win a great deal of goodwill," he said.
Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian social analyst and visiting fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East policy at the Washington-based Brookings Institute, said he would like to see "a more serious policy of active engagement with regimes and civil society actors alike."
"I believe that such policy can produce the kind of win-win solutions that we so desperately need in the region," he said.
A continued failure to engage Arab hearts and minds would be a "disaster," said Shafeeq Gha-bra, president of the American University of Kuwait and a political analyst. "If it doesn't happen it will mean further radicalization and further terrorism and four years from now the Americans will not be better off and neither will the Arabs."
Source: The Daily Star
Related posts from similar topics: