the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, many U.S. policy
experts concluded that an important factor in the rise of violent Muslim
fundamentalism was the lack of democracy and political freedom in the Arab
world. This notion – spelled out in
what President Bush calls his Freedom Agenda – has made the promotion of
democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere a critical element of U.S. national
security. Now, as Americans prepare for
a change in leadership, a new book by a veteran Mideast policy analyst urges
the next U.S. president to keep democracy promotion high on the strategic
agenda, but with some important differences.
Mohamed Elshinnawi has more.
his time in the White House drawing to a close, President Bush used a recent
Washington address to urge his successor to continue his agenda of promoting
freedom and spreading democracy throughout the world.
challenge for America in the years ahead," Bush said, "is to continue
to help people in struggling nations achieve freedom from corruption, freedom
from disease, freedom from poverty, freedom from hunger and freedom from
tyranny. Combating hopelessness is in America's security interest because the
only way our enemies can recruit people to their dark ideology is to exploit
distress and despair."
freedom and democracy in the world is a goal any U.S. president would
support. But the next occupant of the
White House will want to distance himself from some of the Bush
Administration's more controversial democratization efforts.
idea of the Freedom Agenda is so closely associated with President Bush that in
terms of American domestic politics, there is no political incentive to make it
a major agenda item for either of the presidential candidates right now,"
says Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Middle East Democracy and
Development Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
says both Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain "are trying to
define themselves as independent thinkers and as people who will create a new
legacy and not simply continue the legacy of the current president."
notes that both candidates have said they believe democracy promotion is in
America's national interest. Both men have backed increased congressional
funding for the National Endowment for Democracy – a non-profit organization
that supports pro-democracy groups around the world. They've also pledged to
pay close attention to human rights concerns.
her new book, Freedom's Unsteady March: America's Role in Building Arab
Democracy, Wittes argues that whatever difficulties and setbacks the Bush
Administration has encountered in promoting democracy in the Middle East, the
next president must find new and better ways to achieve the same goal.
the Bush administration went about democracy promotion in a way that in certain
ways was counterproductive," Wittes says, "that it does not mean it
was the wrong idea." She contends
"in order to build a solid foundation for U.S.-Arab cooperation, the next
American president needs to care about and support democratic growth in the
Wittes advises the new U.S. president to de-link democracy promotion from the
so-called war on terror, because, she says, it was inappropriate in the first
place to consider pro-democracy initiatives as a strategy for combating
believes the new President must start treating freedom promotion as a strategic
imperative all its own. "Even if
the Arab-Israeli conflict is resolved, even if Iraq is stabilized and American
troops leave, the U.S is still going to care very much what happens in the
Middle East," she says. "We want to have strong U.S.-Arab relations
and we want to have a positive role in the region and it is very hard to do
that when citizens of the region themselves feel as though they are being left
out of the planning for their future."
Unsteady March, author Tamara Cofman Wittes concludes that the United
States can't afford to assume a more passive or neutral role in the Middle
East, despite political pressures to do so.
Instead, she says, the U.S. must wield its power and influence more
effectively – to support real, home-grown democratic movements in the Arab