Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

‘Promote Liberal Democracy’: Proliferation Press Reviews David Makovsky’s Game Plan for Post-Bush Middle East Democratization

Posted by K.E. White on September 15, 2007

Summary: Makovsky looks at the future of American foreign policy in the Middle East. Fighting back the now defunct neo-conservative chant for radical change, he stresses that America not give up on Middle East democratization. He outlines a new strategy: one that eyes the region, and tailors specific liberal agendas for Middle Eastern nation-states. Deserving credit shifting out view out of Iraq and averring a middle path to eventual democracy, Makovsky neglects one important part of the puzzle: How America gets performs in Iraq will be the overriding concern of the next American president, most likely sapping energy for Makovsky’s program. Furthermore, how America gets out of Iraq will determine the efficacy of Makovsky’s nation-state specific democratization scheme.

 

Writing for Democracy, Washington Institute Senior Fellow David Makovsky tackles where to take America’s foreign policy after Bush. While surveying the flaws of the Bush administration’s neo-conservatively flavored push for democratization, he demands not a change in strategy but tactics. Pushing democratic tendencies is still the way to go, Makovsky writes, but demands a new approach—stressing the liberal underpinning any future democratic society requires.

Makovsky writes:

David MakovskyIt may be ironic, but the places where democratization seems more likely in the Middle East could be where there is an “enlightened” autocrat who holds ultimate power and enforces the rules of the game, whether it is King Abdullah of Jordan, King Hamad of Bahrain, or King Mohammad of Morocco. This enables evolving democratization to move apace. In Freedom House’s democratization ranking of Middle East countries, each are listed as “partly free.” In each case, economic growth has gone hand in hand with democratization. In these three countries, it might be more than coincidence that democratization occurs where there is no oil and there is a requirement for developing human capital. Indeed, there have already been fragile steps to build the institutional building blocks of democracy. In other countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where there is greater resistance by the authoritarian structure and which are listed as “not free” by Freedom House, U.S. efforts will not be easy. Specifically, while the scope of specific reforms in law should reflect the different pace of change in individual countries, the general direction should be clear. However, in all countries, there are programmatic points for the United States that could be attainable if we sustain our focus. Those seeking an evolutionary pathway to democratization know where to put the effort: women’s rights, freer media, a more independent judiciary, and education reform, alongside the greater transparency required for economic growth.

Specifically, the United States should encourage countries to reform restrictive political-party laws that could provide the legal framework for parties to form and compete. This is particularly important for non-Islamists who do not have the vast social network and organizational apparatus of Islamists. It should also encourage reform of media laws to widen the discourse on public policy. Such reforms are key to avoiding government’s prosecution of journalists who interpret any criticism as “defamation” of a head of state. Finally, it should push for reform of the judiciary laws to facilitate the operation of an independent judiciary. Such reforms must be genuine and not like the one passed in Egypt last year; in spite of that “reform,” human rights activists indicate that judges are still paid partly by the Justice Ministry, so that if they rule against the state, their salary can be cut for many months at a time.

Makovsky veers towards a straw man argument by pushing this dichotomy on American foreign policy in the Middle East: either America foolishly over commits (i.e. invades Iraq) or we bolster autocratic regimes with no concern to fostering democracy (Iran under the Shah). American foreign policy has always been between these poles. What determines whether America pushes Makovsky’s micro-liberal Middle East diplomatic track has been whether that goal overrides others: e.g. security concerns of Iran, the need of moderate allies in the region, and the current diplomatic black hole of Iraq. Typically Makovsky’s approach has fallen to other, more immediate diplomatic aims.

Therefore, while Makovsky deserves credit for splitting democratization (i.e. the form of government) from liberalism (the values a government embodies) and for redirecting focus out of Iraq, Iraq is still stands as America’s core dilemma in the Middle East.

An American president tasked with managing either a buildup or draw down of American troops will simply not have the capital to spearhead Makovsky’s strategy. And the mood of the American public come 2009—most likely one of enthused or embittered isolationism—augurs poorly for Makovsky’s diplomatic platform.

But Makovsky does earn praise for unlocking American foreign policy discourse, however briefly, from its ‘Iraq Jam’. And more importantly, Makovsky deserves credit for laying out a diplomatic paradigm that it built on the obvious: Iraq is not the only rubric for America’s success in the Middle East.

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