Foreign policy realists continue to play defense in Washington
So why is he smiling?
Apropos my previous post (and to let you know that not only talk the talk, but also walk and walk), for the last two years I've been active in the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and the Committee for the Republic, two groups that include academics, think tankers, journalists, and former diplomats and other foreign policy types, who have been trying to promote a more Realpolitik-oriented foreign policy to replace the current neoconservative agenda. From time to time members of these groups tend to get excited when they read about the signs of "realism" in the Bush Administration. The following article published in the Financial Times suggests that the Coalition and the Committee are going to be in business for at least three years.
Critics of 'utopian' foreign policy fail to weaken Bush resolve
>By Guy Dinmore
>Published: January 13 2006 02:00 | Last updated: January 13 2006 02:00
The Bush administration's strategy of promoting democracy around the world is under fire from critics who say it is not only utopian but advances the interests of America's adversaries. In particular, they say, it has produced striking gains for Islamists rather than secular moderates in recent elections in the Middle East.
In the wake of the progress of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the relative failure of secular parties in Iraq, the militant group Hamas - outlawed in the US as a terrorist group - appears poised to do well in Palestinian legislative elections on January 25.
Nonetheless, President George W. Bush shows little sign of retreating from the principles he laid out in his second inaugural address a year ago. Invoking God, he said that ending tyranny worldwide reflected the unity of "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs".
This week, Andrew Natsios used his last address before quitting as head of USAID, the official development agency, to focus on the launch of a "new democracy and governance strategic framework" as the core of US aid efforts overseas.
Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, has focused in her recent speeches on "transformational diplomacy" - hands-on efforts by US envoys globally to promote and build good governance and rule by the people.
When Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, was incapacitated by a stroke last week, Ms Rice immediately signalled that the US wanted Palestinian elections to go ahead in spite of Israeli objections to the participation of Hamas and voting in occupied east Jerusalem.
"Elections have to be held when they are expected to be held..." she said, defending the participation of Hamas as part of a "transition" in Palestinian politics towards "one authority, one gun and one law".
A senior European diplomat said policy on Hamas came directly from Mr Bush, who believed militants could be transformed by the process of having to govern, "collecting the garbage, etc".
He said the president was inspired by the example of Northern Ireland, where the nationalist IRA was brought into the mainstream. The administration also held the view that in the absence of reforms the US risked a worse scenario of Islamists coming to power through revolution.
Mr Bush was also interested, the diplomat said, in the passing of the old guard of the Palestinian ruling party Fatah and the generational change in the leadership.
Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think-tank with close ties to Israel, criticises the Bush team for deciding "to bless an election that will legitimise one of the world's worst terrorist groups". He said Mr Bush had embraced the "pothole" theory of elections - "the idea that even extreme radicals can be transformed into civic-minded do-gooders when they have to face the electorate".
A senior administration official told the FT that the Bush administration had shifted the whole debate in the region, from whether there should be reforms by friendly regimes such as Egypt's, to "how quickly we can go, how radical we can be".
"It's a fundamental shift," he said, noting that the pace of reform would vary from country to country. "It's a difficult conversation," he added.
He conceded there was risk involved in unfavourable electoral outcomes, and indicated that the US had expected secular moderates to do better in Egypt and Iraq. Nonetheless, the US would tolerate working with Islamists in politics, he said. "We do every day in Iraq."
Citing Olivier Roy and Gilles Keppel, the French scholars, he said that in the life cycle of political Islam, ideologies evolved when confronted with the problems of governance.
Developments indicate the US strategy is widening the rift between the radical militants affiliated to al-Qaeda and Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood going through their political transformation not just in Egypt but also in Syria.
Last week Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two in al-Qaeda, was seen in a video recording condemning the Egyptian chapter of the Brotherhood for running in elections, accusing them of serving US interests.
Analysts say part of the domestic magic of Mr Bush's views on spreading democracy is that the opposition Democrats in Congress have little coherent alternative.
Nonetheless, policy journals in Washington backing the "realist" school of foreign policy are hitting back, reflecting the concerns of traditional conservatives who believe that Mr Bush, Ms Rice and others have gone too far in their personal, post-9/11 transformation.
Writing in the latest issue of the National Interest, published by the Nixon Centre think-tank, Edward Mansfield of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia's Jack Snyder argue that Mr Bush's "forced pace democratisation" is leading to disaster in countries lacking suitable political institutions.
"Pushing countries too soon into competitive electoral politics not only risks stoking war, sectarianism and terrorism, but it also makes the future consolidation of democracy more difficult," they say, pointing to examples in Africa and Latin America as well as the Middle East.
Anatol Lieven, senior researcher at the New America Foundation and author of America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, says the Bush administration is tapping into a history of American culture and civic nationalism that has a deep-rooted notion, but often shallow understanding, of spreading democracy.
He says the strategy also disguises the emptiness of the administration's approach to the big issues: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the lack of a plan for Iran, and Iraq. "The only thing they can pretend to in Iraq is that they are building democracy and holding elections. They can't say they have stabilised it or ended terrorism. What can they say?" Mr Lieven comments.
Of the parallels drawn by the administration between developments in the Middle East and the rise of democratic states in eastern Europe after the cold war, he comments: "This is not analysis. This is religion. It is faith-based ... utopian."
And on Thursday's Washington Post check out Condi Rice's anti-Realist battle-cry:
The greatest threats [to peace] now emerge within states than between them. The fundamental character of regimes now matter more than the international distribution of power.