A "senior administration official" has told the Financial Times of London that the Bush administration is so deeply committed to democratization in the Middle East that it is prepared to "tolerate working with Islamists [like Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood] in politics," despite criticism from "the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think-tank with close ties to Israel," and others.[1]  --  "[T]he U.S. strategy," Guy Dinmore said on Friday, is having the interesting effect of "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."  --  Foreign policy realists (and Condoleezza Rice used to be a realist, before she converted to the neoconservatism that dominates Bush administration foreign policy) are arguing that the Bush foreign policy is utopian, and are warning that this approach is doomed to failure.  --  Dinmore and the analysts he cites fail to grapple with a fundamental fact about Bush's doctrines, however: they are chiefly meretricious screens for action of another character altogether (though they can also function as legitimation for true believers; neo-Straussian political theory authorizes such a cognitive bifurcation).  --  That is, Bush administration doctrines are based on a politics of fear and deceit whose primary function is to present a facade persuasive and palatable to American public opinion.  --  Behind this facade, all manner of clandestine activities can and do take place, and on a massive scale.  --  But these activities are not reported, or if they are, there is no follow-up, and the story dies. washed from the sands of public consciousness by the tidal forces of the news cycle.  --  As could be seen from coverage of Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize acceptance speech last month, the mainstream media's inviolable shibboleth of American good intentions excludes as beyond the pale and unworthy of serious consideration any analysis that take as its point of departure this obvious fact of the neo-Orwellian politics of the hegemonic U.S. national security state -- so obvious, indeed, that it is a staple of the popular culture promoted by that same mainstream media.  --  Such are "the cultural contradictions of capitalism" (the title of a 1976 book by sociologist Daniel Bell)....



By Guy Dinmore

Financial Times (UK)
January 13, 2006


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 U.S. 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 U.S. aid efforts overseas.

Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, has focused in her recent speeches on "transformational diplomacy" -- hands-on efforts by U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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, criticizes the Bush team for deciding "to bless an election that will legitimize 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 unfavorable electoral outcomes, and indicated that the U.S. had expected secular moderates to do better in Egypt and Iraq. Nonetheless, the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 Center think-tank, Edward Mansfield of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia's Jack Snyder argue that Mr. Bush's "forced pace democratization" 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 stabilized 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."