Freedom's Unsteady March

Freedom's Unsteady March: America's Role in Building Arab Democracy

TAMARA COFMAN WITTES
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 176
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7864/j.ctt127zg7
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  • Book Info
    Freedom's Unsteady March
    Book Description:

    President Bush promised to democratize the Middle East, but the results so far have dispirited democracy advocates and brought their project into disrepute. After the debacle in Iraq and the electoral success of Hamas, the pursuit of Arab democracy seems to many observers a fool's errand, an unfortunate combination of ideology and wishful thinking. In Freedom's Unsteady March, Tamara Cofman Wittes dissects the Bush administration's failure to advance freedom in the Middle East and lays out a better strategy for future efforts to promote democracy. Wittes argues that only the development of a more liberal and democratic politics in the Arab world will secure America's long-term goals in the region and that America must continue trying to foster progress in that direction. To do so, however, it must confront more honestly the risks of change and act more effectively to contain them. A dangerous combination of growing populations, economic stagnation, and political alienation poses the primary threat to Middle East stability today, severely testing the legitimacy and governability of key states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. If Arab governments cannot sustain the support of their citizens, they will find it difficult to work with America on issues of common concern such as stabilizing Iraq, confronting Iran on nuclear weapons, and promoting Arab-Israeli peace. Despite President Bush's failures, Wittes argues, the United States cannot afford to ignore the momentous social, economic, and political changes already taking place in Arab states. Wittes' detailed analysis of Arab politics and American policy presents an alternative -in her view, the only alternative: overcoming America's deep ambivalence about Arab democracy to support positive, liberal change in the region that will create a firmer foundation for Arab-American ties.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-9495-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Strobe Talbott

    “Democracy” is among the most sacred words in the vocabulary of American politics—and American foreign policy as well. The Founding Fathers believed theirs was a new kind of nation, one based on the principle that the individual has inalienable rights, that the citizenry is self-governing, that leaders answer to the people rather than the other way around. Since that principle was held to be universal, it has often been reflected in American diplomacy and in the dispatch of American armed forces to far corners of the world. That has especially been the case since the late nineteenth century, when...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER ONE The End of Arab Exceptionalism, and of America’s Own
    (pp. 1-13)

    The final year of the George W. Bush administration admittedly presents an awkward context for a book arguing for a muscular American policy of democracy promotion in the Middle East. Attempting to push the Middle East toward more American-style government was, after all, one of the Bush administration’s hallmarks, and the results have discredited the project as few could have imagined. Where the administration failed, it failed spectacularly. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq produced a seemingly endless military quagmire that resulted in thousands of dead American soldiers and untold numbers of dead Iraqis; the reconstruction effort produced nothing...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Democracy Promotion in U.S. Foreign Policy
    (pp. 14-29)

    Democracy promotion has always been part of United States foreign policy. While the founding fathers—most famously George Washington, in his farewell address—eschewed foreign adventurism and entanglements, they also viewed the political rights and freedoms for which they fought as universal values and hoped their new nation would serve as a beacon for others who aspired to similar liberty. As Thomas Jefferson wrote on the fiftieth anniversary of America’s independence, “May it be to the world what I believe it will be (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the Signal of arousing men to...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Vanishing Status Quo
    (pp. 30-55)

    In a 2005 interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of theNew Yorker, former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft argued that protecting the political status quo in the Arab world had been and remained the correct policy for the United States. According to Scowcroft, the status quo in the Middle East had bought the United States “fifty years of peace.”¹ Residents of the Middle East might quarrel with that characterization, for the years after 1948 witnessed five Arab-Israeli wars, wars or major civil conflicts in Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, and Lebanon, and a war between Iraq and its Persian neighbor, Iran. But Scowcroft’s...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Is Democracy Really Necessary?
    (pp. 56-75)

    The dilemmas Arab regimes face today are clear. Over the past three decades, diminished productivity and sluggish growth have combined with population growth and endemic corruption to constrain governments’ abilities to penetrate and control society. Even in resource-rich countries, high oil prices do not allow the state to maintain the same level of social services as before, because of unequal distributions of wealth and the high cost of providing education, health care, housing, and jobs for an unusually large young population. The legitimating ideologies Arab rulers have relied on for decades have lost their luster, and repressive tactics have become...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Bush Record
    (pp. 76-101)

    So far I have sought to demonstrate the need for the United States to undertake a major, long-term, comprehensive effort to advance economic, political, and social reform in Arab countries, in order to protect core American interests and promote the region’s long-term stability and prosperity. But that a thing should be done and that it can be done are two distinct claims. What if, despite all the best reasons and intentions, the United States cannot play an effective and positive role in shaping the direction and outcome of the changes that are sweeping the Arab world and will continue in...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Overcoming Ambivalence
    (pp. 102-124)

    The Bush administration’s efforts to advance democracy in the Middle East fell prey to a deep-seated ambivalence among America’s foreign policy elites and officials regarding the causes and consequences of democratization in the Arab world. The concern that Arab democratization might simply enshrine anti-American, radically religious regimes and that democratization might come to the Middle East only at the price of U.S.-Arab strategic cooperation led policymakers to blunt the edges of the Freedom Agenda regularly and at every level of officialdom. It is possible that such a half-hearted, inconsistent policy will in the long term have a more detrimental effect...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Algerian Nightmare
    (pp. 125-145)

    In the years since the Algerian crisis of late 1991, Islamist political movements have become a regular part of the political scene in every Arab country, and Islamist ideology presents the main alternative to pan-Arabism or local nationalisms in every society in the region. The religious discourse of the Islamists is now unavoidably central to Arab politics. But the “lesson of Algeria”—that Islamists will use democratic elections solely as a ticket to absolute power and that Western governments will accept the use of state security forces to block this prospect—has been well learned in the Arab world.

    Obviously,...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Conclusion
    (pp. 146-152)

    Democratic reform in the Arab Middle East is neither a luxury nor a pipe dream. It is a necessity. Those who view developments in Arab politics during the Bush administration as proof that the Freedom Agenda was both naïve and arrogant now clamor for a “return to realism.”¹ But a desire to return to the status quo ante is not realism; it is fatalism. Those who advocate such a return would consign the Middle East to a dark future that will produce unhappy outcomes for Arabs and Americans alike.

    Democracy promotion in the Arab world is not an easy path...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 153-168)
  14. Index
    (pp. 169-176)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 177-178)