Freedom on the March in the Middle East—And Transatlantic Relations on a New Course?

John Calabrese

The view that the pathologies of socioeconomic stagnation and political instability afflicting the countries of the wider Middle East are rooted in repressive state structures has gained currency on both sides of the Atlantic.1 So too has the view that political reform in the region is long past due and that promoting it is a worthy undertaking for America and Europe. In the past several years, numerous political reform proposals and initiatives have originated in the region. Particularly in the past year, the Bush administration, employing a steady stream of lofty rhetoric and intense diplomacy, has sought not only to encourage political reform but to enlist Europe in working together to support these endeavors. Yet transatlantic relations were severely strained over the Iraq crisis and the attendant issues of power, the role of international institutions, and the legitimacy of the use of force. This begs three questions that I address in this essay: Do the statements and actions by the United States and Europe, particularly since the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s regime, indicate that a comprehensive transatlantic political strategy toward this region, centered on democracy promotion, is coalescing? What are the chief obstacles to the development of such a strategy? And what can be done to ensure that democracy promotion serves as a vehicle for

1. For purposes of this essay, the terms Middle East, wider Middle East, and broader Middle East are used interchangeably and, unless indicated otherwise, refer to the countries making up the Maghreb, Mashrek, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Peninsula. John Calabrese is book review editor at the Middle East Journal and assistant professor at American University in Washington, DC.

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healing rather than further damaging transatlantic relations, and for supporting rather than undermining democratic forces in the region? The Democratic Imperative through a Transatlantic Lens Middle East Exceptions Democracy promotion is not a new vocation for either the United States or Europe. In the early 1990s, it derived from American and European efforts to redefine their respective roles in world affairs in a new strategic environment. However, throughout the 1990s promoting democratic principles and practices was a component, not a central organizing principle, of American and European external policies. US and European democracy support was cautious and limited. Generally, US and European concerns about stability trumped the commitment to help effect political change. Their democracy promotion efforts were selective and uneven across and within regions. The 1990s were lean years for US and European democracy promotion in the Middle East. In the case of the United States, the focus on democracy promotion grew out of the Clinton administration’s search for a successor to the Cold War strategy of containment. In a 21 September 1993 speech titled “From Containment to Enlargement,” National Security Adviser Anthony Lake outlined a new conceptual framework for US foreign policy centered on strengthening the community of market democracies. Six days later, in an address to the United Nations General Assembly, President Bill Clinton clarified the new agenda: “During the Cold War we sought to contain a threat to [the] survival of free institutions. . . . Now we seek to enlarge the circle of nations that live under those free institutions.”2 The Clinton administration’s first National Security Strategy Report (issued in July 1994) read, “The core of our strategy is to help democracy and markets expand and survive in other places where we have the strongest security concerns and where we can make the greatest difference.” Clinton officials acknowledged that there were “limited openings” for the growth and accep2. William Clinton, “Confronting the Challenges of a Broader World,” address to the UN General Assembly, 27 September 1993.

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tance of democratic principles and a “nascent civil society” in the Middle East, and they described in general terms what the United States could do to improve the climate for political liberalization in the region.3 But attention and resources were channeled mainly to regions and countries where democratic forces were already making broad advances in the transition from communism (Eastern Europe) and military dictatorship (Latin America). What efforts the Clinton administration did make to support political reform in the Middle East were shaped by region-specific factors. Here, three key aims guided US policy: bolstering the Oslo peace process, reducing the appeal of Islamists, and assisting Arab leaders who, in order to implement painful economic restructuring policies and quell popular unrest associated with them, had eased restrictions on political activity.4 And what the United States actually did with respect to the region had limited objectives, a narrow focus, and a small budget. Of the approximately $250 million devoted to democracy promotion in the Middle East between the years 1991 and 2001, the lion’s share was channeled to Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, US initiatives tended to focus on state institutions—structures with which the vast majority of ordinary people had little daily contact but upon which US officials depended to manage the process of political liberalization. The 1990s were a period of strategic reorientation for Europe as well. The European commitment to democracy promotion grew out of the process of integration and the evolution of the European Union as an international actor. On the eve of the coming into force of the Common Security and Foreign Policy, the then fifteen-member EU faced security challenges on its eastern and southern peripheries. The overall EU approach to these adjacent regions, including democracy promotion activities, was motivated chiefly by concerns about the possible spillover effects of instability there. They were also linked to the European project itself, to the notion of the EU as a normative power—that is, as an exporter of norms and models of good governance in the fullest sense.5
3. See remarks by Ambassador Robert H. Pelletreau, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, before the Foundation for Democratization and Political Liberalization in the Middle East, 20 October 1995, at dosfan.lib.uic.edu/ERC/bureaus/nea/951020PelletreauReform.html. 4. Amy Hawthorne, “Do We Want Democracy in the Middle East?” at www.afsa.org/fsj/feb01/ hawthorne01.cfm. 5. See Ian Manners, “Normative Power Europe: A Contradiction in Terms,” Journal of Common Market Studies 40, no. 2 (2002): 235–58.

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Repeated references to European commitments to human rights, the rule of law, and democracy can be found in EU official documents and discourses during the 1990s. In the June 1991 Luxembourg Declaration, for example, the European Council reaffirmed this commitment as “an essential part of international relations and one of the cornerstones of European cooperation as well as of relations between the [European] Community and its member States and other countries.”6 In May 1995, the EU developed a democracy and human rights clause governing relations with third countries that stipulated the suspension of aid and trade in the event of serious human rights violations.7 In the mid-1990s, EU members restructured relations with the countries on the union’s periphery. The backbone of such efforts with respect to the EU’s southern neighbors was the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP). Established at Barcelona in November 1995, the EMP encompasses just part of the Middle East—it excludes the Persian Gulf and Arabian peninsular states.8 Though thus restricted in geographic scope, the EMP framework is comprehensive in that it divides EU interactions with the twelve partnering countries (six of them Arab) into economic, cultural, and political baskets. Under the EMP, support for civil society, human rights, and rule of law are key elements of the political and security basket.9 Like the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe, which was designed for the western Balkans at about the same time, the EMP focuses on the immediate neighborhood, aims to transpose the union’s own experience of economic and political development, and envisions the creation of a system of “common values.” Thus during the 1990s US and European views and practices concerning democracy promotion in the Middle East were broadly compatible. Both American and European officials subscribed to the “democratic peace” argument. Their actions sprang from the same basic underlying assumption that poverty reduction and domestic stability could be attained only with function6. Available online at europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/human_rights/doc/hr_decl_91.htm. 7. European Commission, “The Inclusion of Respect for Democratic Principles and Human Rights in Agreements between the Community and Third Countries,” Brussels, 23 May 1995, 216. 8. The ten non-EU partners in the EMP are Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey. Cyprus and Malta were among the non-EU partners but are now EU member-states. 9. See Mona Yacoubian, Promoting Middle East Democracy: European Initiatives (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2004), at usip.org/pubs/specialreports/sr127.pdf.

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ing democratic institutions and accountable governments. They were inclined to believe that political reforms in the region were desirable and possible. In practice, however, they were reluctant champions of democratic change, each wrestling with how to balance support for political reform against other core interests in the region. American officials and their European counterparts embraced a go-slow approach that was geared mainly toward buttressing the Middle East peace process and that privileged free market reforms over democratic reforms. Moreover, the aid they provided to promote good governance in the economic sphere arguably helped further entrench conservative Arab autocrats and the entrepreneurial elites who helped to sustain them. Ferment and Clarion Calls Beginning with the collapse of the Camp David II Summit and outbreak of the al Aqsa Intifada, and continuing with the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 and the US responses to them (most notably the decision to go to war in Iraq), transatlantic relations and the region itself entered a turbulent period. It was in this context that American and European officials began to reassess and remodel their Middle East policies. In the course of the post-9/11 reappraisal of the American role in shaping the international environment, the Bush administration’s own perspectives and approach to democracy promotion in the Middle East began to evolve. In President George W. Bush’s 2 June 2002 West Point commencement address, he proclaimed it necessary to help “extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent”10 (emphasis added)—a more expansive commitment, at least in rhetorical terms, than that of his predecessor. Three weeks later, in a speech delivered in the White House Rose Garden, President Bush for the first time applied the democratic peace thesis explicitly to the Middle East, but focused narrowly on the need for comprehensive Palestinian reform.11 The first Arab Human Development Report (AHDR), issued in July 2002, supplied the impetus and legitimacy for the further elaboration of the US

10. Available online at www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/06/print/20020601_3.html. 11. Available online at www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/06/print/20020624_3.html.

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message and approach to Middle East reform. The report identified three “deficits” (freedom, knowledge, and women’s empowerment) that, according to its authors, are creating conditions that pose a danger not only to Arabs themselves and to regional stability but to countries outside the Middle East as well. The report generated considerable discussion throughout the Arab world. Its findings were interpreted in Washington and in Europe capitals as compelling calls for action. Yet the Bush administration’s attention was fixed primarily on building a case for confronting Iraq. It is therefore hardly a surprise that Iraq was the focal point of the next major occasion on which President Bush raised the issue of the freedom deficit in the Middle East, his address before the UN General Assembly on 12 September 2002. In that address, President Bush stated, “Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause, and a great strategic goal. The people of Iraq deserve it; the security of all nations requires it. Free societies do not intimidate through cruelty and conquest, and open societies do not threaten the world with mass murder. The United States supports political and economic liberty in a unified Iraq.”12 Regime change fit squarely with the administration’s worldview about changing the Middle East political landscape and combating international terrorism. The Bush administration’s ideas about democracy promotion were also contained in the National Security Strategy (NSS) of the United States, released that same week. The NSS committed the United States to “actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world” (emphasis added). Thus, in the span of just six months, democratization came to be identified not only with American strategic goals in the Middle East but with US national security doctrine: the defining element of its approach to the IsraeliPalestinian conflict, a moral as well as practical (though at the time secondary) justification for going to war against Iraq, an antidote to terrorism, and an instrument for sustaining America’s preeminence. In December 2002, with the Iraq crisis escalating, the US administration unveiled its first new concrete effort to help spur reform in the region, the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). The MEPI was founded specifi12. Available online at www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/09/print/20020912_1.html.

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cally in order to support reform in four areas—politics, economics, education, and women’s empowerment—through the funding of small-scale projects at the grassroots level. Its democracy pillar centers on engaging community leaders to strengthen civil society and expand political participation. The Middle East Free Trade Area, announced by President Bush in May 2003, seeks to build on free trade area agreements previously signed with Israel and Jordan and ultimately to create a regional free trade area. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, European officials were themselves reassessing and adjusting their relations with the Middle East. At the national level, European governments launched a number of initiatives designed to advance democracy and good governance in the region. Germany, France, Britain, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands created new programs or boosted funding for existing programs. There was a great deal of activity at the EU level as well, spurred not just by the AHDR but by the direction of US policy in the Middle East—above all the Bush administration’s apparent adoption of a radical model of transformation centered on regime change in Iraq. The historic enlargement decisions taken by the Copenhagen European Council in December 2002 were yet a third powerful catalyst in kindling the debate over “neighborhood policy.” Thus, the renovation of EU policy toward the Middle East occurred against the backdrop of preparations for the next round of enlargement and for war in Iraq. On 11 March 2003, with war in Iraq imminent and EU member-states deeply divided over it, the European Commission issued a communication on “The Wider Europe,” which proposed a concrete agenda for how the union might promote reform in and closer relations with the countries to its east and south. Two months later, with Saddam Hussein’s regime removed from power and tentative efforts to mend intra-European relations under way, the commission issued another communication, “Reinvigorating EU Actions on Human Rights and Democratization with Mediterranean Partners.” Like the Bush administration, the commission drew liberally from the findings of the first AHDR, identifying as core objectives the promotion of democracy, rule of law, respect of human rights, and fundamental freedoms. The document laid out ten recommendations to use the existing array of EU policy instruments more effectively, including systematic inclusion of democracy and human

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rights issues in all dialogues and a more proactive role in initiating discussion of these matters. The commission’s work culminated in the launching of the EU’s European Neighborhood Policy, or ENP (November 2003), an initiative designed to “promote stability and prosperity within and beyond the new borders of the Union” by extending the offer of greater integration in exchange for significant progress in economic, institutional, and political reforms.13 Departing from the EMP formula, the ENP is structured on “differentiated” country action plans, focuses on the implementation of reforms, and aims to export the EU’s own political and economic values to the countries on its periphery by means of material incentives rather than to create “common values.” It is also important to mention that the ENP was crafted and agreed upon during the very same period in which the European Security Strategy (ESS) itself was being formulated. It is telling that the ESS, approved by the European Council in December 2003, states that “the first line of defence will often be abroad” and that “broader engagement with the Arab world should be considered.” The ESS concludes: “The quality of international society depends on the quality of governments that are its foundation. The best protection of our security is a world of well-governed democratic states.”14 Taken together, the ESS and the ENP stand as evidence that EU member-states have drawn a clear link between the key threats facing Europe, especially jihadist terrorism, and socioeconomic and political stagnation of the Middle East. In a speech before the Fortieth Munich Conference on Security Policy in February 2004, in which he called upon the United States and Europe to pool their capabilities and assets, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer underscored this point, stating, “Our concerted efforts to foster peace and security are doomed to failure if we believe that only security issues matter. They certainly do, but security is a much broader concept in this fight against terrorism: social and cultural modernization issues, as well as democracy, the rule of law, women’s rights and good governance, are of almost even greater importance.”15
13. Available online at europa.eu.int/comm/world/enp/pdf/com03_104_en.pdf. 14. Available online at ue.eu.int/uedocs/cmsUpload/78367.pdf. 15. Available online at www.securityconference.de/konferenzen/rede.php?menu_2004=&menu_ konferenzen=&sprache=en&id=123&.

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The ENP and ESS, however, were largely overshadowed in the Western and Middle Eastern media, not just by news of the growing insurgency in Iraq, but also by President Bush’s speech on 6 November 2003 at the National Endowment for Democracy. In the speech’s most memorable passage, Bush stated, “Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe—because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.” He then formally declared a new US “forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East,” which, though lacking details, laid out (for the first time since the war in Iraq had begun) a positive vision of US engagement with the Middle East, centered on democratization. This represented a radical shift in mindset, if not in actual policy: democracy promotion in the Middle East was to be a critical US national security priority. Despite, and perhaps even because of division over developments in Iraq, the EU and United States seemed to be moving in roughly the same direction regarding Middle East political reform. Both appeared resolved to say and to do more to help spur reform. Both appeared ever more persuaded of the need to employ a holistic approach to political reform that combines bottom-up and top-down efforts. As illustrated by the MEPI, the United States seemed inclined to invest more attention and resources in strengthening civil society. Under the ENP, EU member-states committed themselves, at least in principle, to be more action centered and results driven. Yet the United States and Europe were proceeding largely independently of one another—along parallel tracks. Lurching toward Consensus US officials intended to use the June 2004 G-8 Summit at Sea Island, Georgia, to rally support for their democracy agenda—though without having yet made a serious attempt to mend the rift with their estranged European allies, or even having acknowledged publicly the progress that had been achieved in revamping EU policy. This merely fed the suspicion in Europe that the US call to join forces was a fig leaf for getting them to subscribe to a policy scripted by Washington and designed mainly to serve US national interests. The working draft of the US proposals (leaked to the Arab press in Febru-

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ary 2004 and then widely disseminated)16 called for a Greater Middle East initiative (GMEI). It urged G-8 members to “launch a coordinated response to promote political, economic and social reform in the region” and “forge a long-term partnership with the Greater Middle East’s reform leaders.”17 The GMEI proposals were hardly pathbreaking. They advocated increasing direct funding to nongovernmental organizations and the creation of a monitoring mechanism to chart progress on reform. Perhaps the boldest ideas were those geared toward strengthening the private sector. Nevertheless, the GMEI met with withering criticism on many fronts. One of the sharpest critiques was offered by Nader Fergany, chief editor of the AHDR, upon whose data and findings the working paper drew heavily. Europeans complained that neither they nor their Middle East counterparts had been consulted. They objected to the use of the term Greater Middle East as an attempt to define the boundaries of the region in accordance with US strategic objectives.18 They protested the omission from the American proposal of any reference to the Arab-Israeli conflict. French president Jacques Chirac emphasized the risks of change and reproved US officials as “missionaries of democracy” who fail to recognize that “democracy is a culture, not a method.”19 Yet it is important to note that European officials did not repudiate the call for reform. Instead of merely rejecting the GMEI, they proposed modifications. Much has been made of the fact that the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative—later rechristened the Partnership for Progress and a Common Future and agreed upon at the Sea Island Summit—was a scaled- back version of the original US proposal.20 But seldom noted is that
16. The London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat obtained a copy of the proposal and published the document in its entirety on 13 February 2005. The English translation was later published by AlHayat on its website, http://english.daralhayat.com. 17. Ibid. 18. Marina Ottaway and Thomas Carothers, “The Greater Middle East Initiative: Off to a False Start,” Carnegie Policy Brief no. 29 (March 2004), at www.ceip.org/fi les/pdf/Policybrief29.pdf. The authors argue that the GMEI is “hollow at the core,” deficient in that it serves up standard fare of democracy promotion programs that the United States and European countries have been administering for over a decade. 19. Quoted in the Guardian, 10 June 2004. 20. See the text of the US-EU Declaration Supporting Peace, Progress, and Reform in the Broader Middle East and the Mediterranean, Dromoland Castle, Shannon, Ireland, 26 June 2004, at dublin .usembassy.gov/ireland/stability_meast.html.

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the partnership went a long way toward accommodating European objections and preferences. The partnership set modest goals. It does not call for sweeping democratic change. It refers to the tasks ahead as “modernization” rather than as “democratization.” It identifies four concrete areas of reform and emphasizes “technical aspects” of democracy that track closely with existing EU policies. It accepts the centrality of consultations with Arab governments. And it aims to “build upon respective policy frameworks and instruments.”21 Stefano Sannino, special advisor on G-8 matters to the president of the European Commission, put it well, stating, “We have managed to shape [the partnership] in a way which is very much in line with our own ideas concerning how to deal with the Middle East region.”22 Jumping on the Democracy Bandwagon In fall 2004—with the stock of US soft power diminished due to a ballooning deficit and a falling dollar, the American military stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a fiercely contested presidential campaign entering its last lap—the Bush administration sought to mend fences with Europe and to energize the Middle East democratization effort. Indeed, the transatlantic and democracy agendas became inextricably entwined. The Bush administration had extended a hand across the Atlantic to French officials before the November 2004 US presidential election and to German officials shortly thereafter. In a postelection news conference, President Bush stated, “Whatever our past disagreements, we share a common enemy.” In his second inauguration address (20 January 2005), Bush melded the goals of spreading democracy and reinvigorating transatlantic relations, stating, “The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. . . . And all the allies of the United States can know: we honor your friendship, we rely on your counsel, and we depend on your help. Division among free nations is a primary goal of freedom’s enemies. The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies’ defeat.”23
21. Available at www.eurunion.org/partner/summit/Summit0406/2004SumMideast.pdf 22. Quoted in Ahto Lobjakas, “Middle East: EU Modifies US Plan on Promoting Regional Democracy,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 7 June 2004, at www.rferl.org.. 23. See www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/01/20050120-1.html.

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The charm offensive continued with the visits to Europe in February 2005 by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and President Bush himself. During her trip, newly confirmed Secretary Rice called for transatlantic reconciliation and called upon Western countries to spread democracy in the Middle East.24 During his own trip, President Bush was particularly attentive to European sensibilities, stating, “Our greatest opportunity, and our immediate goal, is peace in the Middle East. . . . [A] free and peaceful Palestine can add to the momentum of reform throughout the broader Middle East. Lasting, successful reform in the broader Middle East will not be imposed from the outside; it must be chosen from within.”25 Implicitly endorsing the diplomatic efforts of the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), he stated, “Iran is different from Iraq. We are in the early stages of diplomacy with the Iranian government.” And he downplayed the acrimonious debate over going to war in Iraq as a “passing disagreement.” Further evidence of the US desire to rebuild relations with Europe were the appointments of many Europe hands to key positions in the second Bush administration—from Secretary Rice herself to Robert Zoellick, Daniel Fried, Eric Edelman, Stephen Hadley, J. D. Crouch, and Nicholas Burns. More to the point, in his first foreign policy address as under secretary of political affairs, Burns outlined to his audience at London’s Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) on 6 April 2005 “a forward-looking agenda that Europe and America can agree and pursue in partnership.” Burns continued, “The US plans to make—as a permanent feature of its policy in the region—a broad and substantial program to help the peoples of the Middle East reach a more secure and democratic future.”26 American and European perspectives concerning reform in the Middle East have much in common. Europeans more or less share the view of the Bush administration that political reform in the Middle East is urgently

24. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, remarks at the Institut des Etudes Politiques de Paris, 8 February 2005. Available at state.gove/secretary/rm/2005/41973.htm. 25. Speech in Brussels, quoted in European Report, no. 2939 (23 February 2005). 26. US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns, “A Transatlantic Agenda for the Year Ahead,” speech delivered at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, London, 6 April 2005.

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needed. The European Commission report states unequivocally that political reform is crucial to achieving sustainable security and stability.27 Europeans reject, as does the Bush administration, the idea of Arab exceptionalism (the notion that democracy cannot take root in the Arab world). There is a growing consensus on both sides of the Atlantic that strengthening basic freedoms should be the focus of political reforms and that civil society is the engine for such reform. But how close is this convergence? The United States and Europe, in important respects, hold disparate views and subscribe to different policy approaches to reform in the Middle East. The mutual desire to mend the transatlantic rift over Iraq and the common goal of supporting reform in the Middle East have tended to mask these differences, not resolve them. One difference lies in their employment of rhetoric. European officials tend to eschew the kind of sweeping declarations that are the staple of their US counterparts. This is not just a matter of having a different style. It is indicative of the deep-seated European reluctance to give the impression of hectoring their Middle Eastern partners or of seeking to impose change upon them. This forbearance, in turn, reflects not just a desire to avoid offending Middle Eastern sensibilities but a practical judgment about how best to nudge forward reform. Similarly, European officials seem to make a conscious effort to substitute their own terminology for the language normally used in US official discourse, preferring expressions such as “liberal values” and the British favorite, “rule of law,” to “democracy” and “democratization.” Here too there is more than just a semantic difference. Many Europeans view what ails Middle Eastern countries as crises of “modernization”—a complex interplay of historical, cultural, socioeconomic, and political processes—that necessitate incremental, broad systemic reform. As such, they do not regard democracy promotion as the key to solving the region’s problems. Partly for the reasons just described, there is little European interest in tightly coordinating their democracy promotion policies with those of the United States. EU member states are confident that they are on the right
27. “EU Vows to Focus on Human Rights, Trade, and Education in the Middle East,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 12 April 2005. See the European Commission communication at europe.eu.int/ comm/external_relations/euromed/barcelon_10/docs/10th_com_en.pdf.

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track. Theirs is a multilayered architecture for supporting reform that, for all its deficiencies, they are determined to build upon. The ENP is expressly intended as an added dimension, that is, to enhance rather than to replace existing relationships such as those set forth in partnership and cooperation agreements and association agreements. European states rejected the US call to create a common transatlantic mechanism for channeling democracy assistance to the Middle East—unmistakable evidence of their wanting to distance themselves from US policies. This determination to follow an independent yet parallel path suggests that while Americans and Europeans have joined the democracy bandwagon, they have not in the strictest sense joined forces. From Joining Hands to Joining Forces? Does the limited policy convergence on Middle East reform described in the previous section bode ill for transatlantic relations, and more importantly, for the cause of democracy and good governance? To the extent that external actors can help generate momentum for political change in the region, it is certainly better to have the United States and Europe working toward the same general objective than at cross-purposes. As shown earlier, they are. To the extent that Americans and Europeans both define security in broad terms, this can only help focus Western attention and resources on long neglected governance and socioeconomic problems. They do. But one should not exaggerate the importance of concerted action. Differences in approach or in emphasis are not necessarily detrimental to the cause of reform. Given the multiple sources of tension in and the great diversity of the region, it might be advantageous for there to be a variety of external perspectives and policy instruments—provided, of course, that the United States and Europe are not actively working to undermine each other or frittering away scarce resources by wanton duplication of programs. One should also be wary of equating democratization with securing Western interests and of thereby using democracy promotion as an instrument for pursuing a host of policy objectives. Achieving tight policy coordination between the United States and Europe on Middle East reform is not a litmus test for the well-being of transatlantic relations. Nor is it the means to achieve

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all ends—the antidote to jihadist terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), intractable regional conflicts, social unrest, and lagging economic development. If attitudinal and policy differences regarding Middle East reform are unlikely to subvert the shared US-European commitment to support it, then what might? Four obstacles stand in the way of a long-lasting and effective transatlantic partnership in support of reform: • persistent policy divergences on a range of challenges in the Middle East, • damaged credibility, • crowded agendas, and • risk aversion. Policy Divergences While EU members have forged a consensus on policy toward Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict, the United States and Europe have not. Concerning Iran, the European approach is firmly anchored in the comprehensive dialogue established in 1998, even though for the past two years the agenda has been dominated by the nuclear issue. The EU-3’s diplomacy has so far succeeded in averting a crisis but has not resolved the nuclear problem. Much has been made of the European assurances reportedly given to Washington about action to be taken should diplomacy fail, and of US support for the EU-3’s negotiations with Tehran. But it is unclear at what point diplomacy will be judged to have failed, whether at that moment the European side would indeed refer the issue to the UN Security Council, and in that event what kind of sanctions they would endorse. Equally uncertain is at what juncture in the course of wrestling with the Iranian nuclear challenge the United States might exercise a military option. Most problematic in terms of the reform agenda is that the Europeans have never supported regime change in Iran, while both the Clinton and Bush administrations have flirted with it as a goal, though without having developed a coherent plan to effect it. Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Europeans have long supported reform of Palestinian institutions as a critical component of the search for

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peace. Thus Europeans generally welcomed President Bush’s call for reform. They also welcomed the evolution of the Quartet’s role, the so-called roadmap, and the US steps to revive the peace process after the Iraq war. The Quartet are the EU, Russia, the UN, and the United States. Yet American and European perspectives and positions on the conflict still differ. They diverge in their perceptions of the linkage between the conflict, on the one hand, and the roots of terrorism and prospects for Middle East reform, on the other. Every major official European document and statement pertaining to the Middle East refers to the Arab-Israeli conflict as being of central importance. The ESS identifies the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a “strategic priority.”28 Romano Prodi, former president of the European Commission, pointedly noted that “the mother of all conflicts is the PalestinianIsraeli conflict.” In a speech before the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 30 March 2004, Chris Patten, European commissioner for external relations, insisted, “Stalemate in the peace process has time and again stymied progress on reform.”29 While conceding this point, US officials nonetheless tend to view Europeans as obsessively preoccupied with the Arab-Israeli conflict. On Syria, American and European approaches not long ago seemed very far apart indeed, with Europeans committed to engaging Damascus and Washington applying varying degrees of pressure. The hardening of European positions regarding Syria’s refusal to sign the WMD clause of the proposed EU Association Agreement, and most recently concerning Syria’s military occupation and political dominance of Lebanon, narrowed the transatlantic policy gap. But US and European policy makers do not agree on how to deal with Hezbollah. Nor, in spite of frustration over long-delayed economic and political reforms by Syria, do European governments seem inclined to join Washington in imposing tough punitive sanctions. What of Iraq? Whereas Europeans have tended to see the prospects for reform in the wider Middle East boosted mainly through creation of a viable Palestinian state, American officials generally regard political progress in Iraq as the key to advancing prospects for democracy elsewhere in the region.
28. Remarks at the EP plenary session in Strasbourg, 31 March 2004. 29. Quoted in European Report, 7 April 2004.

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There are several other issues related to post-Saddam Iraq where transatlantic and intra-European differences are apparent. European leaders have been reluctant to agree to assume a larger role in the reconstruction process until security problems are addressed. They have also been reluctant to play a bigger role in the security sector. Clearly, the US side had hoped that the series of summits held in June 2004 would produce a common agenda and collective action to help stabilize Iraq. But they were sorely disappointed. At the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Istanbul, the allies agreed to help train security forces. However, six members refused to let their nationals take part in the mission. Only eight months later did President Bush secure a commitment from all NATO members to pledge staff or funds, but the size of the training mission is a mere 360 personnel from member states. Meanwhile, since March 2004, Spain, Hungary, Poland, and the Netherlands have taken decisions to withdraw or reduce their troop contingents in Iraq. And while European national governments and the EU have helped finance Iraqi elections and humanitarian efforts, European policy makers—given budgetary constraints and political considerations—have been disinclined to shoulder a larger responsibility and are apprehensive about being closely identified with American policies. Damaged Credibility The transatlantic credibility gap exists on several levels. At one level, there is a great deal of residual mistrust on both sides of the Atlantic stemming from the Iraq war that will take considerable time and effort to alleviate. Americans and Europeans question one another’s motivations like never before. There is profound anxiety in some European circles that the United States has not abandoned its radical transformation model in favor of a gradualist approach to political reform. In Washington policy circles, lingering suspicions and a low threshold of confidence have yielded opinions of Europe that run the gamut—from that of a Europe weak, divided, and therefore unable to support US policy to a Europe steadfastly determined to counterbalance the United States or at least to present alternatives to American policies. On the specific question of political reform, many Europeans are convinced that US officials fail to understand and generally undervalue the experiences

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they have developed over the past decade under the EMP. Furthermore, they worry that the US approach to reform is likely to be heavy handed and therefore ineffectual or even counterproductive. At a second level, both the United States and Europe operate under a cloud of suspicion in the Middle East. President Bush’s candid admission that the West had, for many decades, excused and accommodated the lack of freedom in the Middle East called attention to the poor track record of past American and European administrations. But merely setting the record straight did not dispel skepticism about future US and European actions. As far as the United States is concerned, by declaring a “new forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East,” no matter how flush with ready money and sustained attention, the Bush administration cannot easily overcome the bitterness and mistrust caused by other US policies in the region. Here, the shadow of Iraq is inescapable. The cause of freedom for Iraqis, which leaped to the forefront of US justifications for its actions only as the search for WMD was proving fruitless, fuels cynicism that cannot simply be banished with a transfer of sovereignty, the holding of elections, or the drafting of a constitution. For quite some time, the United States will be condemned to work assiduously to demonstrate that in the Iraq case the ends did justify the means. The continuing military occupation of Iraq and US military posture elsewhere in the region has also inflamed suspicion that is difficult to extinguish. Compounding this problem have been the disclosures of coercive interrogations, the practice of “renditioning,” prisoner abuse at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib as well as in Afghanistan, and reported US efforts to suppress the publication of passages in the third AHDR highly critical of Israel and of American policy. Some US officials appear to doubt that this has harmed America’s reputation abroad.30 But the searing criticism by figures such as Tunisian human rights activist Moncef Marzouki suggests otherwise. Writing in Al-Hayat, Marzouki decried “the total lack of credibility of the US policy to promote democracy in the Arab world.”31 Does the poor image and damaged credibility of the messenger fatally compromise the message? Hardly. But it does play into the hands of incum30. See remarks at the National Press Club, quoted in Washington Post, 14 June 2005. 31. Al-Hayat, 23 February 2004.

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bent regimes. And it makes reformers somewhat wary of being tarred by association with the United States. As Fareed Zakaria put it, albeit rather strongly, in an op-ed piece in the Detroit Free Press, “American support today is the kiss of death.”32 This also goes some way toward explaining why, though Europeans have joined the democracy bandwagon, they are keen to distance themselves from the United States. That said, Europeans themselves suffer from a credibility deficit. Under the EMP, the highly touted democracy clauses in EU association agreements were not enforced. For years, some EU member states have been less willing than others to exert pressure for reform on regional leaders with whom they had grown accustomed and comfortable dealing.33 Since 9/11 the EU has ramped up antiterrorism and border control cooperation with Middle Eastern governments, as well as securing nonproliferation commitments from them,34 raising the question of whether they have indeed moved beyond the securityfirst objectives that had characterized European relations with their Middle Eastern neighbors in the 1990s. The mistreatment by Europeans of Muslims in their midst, while perhaps not the equivalent of the experiences of many Muslim Americans under the Patriot Act, undoubtedly sends the same mixed signals about the virtues of Western democracy. Crowded Agendas In addition to damaged credibility, the domestic and foreign affairs agendas on both sides of the Atlantic are crowded. The Bush administration faces a multitude of challenges on the domestic and foreign policy fronts with everdecreasing time in office. President Bush’s approval rating is sinking, and there is resistance in Congress to accede to or fully fund his initiatives. The United States suffers from soaring budget and trade deficits and from onerous financial and military burdens in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nettlesome

32. Available at www.freep.com/voices/columnists/ezak8_20040908.htm. 33. Separate frameworks for dealing with the non-Mediterranean countries were put in place in the form of the EU-GCC Dialogue, the Comprehensive Dialogue with Iran, and the Cooperation Agreement with Yemen. 34. Richard Youngs, “Transatlantic Cooperation on Middle East Reform: A European Misjudgement?” London, Foreign Policy Center, November 2004, 115, at fpc.org.uk/fsblob/352.pdf.

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nuclear challenges posed by North Korea and Iran will continue to demand attention and could escalate into major crises. Deciding the future status of Kosovo—a vexing challenge for the United States and Europe alike—looms on the horizon. Meanwhile, Europe faces many challenges of its own. Tony Blair, Silvio Berlusconi, and Gerhard Schroeder are all politically weakened national leaders. The EU constitutional crisis and budget impasse have thrown into sharp relief a Europe struggling with its own identity and historic transition. How much will the inward-looking Europe deprive the externally oriented Europe of the leadership, cohesion, and material assets needed to follow through on the promise of Middle East reform? Even before the acrimonious collapse of the EU summit in June 2005, it is telling that Prime Minister Tony Blair, set to launch the UK presidency of the G-8, declared 2005 to be the “Year of Africa,” not of the Middle East. And as Britain prepares to take the helm of the rotating EU presidency as well, the immediate task at hand would seem to be finding a way to overcome the political uncertainty and financial paralysis that so suddenly have shaken the EU. Risk Aversion But arguably the biggest obstacle of all is how to reconcile the need for stability with the need for political change. Are US or European policy makers prepared to exert pressure on, or if need be, sever ties with leaders and regimes with which they have long done business in the interest of democracy and good governance? Are they willing to risk losing the cooperation of incumbent regimes on terrorism and other issues of core concern? Are they willing to take the chance that pluralism and participatory democracy might not yield pliant partners? The Bush administration’s resolute march to war in Iraq and policy of “constructive instability” in the Levant would seem to indicate a willingness to throw caution to the wind in an effort to transform the region—for most Europeans, their worst fear. Yet this fear might be misplaced. The US administration has no more stomach than the Europeans for precipitating political change in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. And here is the rub: the United States and Europe are right to be concerned about their own interests and about

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the possibility that instability might ensue were these familiar regimes to be replaced. AHDR authors do not inveigh against incremental change. They recommend ways to help unleash civil-society forces, create an atmosphere conducive to political change, and favor gradual and negotiated political transition to representative government. Ground has begun to shift in the debate about democracy and reform in the Middle East, from talk of marginalizing to how to widen the circle of participation to include organized Islamist groups and parties—not whether but how they could participate politically. Which Way Forward for the Alliance and for Freedom? Political reform in the Middle East is urgently needed. The authors of the third AHDR, Towards Freedom in the Arab World, issue this dire warning: “If the repressive situation in Arab countries today continues, intensified social conflict is likely to follow. In the absence of peaceful and effective mechanisms to address injustice and achieve political alternation, some might be tempted to embrace violent protest, with the risk of internal disorder.”35 Recognizing that there are limits to the impact that external actors can have on domestic political processes, there is nonetheless no ready substitute for Euro-American cooperation to champion democracy and human rights. What can they do, or do better, to discharge this moral and practical responsibility? Several things come to mind. First, they can reach a common understanding of what they are actually trying to achieve. A much needed first step is a conceptual exercise: an attempt to disaggregate democracy (define its components) in order to identify top priority areas of reform. Here, the recommendations for corrective action offered in the third AHDR, whose authors enumerate several key areas of reform that need immediate attention, are a good entry point: Ensuring respect for the key freedoms of opinion, expression, and association; ending all types of marginalization and discrimination against social groups and minorities; guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary and ending reliance on military tribunals and other “exceptional” courts; and abolishing
35. UN Development Programme Regional Bureau for Arab States, Arab Human Development Report 2004: Towards Freedom in the Arab World (New York: UN, 2004).

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the states of emergency that have become permanent features of governance in the region and which stifle liberty and strip people of their constitutional rights. Second, they can embrace a balanced and integrated approach to address the manifold challenges of modernization—balanced in that it focuses no less on the socioeconomic than on the political aspects of development, and integrated in that it includes top-down and bottom-up elements. This is the best insurance against disillusionment and political paralysis. Balance in the sense of investing in the socioeconomic foundations of political reform can help avoid creating the popular expectation that democracy is a cure-all. And it can help to capitalize on opportunities to foster a democratic culture indirectly through supporting small- and medium-sized enterprises that could underpin the political reform process.36 Keying democracy promotion efforts to both state and societal actors can provide indigenous reformists and their external supporters more traction and leverage. It can also serve as a safeguard against blind faith in the ability of civil society groups to effect political change when, after all, access to the political marketplace ultimately depends on incumbent regimes allowing them to associate, organize, and express their views; and excessive reliance on political leaders, whose survival instincts and skills are formidable, to produce or allow such change. Third, they can, and must, strive to be responsive to the urgent need for political change while at the same time mindful of the forbearance and tenacity required of them as stakeholders in a regionwide generational transformation that is bound to be punctuated by false starts, setbacks, and unintended consequences. This is a matter of finding a middle ground between being action driven and results oriented, on the one hand, and patient, on the other. Fourth, they can reject the notion of a security-democracy tradeoff. However, this will necessitate adjustments in thinking and practice by Americans and Europeans alike. With respect to interactions with incumbent regimes in the Middle East, it will require much lower tolerance for repression disguised
36. See Volker Perthes, “Arab Reforms in Context of Wider EU External Relations to Middle East: Past and Future Strategies,” presentation at the “Conference on Arab Reforms and the Challenges for EU Policies,” Helsinki, 16 September 2004, at www.upi-fiia.fi /tilaisuudet/arab09_2004perthes .htm.

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as counterterrorism. It will also require much deeper understanding of the linkages between regional security problems and reform, lest the failure to seek progress on one compromises efforts to make headway on the other. It will require much greater vigilance and restraint to ensure that Western efforts to spur democracy in the Middle East are not undercut by Western countries themselves spurning the rule of law and eviscerating civil liberties. And buttressing these changes must be far greater resolve in combating Islamophobia in the West, not just anti-Americanism and/or anti-Westernism in the Middle East. Conclusion America and Europe face a Middle East in ferment. The past year has been a season of headline-grabbing political developments in the Arab world—stunning elections in Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq; the astonishingly speedy withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon; the massive demonstrations in Egypt under the banner of Kifaya (Enough!); municipal elections in Saudi Arabia; and the passage of a women’s suffrage bill and the appointment of a female, Masouma al-Mubarak, to a cabinet post for the first time in Kuwait. Yet, significant though some of these breakthroughs may well be, they coexist uneasily with a rising wave of Islamist militancy that has taken root in the Arab Gulf and with reformists in retreat in Iran. The reform dynamic in the Middle East is not monolithic; its characteristics and its trajectory vary by country and are impossible to predict. While it is clear that the United States and Europe cannot and should not seek to control the processes of political transformation, they can certainly play a constructive role in facilitating them. And while tight policy coordination between the United States and Europe might be unattainable, this does not and should not prevent close consultation or preclude efforts to develop synergies between their respective democracy support efforts. The coming months and years will present a test, as much for the West as for the Middle East itself. By their actions, the United States and Europe can do much to demonstrate that democracy promotion is indeed a cardinal Western policy objective in the Middle East and not just a fleeting enthusiasm.