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For a long time, the hope of many was to replicate the US experiment around the globe; is it still feasible in 2010? Is it still desirable?
During the early twentieth century, American President Woodrow Wilson adopted a heightened moral self-righteous diplomacy. Throughout his Presidency, this self-righteousness began to morph into an ideology that power in the hands of the US transformed into virtue. This virtuous ideology began to be increasingly applied to US foreign policy over the course of the century, exemplifying that only the US knows what is best for the world. This was cordially demonstrated by Wilson himself in 1917, saying that “American principles, American policies... are the principles and policies of every forward looking man and woman everywhere, of every modern nation, of every enlightened community. These are the principles of mankind and must prevail” (Cited in Hoff, 2008: 13). The twentieth century was undoubtedly the American century, and the US saw it as their personal and somewhat divine mission to spread its experiment in the name and form of democracy around the world (Knutsen, 1999: 193). Its power and projection was so vast and successful that the US experiment desired emulation by many abroad. However, this utopia has gradually eroded away as a result of America’s own exceptionalism, which has led one author to (Mason, 2009: 212) declare that “the US experiment no longer seams feasible or even desirable”. Perhaps the most prominent area where the US experiment is being trialled and tested at the moment is in the Middle Eastern and North African Arab states. While Mason’s argument is credible, the experiment’s feasibility and desirability is pervasive on many levels, and is perhaps not as gloomy as Mason suggests it to be. In this essay, I will look at the why US experiment in the ME and NA Arab states is feasible and desirable to the US, and why it is also feasible and desirable to certain actors within the ME and NA Arab states.
After the Cold War in 1991, the US turned its full attention to the spread of democracy. The spread of democracy comes with many benefits, which are felt by the US as caretaker of world order, and the rest of the international community. Newly democratic states can enjoy improved living conditions, the expansion of liberties, a lesser threat of violence and enhanced economic performance. The international community also has the guarantee of an absence of war with the newly democratic state, fewer refugees and the absence of terrorist support (Lynn-Jones, 1998).
As the brokers of world stability, the spread and consolidation of democracy is crucial to the US. Twenty-first century world politics can be seen as two grinding tectonic plates, which is made even more cumbersome as the pace of change continues to out manoeuvre any predetermined vision. Secretary of State at the time, Condoleezza Rice (2005), embodies these turbulent times in a manifesto expressing that contrary to the concept of sovereignty, states are losing their capacity to act, and no longer can some states address the problems emerging from within their borders. Rice (2005) furthers suggests that the international order is threatened more by what happens within these weak and failing states than by strong and aggressive states. These weak and failing states are increasingly becoming the agents of repression, pandemics, terrorists and proliferators of weapons of mass destruction. Like many before her, Rice (2005) argues that this instability can only be combated by the spread of democracy. She further suggests that one specific region in the world is so entrenched in this ‘freedom deficit’ that it has led to “the growth of an ideology so vicious and virulent that it leads people to strap suicide bombs to their bodies and fly airplanes into buildings”. The region the Secretary of State is referring to is the Middle East. Of equal importance are the neighbouring Maghreb Arab states of North Africa. Together, this band of states have created what is essentially a belt of instability and impending chaos.
The ME and NA states are a huge problem area. Not one of the twenty-two Arab ME or NA states are democratic, the area was the home for the 9/11 bombers, and has not caught onto any form of modernisation. Economic growth is slow and inconsistent whilst illiteracy and unemployment are rife. The region spends more money on its militaries as a percentage of gross domestic product than anywhere else in the world. It is not integrated into the world economy, and exports little other than its rich oil reserves. Overall, the region is plagued by an extreme lack of opportunity (Nye, 2004: 18). All of these conditions are sadly facilitated by the impulse towards authoritarian style governments. Entelis (2005: 539) explains that evidently, a complex and intricate web of forces (such as the disconnects above) link autocratic political orders with anemic levels of socioeconomic development and other conditions that run contrary to positive human output. The economic, political and socioeconomic wasteland that the ME and NA states have become requires serious attention from the US, and is a cancer that can only be cured by the spread of democracy through US statecraft. Democracy in these regions is the only lasting guarantee of peace and stability (Rice, 2005). Luckily, outside influence has always been an integral part of shaping state behaviour, and it is this angle that makes the US experiment in the ME and NA Arab states logical (Entelis: 2005; 557). Ultimately, if US democratic efforts fail, “all other roads lead back to 9/11” (Gerech, 2004: 58). It is for these reasons that the US experiment in the spread of democracy and freedom in the ME and NA states is desirable, and mandatorily feasible to the US.
Condoleezza Rice (2005) continues in her manifesto that the fact the ME (and NA) states have no history of democracy is no obstacle, and no excuse for doing nothing. She speaks for American ideals as a whole by saying that democracy can and will succeed in the region because there is an increasing human longing for liberty and democracy. However, as Mason (2009; 212) argues, the US experiment is no longer feasible or even desirable. While much US dissent does exist in the ME and NA regions (Applebaum, 2005: 40; Kirchick, 2009; 23; Shadid, 2003; Stivachtis, 2007: 4), there is enough evidence to suggest that democratic and liberal values are taking hold; and as Rice (2005) argues, democratic and liberal values are increasingly becoming desirable.
Firstly, many have argued that the ME and NA Arab states are immediately inhospitable to democracy because of a fundamental clash of ideals with Islam (Huntington cited in Anderson, 2001: 53). Alternatively, there is extensive research to suggest that these barriers are fictional, and even Islam itself considers the religion to be the oldest form of democracy (Hassouna, 2001: 50). Nye (2004: 19) raises the argument that cultural Islamic barriers to democracy are far from insurmountable because Turkey and Bangladesh are both democratic and Islamic majority states, whilst Gale (2010: 28) argues that Indonesia is the world’s most populous Islamic state, and is also a fully fledged democracy where US influence is unequivocal. A vast majority of ME and NA states in fact believe that “Religion is for God but the government is for the people” (Gerech, 2004; 43). Ultimately, this ideal rests on the fact that Arab exceptionalism prevails, not Islamic exceptionalism (Stepan and Robertson, 2004; 144).
Entilis (2005: 548) and Anderson (2001: 54) suggest that the greatest opposition to democracy in the Arab world is not Islam, but by the authoritarian governments and their militaries that act unaccountably to democratic authority. The need for Arab democracy has already been discussed, but no such progression to democracy has occurred yet simply because the only necessary pretence, the collapse of authoritarianism, has yet to occur (Entelis, 2005: 540). Part of the unfortunate authoritarian tradition in Arab states rests with stalwart relationship between the government and the states military. While most states in the world have their own military, Arab militaries have been condemned as having their own states (Entelis, 2005: 545). Strong militaries have only enhanced the Arab states robustness and resistance to democratic change, thus it seems unlikely for democratic change to occur anytime soon, reflecting on Mason’s (2009: 212) democratic feasibility theory. Adding weight to this argument is the existence of pseudo-democratic institutions, which exist only to delegitimise and crush potential democratic change (Tlili, 2007: 47). From the top down, Arab democracy does seems unfeasible; but there are alternatives.
As raised before, the shape and behaviour of states has always been influenced by external actors, thus it has been suggested for the US to facilitate feasible democracy in the ME and NA, Authoritarianism needs to be ousted by an activist approach (Marr, 1994: 215). Central to this activist approach is US diplomacy in Iraq. Iraq is the ME linchpin equivalent to freedom as Germany was in Cold War Europe (Rice, 2003: 20). Initially, “no one was willing to take action against the removal of Saddam” (Marr, 1994: 220), but this changed after 9/11. Iraq became the key to the US strategy in replicating the US experiment throughout the Arab states (Dodge, 2009: 220), and the first step was the removal of Saddam Hussein (Nye, 2004: 19). While the four week military campaign in 2003 was successful in toppling the dictator, unprecedented domestic and international turmoil followed which greatly undermined US credibility. Whilst the initial failures of the Iraq democratic experiment may have appeared to make democratic change unfeasible to the rest of the region, Dodge (2006: 225) suggests that the experiment isn’t over yet, and that democracy will take a long time to truly consolidate. Thus, democracy certainly should not be rendered as unfeasible.
While dissent against US policy exists, mostly against the invasion in Iraq, the subjects of the region have little to argue against that the removal of a genocidal dictator had its benefits. There has been a wide consensus and growing desire within the Arab world towards freedom against political tyranny and democratic ideals (Nye, 2004: 19), and President Bush’s invasion of Iraq should be credited as the major catalyst for “breaking through the permafrost of entrenched Authoritarian Arab governments” (Hicks, 2004). The tireless promotion of democracy in the region has lead to many to jumping on the reform debate. Pletka (2004) articulates that what was once reserved for the pages of London or Paris newspapers has popped up in government controlled Arab press publications, in what has become a windfall debate about democracy. Even autocrats themselves have joined in on the debate about democratising the Arab world. Whilst talking of reform in the ME would have formerly been considered heresy and met with state repression, it is openly spoken about by many reformers in the effort to root out Autocracy and dictatorship (Hicks, 2004). Gerecht (2004: 14) adds to this by saying the most underreported story that emerged from the region is the desire for political change, and the frequent emergence of home grown civil action groups. It is important to note that these groups have not been cultivated by the US; moreover, the onset of the US experiment only gave the reformist groups a voice. Furthermore, civic groups as early as 1991 were established in the ME to promote US democratic ideals (Shadid, 2003). Ultimately, most Arab’s are admit to welcoming reform form the outside world, and an Egyptian newspaper even read that putting off reform is like “playing with fire” (Cited in Pletka, 2004). It is undisputed that the US experiment is desirable within the ME and NA regions. As the least politically free region in the world, Arabs are becoming increasingly frustrated of being the laughing stock of an advancing world (Pletka, 2004). Perhaps encapsulating this frustration was the Doha Declaration for Democracy and Reform in 2004, which pleaded to autocrats to stop hiding behind the Israeli question as a prerequisite for political reform, and to face inevitable change.
To further determine the feasibility and desirability of the US experiment in the ME and NA states, it is traditionally recognised that democracy cannot be imposed by force, and that change must come from within (Marr, 1993: 225). The US has acknowledged this (Rice, 2005), but believes that opportunities need to be made to facilitate change, such as the Iraq invasion. The US invasion of Iraq was however the major catalyst for internal change, which was embodied through the subsequent folly of debate for reform. Such positive debate from within the NA and ME nations demonstrates that the US experiment is both feasible and desirable. It is interesting here to look at the case of Iran, which was not long ago the most staunch anti-American state on the planet. Yet, following the 1979 revolution, the vanguard of change Mohammed Mossadegh showed Iranians that they deserved independence, democracy and prosperity. These values gradually chipped away at society, and while the Authoritarian government may have been able to reversed the installation of a democratic government, it has in no way been able to reverse democratic culture. Iran as a nation is at a turning point whereby its leaders will inevitably have to face democratic reform, or come into conflict with the majority of the democratic aspiring society (Molavi, 2005; 59-63). If democracy is to come from within, Iran encapsulates that the US experiment is both feasible and desirable. Recently, the Moroccan King Mohammed VI expressed that “we (Morocco) are not Germany, Sweden or Spain... and we have to have our own specific features of democracy” (Anderson, 2001, 58). Piece by piece, through the press, through the people and eventually the autocrats themselves (all representing their own little piece in the spectrum of democracy), the ME and NA societies will exemplify that undoubtedly, the US experiment in the ME and NA Arab regions is both feasible and desirable.
Throughout its time as the current world power, the US has seen its mission to spread its experiment in the name and form of democracy. Its power and projection was so vast and successful that the US experiment desired emulation by many abroad. However, one author (Mason, 2009: 212) has argued that “the US experiment no longer seams feasible or even desirable”. In order to maintain stability in the region, the US has imposed its experiment in the troubled ME and NA Arab states. The current reality is however not as gloomy as Mason argues it to be, and the US experiment is undisputedly feasible and desirable to the US, whilst also feasible and desirable to certain actors within the ME and NA Arab states.
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