Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

U.S. ‘Democracy’ Advisors Suddenly in Demand

With the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia toppled and rebellions raging from Libya to Yemen, U.S. officials and NGOs dedicated to democracy promotion in the Middle East face unprecedented opportunities — but also new questions about the U.S. role.

Inter Press Service

For years, U.S. officials and nongovernmental organizations devoted to democracy promotion toiled in the Middle East with little expectation of success.

Now, with the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia toppled and rebellions raging from Libya to Yemen, these officials and organizations face unprecedented opportunities but also new questions about the U.S. role.

Critics cite the Barack Obama administration's inconsistency in failing to intervene more forcefully against government repression of dissidents particularly in Bahrain, where the United States has run into Saudi determination to preserve a minority Sunni regime at all cost.

In Egypt and Tunisia, however, the U.S. has pivoted quickly from "democracy promotion to democracy consolidation," said J. Scott Carpenter, a former deputy assistant secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration in charge of democracy programs in the Middle East and North Africa.

Carpenter, now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said U.S. aid organizations and NGOs have been "overwhelmed by the demand" for technical assistance on how to organize parties and run campaigns, particularly in Egypt, where legislative elections are due in September and presidential elections before the end of the year.

"There is an incredible opportunity to leverage the relationships" Americans have built with Arab civil society groups during the years when it seemed that autocratic regimes would never change, he said.

Others worry that organizations such as the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute (IRI), which are funded by the quasi-governmental National Endowment for Democracy, and the State Department's U.S. Agency for International Development lack the personnel to evaluate all the requests from civil society groups for about 65 million dollars in reprogrammed U.S. aid for Egypt.

"It's a pretty chaotic atmosphere and that's not usually a recipe for doing things well," said Michelle Dunne, an expert on Middle East democracy programs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

At the same time, the military-led transitional Egyptian government would prefer more economic aid to compensate for the losses caused by political unrest and uncertainty. Dunne said two Egyptian officials are in Washington this week lobbying for debt relief.

According to Dunne, Egypt pays 330 million dollars a year in debt service — more than its annual 250 million dollars in U.S. economic aid — to service a U.S. debt of 3.1 billion dollars. In the current austere U.S. economic climate, however, such requests are not meeting an enthusiastic response.

Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy, also said Egypt needs more economic support than the Obama administration is prepared to give. At the same time, he faults U.S. officials for failing to hold Egypt's interim government to its promises to be inclusive and transparent in organizing the transition to a post-Hosni Mubarak democracy.

The military council rushed through amendments to the constitution and a Mar. 19 referendum in which 77 percent of those voting approved the changes, which establish term limits for the president but allow him to retain extraordinary powers. Turnout in the referendum was under 50 percent and many secular groups complained that they had been given no opportunity to comment on the amendments.

Meanwhile, the emergency law in effect in Egypt since 1981 has yet to be repealed. Police have arrested, beaten and even shot democracy advocates and sought to break up rallies in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

The situation is far worse in Bahrain, where scores have been killed, half a dozen political prisoners have died in custody and the government moved this week to outlaw long-standing political parties representing the island's Shiite majority.

While the Obama administration has been consistent rhetorically in opposing the use of force and supporting universal rights to free expression, "where they've been inconsistent is in the level of effort they've provided," said the Carnegie Endowment's Dunne.

She attributed some of the U.S. failings to a losing struggle with Saudi Arabia, which sent troops to Bahrain to back the local Sunni monarchy and objected bitterly when Washington nudged Mubarak aside.

"We always thought we had a set of common interests with the Saudis but always knew that we had different values and that can't be swept under the rug anymore," Dunne said.

Even where the U.S. appears to have nimbly adjusted policy to support democratic gains, it faces scepticism and suspicion about its motives. In Egypt, critics allege that the U.S. is trying to boost secular parties against the Muslim Brotherhood, an 83-year-old organization that is finally able to compete openly for political support.

"An organic explosion is going on and no Western hand can help," Hisham Hellyer, an Egypt expert at the University of Warwick and organizer of a new interactive website, Tahrir Squared, told the Center for the National Interest, a Washington think tank, earlier this week. He said U.S. efforts would actually bolster the Brotherhood, which is expected to win 15-25 percent of seats in a new parliament.

Any Egyptian political groups that take outside money "will have their credibility shot," Hellyer said.

However, Thomas Garrett, vice president for programmes at IRI, said the intention of groups like his is "not to level the playing field between particular groups but to level the playing field in general."

Garrett said that U.S. aid provides training for multiple groups at one time and does not come in the form of cash payments to individual political parties.

While current grant restrictions prevent U.S. contractors from assisting the Muslim Brotherhood, Garrett said his organization had trained Islamic groups in other countries, such as Indonesia and Iraq. He did not rule out similar assistance to a party or parties formed by the Muslim Brothers in Egypt.

"It's exhilarating," he said of IRI's activities in Egypt. "We've been working since 2005 with Egyptian political activists and now the democratic universe has vastly expanded."

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Bernard Lewis was a renowned historian of Islam and the Middle East who stirred controversy with his often chauvinistic attitude towards the Muslim world and his associations with high-profile neoconservatives and foreign policy hawks.


John Bolton, the controversial former U.S. ambassador to the UN and dyed-in the-wool foreign policy hawk, is President Trump’s National Security Adviser McMaster, reflecting a sharp move to the hawkish extreme by the administration.


Michael Joyce, who passed away in 2006, was once described by neoconservative guru Irving Kristol as the “godfather of modern philanthropy.”


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Michael Flynn is a former Trump administration National Security Advisor who was forced to step down only weeks on the job because of his controversial contacts with Russian officials before Trump took office.


Since taking office Donald Trump has revealed an erratic and extremely hawkish approach to U.S. foreign affairs, which has been marked by controversial actions like dropping out of the Iran nuclear agreement that have raised tensions across much of the world and threatened relations with key allies.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Soon after a Saudi-led coalition strike on a bus killed 40 children on August 9, a CENTCOM spokesperson stated to Vox, “We may never know if the munition [used] was one that the U.S. sold to them.”


The West has dominated the post-war narrative with its doctrine of liberal values, arguing that not only were they right in themselves but that economic success itself depended on their application. Two developments have challenged those claims. The first was the West’s own betrayal of its principles: on too many occasions the self interest of the powerful, and disdain for the victims of collateral damage, has showed through. The second dates from more recently: the growth of Chinese capitalism owes nothing to a democratic system of government, let alone liberal values.


Falsely demonizing all Muslims, their beliefs, and their institutions is exactly the wrong way to make Americans safer, because the more we scare ourselves with imaginary enemies, the harder it will be to find and protect ourselves from real ones.


Division in the ranks of the conservative movement is a critical sign that a war with Iran isn’t inevitable.


Donald Trump stole the headlines, but the declaration from the recent NATO summit suggests the odds of an unnecessary conflict are rising. Instead of inviting a dialogue, the document boasts that the Alliance has “suspended all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia.” The fact is, NATO was a child of the Cold War, when the West believed that the Soviets were a threat. But Russia today is not the Soviet Union, and there’s no way Moscow would be stupid enough to attack a superior military force.


War with Iran may not be imminent, but neither was war with Iraq in late 2001.


Donald Trump was one of the many bets the Russians routinely place, recognizing that while most such bets will never pay off a few will, often in unpredictable ways. Trump’s actions since taking office provide the strongest evidence that this one bet is paying off handsomely for the Russians. Putin could hardly have made the script for Trump’s conduct at the recent NATO meeting any more to his liking—and any better designed to foment division and distrust within the Western alliance—than the way Trump actually behaved.


RightWeb
share