Across the Bay

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Reform Blues

Just wanted to let you know that Greg Djerejian and Charles Paul Freund have picked up and commented on my post "The Forum for Future Stalemate" which was on the Arab reform forum in Morocco, which seems to be a total failure.

Greg has promised more comments to come, and he linked (and copied) a piece by Ray Takeyh that shared my pessimism. Charles links a piece by Tom Friedman that I'll briefly touch on when I get back to regular blogging.

Update: The always interesting Michael Young shares his thoughts on the Morocco forum. Young's position seems to mirror what Lee Smith (and Joshua Landis and myself) have said about a multifaceted approach to the ME that goes beyond the now boring Neocon vs. Realist debate (see my "Kiss me, I'm a ME Liberal!" post):

"[T]here are places where domestically generated reform is not an option. It was never an option in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, it is just an inch short of whimsical in Bashar Assad's Syria, and it has proven to be a catalogue of failures in Hosni Mubarak's Egypt. One can, of course, go on: Combine the word "reform" with the names Al-Saud and Moammar Qadhafi and you can entertain a schoolyard. There comes a moment when indigenous reform is, quite simply, impossible ...

So, what are the alternatives? Neocons have scoffed at the prudence and optimism of the gradualist reformist agenda, and to that extent they are right. However, they are wrong in assuming that its alternative, a muscular willingness to mainly use force, is sufficient. The lingering message that has emerged from the Iraq war is that the U.S. has yet to find a proper equilibrium in the good- and bad-cop facets of its personality. There is also the matter of what is do-able, and the peculiarities of each state in the region. Invading Iraq was do-able in a way that invading Iran today is not, even as Iranian civil society offers many more opportunities for change stimulated from the outside than did prewar Iraq.
On its own, the reformist agenda that emerged from the G-8 summit last June will probably fail. But it shouldn't be discarded; rather it should be somehow linked to a parallel policy that accepts that force and other forms of pressure, political and economic, might have to be used, too, to ensure that the absence of reform in the Arab world won't come back to haunt the U.S., as it did on 9/11. To prepare for that, however, the second Bush administration will have to be unified in a way the first one was not.