Friday, March 04, 2011

Cairo 1.5

The Arab world that Barack Obama addressed in his famous speech two years ago is history. It's time for him to speak to the new one.


It's too early for President Barack Obama's administration to formulate a new long-term strategy for the Middle East; no one knows what it will look like six months hence, or for that matter, next week. But it's already clear that the Middle East which Obama addressed in his Cairo speech in June 2009 no longer exists, and thus that the premises of the strategy behind that speech no longer apply.

Administration officials are reported to have begun thinking about how they must adapt to this transformed environment. Sen. John Kerry has begun working with colleagues from both parties to draw up a new package of economic aid for Arab countries seeking to move toward democracy. In that spirit, I offer, not Cairo 2.0, but something more provisional -- let's say, Cairo 1.5.

Salaam Aleikum. My friends, I have returned to Cairo, almost two years after my last visit, because, thanks to the courage of its people in overthrowing a regime they had come to despise, Egypt has reasserted its role at the very center of the Arab political order. That order, for many years, was an autocratic one. Now it is struggling toward freedom. The outcome of that struggle remains unclear and, of course, will vary greatly from state to state. But all those who cherish freedom have an obligation to help the peoples of the Arab world build a new order.

What does that mean in practice? First, I must acknowledge a simple, if inconvenient, truth: We in the United States, while encouraging democracy in the Arab world, were never quite sure we wanted it. Precisely because they were not accountable to the public, autocratic leaders could advance American and Western national security goals that Arab publics broadly did not accept. We were not prepared to push those leaders very hard; that was why the last time I came before you I admonished regional leaders to "maintain your power through consent, not coercion" -- but didn't single out any of them by name. I acknowledge that we may have raised expectations we were not prepared to satisfy.

I come before you today to say that we have put that ambivalence aside. We embrace the truth that in the long run a democratic Middle East is the essential precondition to securing regional peace and stability, and to ending the scourge of terrorism. But that's the long run. In the years to come, both we and you will have to make painful adjustments. My country cannot and will not abandon its core security interests; but now we must advance those interests in ways that citizens in the Middle East can accept. I will get to that in a moment.

The second thing the United States can do to help the birth of a new Middle East is to provide diplomatic support to the forces of change. Above all, we must help prevent backsliding in those places where the old order has been overthrown and a new one has yet to be born. That means making it clear to transitional leaders in Egypt and Tunisia that ongoing American military and economic support will be conditioned on laying out a clear path to elections and on bringing democratic forces into the government right away. Elsewhere, we will not become advocates for "regime change" -- that's your business, not ours -- but we will press leaders in Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, and elsewhere to accept the legitimacy of popular protest; and we will do this with the full understanding that reform could lead to governments less sympathetic to American policy in the region.

In several states, notably Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, citizens have paid a high price for their demands for freedom not only in human but in economic terms. So the third step for the United States and the international community is to provide humanitarian and developmental assistance. Humanitarian aid, especially in Libya, must be forthcoming immediately and without conditions; development aid will depend on political change. Here I suggest as a model our own Millennium Challenge Account, which provides funds for states that make strides on indices of democracy and transparency. I propose that new money be made available for states that embrace reform, whether or not they meet current MCA standards. This will not be "democracy assistance," directed toward political party-building and the like, unless states ask for it. Struggling democracies need economic opportunity, and we must help supply it.

The United States will help, but other countries must pitch in. The only way I can persuade a very reluctant U.S. Congress to add new money to a foreign aid budget already under threat is if the lion's share comes from other wealthy countries in the West and in the Arab world.

The one true democracy in the Middle East is, of course, Israel, and I believe that over time aspiring democracies in the region will look to Israel for lessons and even help. But this can't happen until the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is solved -- the fourth element of a new Middle East. In 2009, I implored the Palestinians to refrain from violence, and the Israelis to stop building settlements. The Palestinians largely complied, but Israel -- thanks in part to legitimate fears that Hamas will not accept any agreement and will exploit a withdrawal to attack Israel's borders -- did not.

Leaders in Egypt and Jordan, whom Israel has relied on for support in the past, are now weakened or gone; as pressure from more representative governments grow, Israel will have little choice but to reach a two-state solution acceptable to the Palestinians. I believe, and I hope, that Israel's leaders will come to accept this reality. The United States will continue to serve as Israel's security guarantor even while driving home the imperative of territorial compromise -- including by supporting the Palestinian government's current drive for sovereign recognition. But states in the region must reassure Israel that it can afford to take such painful steps by supporting a two-state solution and isolating those, like Hamas and Hezbollah, that seek Israel's destruction.

The fifth and final issue where we must redraw the social contract between an emerging democratic Middle East and its partners in the West is terrorism. The resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remove one of the great recruitment tools for Islamic extremists, as will the replacement of despotic governments in the region by genuinely representative ones. But the extremists will, if anything, grow more violent as their cause becomes more desperate. And they will be quick to exploit the inevitable disorder, even chaos, produced by the shattering of the old order. In the past, U.S. counterterrorism policy depended on secret understandings struck with leaders unaccountable to their own citizens, who might have bridled at an American presence on the ground and, often, in the air. This arrangement, which originated during the Cold War, will not survive the transition to democracy.

And yet, because a democratic Middle East poses such a grave threat to the extremist narrative, terrorists are likely to target local states as well as the West. This means that while explaining counterterrorism policy has become more difficult than ever, the need for coordination has become yet greater. For our part, this means greater transparency in explaining what we do abroad -- and the abolition, once and for all, of policies like extraordinary rendition that have rightly inflamed public opinion. For emerging Middle Eastern states, it means publicly taking on and repudiating extremism in the mosques and on the streets, as well as through vigorous, and transparent, law enforcement. Autocrats said one thing in public and something else in private; now public speech will have to conform to private action.

The euphoria many of you feel today, which you have earned through painful sacrifice, will not long survive the hard struggle toward self-government. Sharp differences of opinion will threaten to degenerate into violence; demagogues will try to exploit ethnic and tribal divisions; the old elite will seek to hijack popular movements. Many of you may soon find yourselves despairing of the future -- even, perhaps, wishing for the deadly calm of the old regime. But you must remind yourselves that it was those authoritarian rulers, most of all, who believed that democracy would never flourish in the Arab world. I believe that you will prove them wrong.

James Traub is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and author of, most recently, The Freedom Agenda. "Terms of Engagement," his column for, runs weekly.



6:01 PM ET
March 4, 2011
Better Speech:

Salaam aleikum,

I would like to encourage the democratic state of Egypt to throw open the gates to the ghetto -- nay, the concentration camp -- called Gaza.

I hereby pledge that I will zero out all military aid to Israel since it committed human rights abuses with US arms -- this, after all, is in accordance with our Arms Export Control Act. I encourage all the free people of Arabia to read the Goldstone report for themselves.

I promise I will no longer run scared from AIPAC.

I promise to return all US troops to the US since our presence, according to Pentagon studies, has increased not reduced radicalism:

“American efforts have not only failed....they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended. American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies.

• Muslims do not “hate our freedom,” but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.

• Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy....

• Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.

• ... Fighting groups portray themselves as the true defenders of an Ummah (the entire Muslim community) invaded and under attack — to broad public support.

• What was a marginal network is now an Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups. Not only has there been a proliferation of “terrorist” groups: the unifying context of a shared cause creates a sense of affiliation across the many cultural and sectarian boundaries that divide Islam."


6:03 PM ET
March 4, 2011

Yes, even our best CIA people agree
The military will not win this.


" The situation in Pakistan has gone from bad to worse as a direct consequence of the U.S. war raging on the Afghan border. U.S. policy has now carried the Afghan war over the border into Pakistan with its incursions, drone bombings and assassinations -- the classic response to a failure to deal with insurgency in one country. Remember the invasion of Cambodia to save Vietnam?

-- The deeply entrenched Islamic and tribal character of Pashtun rule in the Northwest Frontier Province in Pakistan will not be transformed by invasion or war. The task requires probably several generations to start to change the deeply embedded social and psychological character of the area. War induces visceral and atavistic response.

-- Pakistan is indeed now beginning to crack under the relentless pressure directly exerted by the U.S. Anti-American impulses in Pakistan are at high pitch, strengthening Islamic radicalism and forcing reluctant acquiescence to it even by non-Islamists.

Only the withdrawal of American and NATO boots on the ground will begin to allow the process of near-frantic emotions to subside within Pakistan, and for the region to start to cool down. Pakistan is experienced in governance and is well able to deal with its own Islamists and tribalists under normal circumstances; until recently, Pakistani Islamists had one of the lowest rates of electoral success in the Muslim world.

But U.S. policies have now driven local nationalism, xenophobia and Islamism to combined fever pitch. As Washington demands that Pakistan redeem failed American policies in Afghanistan, Islamabad can no longer manage its domestic crisis."

Graham E. Fuller


12:11 PM ET
March 5, 2011

Jimmy Obama!!!!

We can all agree that Obama's foreign policy of bows, apology, and appeasement has failed miserably. You have to look back to Jimmy Carter and the Iran catastrophe to find anything comparably bad, and Obama has created an even worse mess! We don't need Obama to give any speeches, and making things worse. Let's just hope he remains silent and we muddle through until we can select a competent President in 2012!


1:36 PM ET
March 5, 2011
The revolution is against your policy.

Again, Obama administrations has to know that we are protesting against our regimes and your policy. You have to know that the people are protesting in your best allies countries. So, we are making another history and there is no place for U.S. and our undemocratic regimes.


1:43 PM ET
March 5, 2011


Can you say "Shah"?

Can you say "iran"?

Can you say "SAVAK"??

Can anyone in the USG say Blowback?



2:12 PM ET
March 5, 2011

Man to hell with obama he is

Man to hell with obama he is a lapdog,like all US polticians. "The only true democracy in the mid east....israel" Wow you know those zionist really own America, when they make them call an apartheid state with "jew only" roads as the only democracy in the region. Lebanon and turkey are democracies. Man america is screwed, looks they destroyed another nation


7:17 AM ET
March 6, 2011

Nice try, but as usual the

Nice try, but as usual the real problem : the racist and cruel Israeli domination of the oppressed Palestinian people, is # pushed under the carpet #. Nobody, including President Obama and Mr Traub, can tell the truth as it is. Practically every American, especially the politicians, the journalists, and the other intellectuals are TERRORIZED by AIPAC. The question that the whole other world is asking is : for how many more American generations ?


11:19 AM ET

March 6, 2011

Hope we should not have believed in

Let us hope the new Egypt opens up the ghetto/concentration camp of Gaza.


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