Thursday, June 17, 2004

Give Capitalism A Chance

Thomas Friedman, in today's column, proposes an interesting means to promote democratic reforms in the Middle East, and it doesn't involve the use of military force. Although Friedman is noted for his "liberal hawk" status as a supporter of the invasion of Iraq, he is now dealing with the realities on the ground, and apparently adjusting strategy accordingly.

His recommendation is for a softer approach that lets economic incentives, and the desire for advancement from within the Muslim world, provide the impetus for the sweeping democratic changes that up until now have been sought by the neo-conservatives at the end of the barrel of a gun. Friedman even seems to acknowledge the paradoxical effect our military intervention has had, namely that it is now harder for democratic reformers to make inroads with the population because they are seen as agents of America and right now there is no more crippling a stigma.

Friedman writes:

"We can't dictate reform to the Arabs. Look at how even a watered-down reform proposal from the G-8 summit meeting - the Broader Middle East Initiative - was received in the Arab-Muslim world. No one paid any attention to it. The whole concept was dead on arrival because it was made in America, which is now radioactive in the Arab world.

The pressure for change has to come from within, and I think it can - if we lower our profile. Then the Arab world will have to look clearly at the fact that China, India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines - all the countries that provide maid service for the Saudi and other Arab ruling elites and manual labor for their construction - have leapt so far ahead with their own development that they are now taking good jobs away from America.

To put it another way, there are two ways for the U.S. to promote reform in the Arab world - where there is an ocean of untapped brainpower, particularly among women. One way is to try to dictate it, which is not working. American policy has become so unpopular in the Arab world that anti-reformers can easily delegitimize the reform process by labeling it a 'U.S. plot to destroy Islam,' and reformers are silenced because they don't want to be seen as promoting a made-in-America agenda."

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