Wednesday, March 02, 2005

How About Another Carrot?, Part II

In partial response to Praktike, Nadezhda, playing bad cop to his good cop, points out that in many respects the Bush administration has abandoned the Bush doctrine itself - that of preventitive war to force regime change, much to the chagrin of World War IV proponents like Norman Podhoretz - in favor of the soft power approach to democratization that was so scorned by many of Bush's supporters in recent months.

In Part I of this series I suggested that we on the Left should welcome this evolution of policy, and seize this opening to begin describing a liberal strategy along these lines. After all, this is an area that we should be more than comfortable with. It is, in fact, our pedigree: democracy, human rights, the rule of law, liberalization, etc. If the Bush team charts a non-belligerent course in this direction, we should not reflexively find fault, but should instead play a hand in what could be a noble mission - offering the guidance that they have been increasingly adopting while shouting us down. If they return to the World War IV mindset, we should mount a spirited and stubborn dissent. And of course, as Nadezhda pointed out, we must remember that democracy promotion does nothing to address so many other pressing issues such as environmental degradation, nuclear non-proliferation, devaluation of the dollar, fiscal recklessness, etc. that the Bush team has shown a gross negligence toward addressing.

In the first
Part of this series, I let Steven Cook, Thomas Carothers, and Marina Ottaway build the case that our current approach to promoting democracy and liberalization in the Middle East is inherently dysfunctional - a victim to the clever manipulation of the very regimes that are the targets of such reform. Cook offers a distillation of the problem, and some suggestions for a revised approach that could prove useful going forward.

It's The Institutions Stupid

Performing statecraft's version of jujitsu, Middle Eastern regimes have learned to go with the resistance, absorbing under their auspices the very agents that could prove to be irritants for change - such as the civil society and the entrepreneurial class. As a result, the same movements that were at the vanguard of political reform in Eastern Europe, and even America at its inception, have been impotent to affect the institutional changes required to shake the grip on power at the top and give rise to political liberalization.

The reason that the promotion of civil society, economic development, and sanctions have not led to political reform in the Arab world is that none of them addresses the real obstacles to change in the region: flawed institutions. Institutions are the organizations, arrangements, laws, decrees, and regulations that constitute the political rules of the game in any given society. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Arab states boast such institutions in spades; the problem is not with their number but with their nature. In the Arab world, these institutions are designed to ensure the authoritarian character of the regimes.
Because the process has been coopted and thus is still governed from the top down, Cook suggests that we must engage the powers at the top if we truly desire results. Unfortunately, the only momentum at the ground level is enjoyed by the Islamists, for reasons discussed in Part I, so that avenue appears to be of limited value (unless you subscribe to the Reuel Marc Gerecht theory that suggests fundamentalists could be an agent of democratization). Cook offers his suggested course in general terms:
The best way to do so would be to move away from negative pressures and toward more positive, incentive-based policies. In the abstract, such policies involve getting others to do what you want by promising them something valuable in return. In this case, the United States can use the prospect of increased aid or membership in international clubs and organizations as levers to encourage Arab progress toward the establishment of pluralism, the rule of law, power sharing, property rights, and free markets.
Cook is right to point out that the US could be getting more bang for its buck in terms of foreign aid to many of these nations. He uses Egypt as a prime example of diminishing returns.
In 1978, Washington promised Cairo that if Egypt would make peace and normalize relations with Israel, the United States would underwrite the modernization of Egypt's armed forces and economy. Egypt complied, and ever since, it has technically upheld its end of the bargain by keeping the peace--albeit a frosty one--with Israel. The United States, however, should demand more for its money. Even as Washington continues to send Cairo billions of dollars annually, Egyptian-Israeli relations have deteriorated precipitously (although they have improved somewhat since the death of Yasir Arafat). And such aid has become institutionalized: the $2.2 billion Egypt gets each year has morphed from an incentive for the Egyptians to maintain good relations with Israel into a vested bureaucratic and legislative interest.
And then looks at the conditions under which aid has been disbursed in other countries as well:
Elsewhere in the Arab world, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, and, more recently, Algeria and Yemen have enjoyed U.S. support without being asked to make any reciprocal commitment to the United States. Some policy experts have argued that Washington cannot afford to put conditions on these gifts: to do so would jeopardize key U.S. priorities in the region, such as access to the Suez Canal, Riyadh's general cooperation, and Amman's constructive role in Arab-Israeli peacemaking. But this argument underestimates the importance of the United States to the countries in question. Washington's Arab friends need it as much as, if not more than, the United States needs them. Could Cairo really afford to deny U.S. warships transit through the Suez Canal?
Although Cook is in favor of tying this aid to reform, he rejects the suggestion that we withdraw it altogether, or even diminish its form or content. To Cook, such moves could backfire in many ways. They could increase tensions with alliances that are already strained in some regards as a result of the invasion of Iraq and the war on terror, and could also give the appearance of heavy handed manipulation by the United States which could create an unfortunate backlash.
Congress, under the prodding of Representative Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), has recently considered measures such as shifting $325 million of the funds currently given to Egypt for military assistance to economic support. Rather than prompt reform, however, the proposal has caused an uproar in Cairo, with Hosni Mubarak's government portraying the measure as a cut in U.S. aid designed to weaken Egypt. (The fact that Lantos is a long-time supporter of Israel and did not propose similar cuts to Jerusalem's aid package did not help.) ...

To start the ball rolling, the United States should offer Arab states additional money, contingent on their undertaking reform. The advantage of this approach is that nothing is coerced. Countries are not forced to change--they are invited to, in exchange for serious financial rewards.
One Size Still Doesn't Fit All

The author suggests that different approaches should be adopted on a case by case basis. For Egypt, financial incentives could do the trick.

On the bilateral front, Washington should start by reconfiguring its military assistance to Egypt. Given the importance of this largesse, changes in how it is disbursed would put serious pressure on Cairo. At the moment, Egypt gets $1.3 billion from the United States each year for its military. This money comes with no strings attached. To help jump-start reform, Washington should actually up the offer to $2 billion. Of this amount, $1.3 billion, or the current total, would remain free from any conditions. But to get the extra $700 million, Cairo would have to embrace a range of reforms, ensuring, for example, greater transparency, government accountability, and wider political inclusion. This would give Egypt strong incentives to comply--especially since Cairo's aid package, which has remained constant for 26 years, has actually decreased by more than half when adjusted for inflation; $700 million more per year would go a long way toward rebalancing the figure.
But for other Middle Eastern nations, awash in oil riches, financial assistance is less necessary so less of an incentive. In these cases, Cook suggests that we offer entry into international organizations and financial groups that can bestow benefits and rewards on the included member state. He relies heavily on the case of Turkey's reforms to gain access into the EU as a testament as to what can be accomplished by offering up such inclusions.
To be realistic, there are limits to what incentive-based policies can achieve. Offering new military aid will be more effective with Egypt and Jordan than with Morocco or Saudi Arabia, for example. Saudi Arabia needs the money much less and has such a critical strategic position that it can better resist pressure from the United States. As for Morocco, it is one of the few Arab states that has a viable alternative to the United States as a patron: Europe...

In the multilateral arena, the United States could offer to sponsor Arab participation in clubs such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), NATO's Partnership for Peace, or a new Community of Democracies--if, that is, Arab states first agreed to conduct serious political liberalization and economic reform. With the WTO, for example, the United States, in concert with its European allies, could require potential Arab members to embrace specific reforms--beyond what the WTO already requires--in return for U.S. and European support for their candidacies.
The Cook Says More Carrots

In addition to Cook's prescription for more carrots, I would add that we should not abandon our efforts to nurture civil society or economic development. Even if less than efficacious, these sectors are still worth encouraging for the value they could serve if and when more meaningful change begins to gain momentum. Once the regime gives them more autonomy, they could put their philosophical imperatives into practice. Perhaps we could optimize our approaches in these endeavors by attempting to funnel aid to groups that are able to stand apart from the regime in question, and thus avoid the coopting effect. This could add to the legitimacy of these groups in the eyes of their compatriots who are discontented with the ruling regime, but then again, they could be hurt still by their association to the US. If possible, we should try to fund these groups covertly so as to avoid the taint of our presence. This could potentially raise the ire of our allies in the region though, so it must be handled delicately. Still, if we are engaging in covert operations in that part of the world, I would rather those operations consist of funding pro-reform groups than
deporting Canadian citizens for extended torture holidays with our friends enemies in Syria.

One of the potential benefits of Cook's approach is that the negative stigma of American presence might actually be mitigated somewhat by such a bold pronouncement of support for democracy - backed up with the essential program of inducements to spur such change.

...this new way of doing business would give Egyptians a more dignified role in their relationship with the United States: Cairo would be encouraged to undertake reform, but the ultimate choice would be theirs. Moreover, putting subtle pressure on the Egyptian leadership to reform will bolster U.S. credibility with the Egyptian public and help assuage general Arab skepticism toward Washington--which has long talked about political progress in the region while doing painfully little to make it happen.
In addition, such an approach may be preferable to sudden and drastic tectonic shifts to democratization which might put events like elections out in front of the development needed to prepare the populous for such changes. This is not an ode to the exaggerated patience and stagnation that has so hindered reform movements heretofore, but instead a recognition that a country making steady progress within its own framework and cultural context would be more stable along the way than a nation forced to work through these issues at a lightening pace (one of the main issues plaguing the Iraq project). But the key is that it must be making the actual progress. The example of Turkey offers an illustration of the coalescing effect such moves to reform can have on the various segments of society.
Perhaps the best example of a successful incentive-based approach is with Turkey, which has long sought to join the European Union. When Turkey petitioned the EU for membership, Brussels responded by setting clear political, economic, legal, and social standards for Ankara to meet first. The huge benefits offered by EU membership created a vast constituency for reform in Turkey. As a result, the Turkish parliament has been able to pass eight reform packages in the last three years. Turkey's Islamists have come to support the program, which they see as their best chance for securing formal political protections. The Islamists have cleverly recognized that, since the EU demands that its members institutionalize freedom of religion, Turkey, to become a candidate, will have to loosen government control on religious expression and Islamist political participation. Meanwhile, Turkey's long-dominant military has also signed on to the reform project. Although some of the changes demanded by Brussels will reduce the military's influence, Turkey's general staff has realized that it cannot oppose the project without looking like an enemy of modernization--something the inheritors of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's legacy cannot afford.
Admittedly, not every nation's military in the region will have Ataturk's legacy to live up to, but still, once change and reform have begun, it will be hard for the military to long oppose the will of the people - especially if the ruling regime is pushing in the same direction. The advantage is that the society itself will have the time to decompress and engage in the discourse needed to come to resolutions for previously repressed grievances and sectarian differences.

The incentivized, rather than punitive, approach certainly has its merits. I have not yet decided if some type of warning or threat for removal or reduction of already existing aid would not also be beneficial. Sort of like a two pronged approach of more carrots in one hand, and more vinegar in the other, with the choice being up to the regime in question. Recent developments in
Saudi Arabia and Egypt are certainly promising, though it is not known what means of inducement was used to compel such movement. It should also be noted that while these measures are encouraging, they do not amount to the institutional reform that is necessary to give rise to meaningful liberalization. If they are the first of many steps, then there is hope. If not, they are just more window dressing aimed at stifling, rather than fostering, change.

At the very least, Cook offers an intriguing new way to view a model that has not exactly been yielding terrific results, even if his approach needs tinkering and modification. But if managed shrewdly, the offering of increased aid and membership in international organizations and financial clubs could in fact be the Marshall Plan of 21st Century. One thing I am certain about though, is that it sure beats World War IV.

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