Wednesday, March 28, 2007

US democracy ideals lose steam to Bush 'realism': experts

by Sylvie Lanteaume Wed Mar 28, 2:33 AM ET

Fallout from the Iraq war has prompted a new "realism" in US foreign policy, which is edging out early Bush administration ideals of promoting democracy around the world, analysts say.

US President George W. Bush pushed hard for reform in the Middle East during his first term in office, and still says that ideological change is an integral part of what he calls the "war on terror."

And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was "really concerned" last week on the eve of an Egyptian constitutional referendum that opponents said was certain to curb freedoms.

Experts say the crippling war in Iraq has forced Washington to pursue "realist" policies over Bush's earlier "idealist" ways.

"The failure of US policy in Iraq has provided autocratic regimes in the Middle East a reprieve from the pressure to democratize, as long as they position themselves clearly on the side of Washington in its looming confrontation with Iran, Syria, and Shiite Islamists," said analyst Marina Ottoway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"The lofty ideals of democracy promotion may still find their way into the administrationÂ’s speeches, but when it comes to policy, AmericaÂ’s enemiesÂ’ enemies are its friends."

Ottoway said Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been "the biggest beneficiaries of the US loss of interest in draining the swamp of autocracy once it was confronted by large alligators such as Iran and its allies."

For Thomas Carothers, another expert at the Carnegie Endowment, dictators of the world have beat back democratic principles by presenting them as a new manifestation of US imperialism.

"The way that President George W. Bush is making democracy promotion a central theme of his foreign policy has clearly contributed to the unease such efforts -- and the idea of 'democracy promotion' itself -- are creating around the world," he wrote in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs.

"Some autocratic governments have won substantial public sympathy by arguing that opposition to Western democracy-promotion is resistance not to democracy itself, but to American interventionism.

"Moreover, the damage that the Bush administration has done to the global image of the United States as a symbol of democracy and human rights by repeatedly violating the rule of law at home and abroad has further weakened the legitimacy of the democracy-promotion cause."

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are not the only countries to benefit from US support while turning a deaf ear to calls for democratic reform.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who just ousted the chief high court justice in what opponents call a power grab, recently received a surprise visit from US Vice President Dick Cheney who simply urged him to do more to fight Al-Qaeda extremists along the border with Afghanistan.

Azerbaijan, under iron-fisted rule by President Ilham Aliev who succeeded his father in 2003, last week signed an energy deal with the United States.

And in US-ally Colombia Bush has been content with President Alvaro Uribe's efforts to control his territory and fight narco-terrorism despite a scandal linking government officials and extremist paramilitaries.

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