December 08, 2004

Globalizing the Middle East

Robert Looney, of the Naval War College, has to be one of my favorite analysts around, but I've never seen anyone contradict themselves as thoroughly as he does in the latest issue of Strategic Insights. Let me explain. The paper in question asks why globalization has eluded the Middle East, and it's worth following Looney's argument closely.

Like any good globalization analyst, he starts by determining what, exactly, we need to mean by "globalization", and follows the KFPGI index by hacking it up into four parts: technology (esp. internet); political engagement abroad; facilitating personal contact with foreign countries; and economic integration. After a bit of technical fiddling with the various indices, he suggests that Middle Eastern countries that decrease their corruption by improving the rule of law tend to pave the way for a general increase in globalization. (Note that he's not just talking about correlation; there's strong reason to think causation holds here.)

Meanwhile, when Middle Eastern countries merely liberalize their trade policies, they do see an increase in technological globalization, but too many of them do "not possess[] the domestic institutions" necessary to take advantage of the new opportunity. Without the proper rule of law, etc., open trade policies tend to cause a lot of domestic turmoil in the Middle East, which in turn gives globalization a bad name. (And it has a horrible name over there…)

So far, so good. But then Looney concludes by saying that, while improvements in governance "have the greatest pay-off at the present time," these are probably too difficult to foist on Arab regimes—even those "liberal" regimes in Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, and Morocco—so the U.S. should just stick with trying to promote an open trade policy, which maybe, possibly, might improve political globalization. The End.


No, really. What?

Okay. Keep that rather odd about-face in mind, and let's hop over to politics. The New York Times reported on Sunday that the Bush administration is officially backing away from pushing political change on Arab countries. Instead, it will opt for the low-key "European" approach—small business initiatives, some support for legal aid and civic education, blah blah blah. But oh! Nothing drastic, you see, because that will only make us more unpopular than we already are.

This, I think, is a mistake. The problem with Bush's Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI) was never that it pushed for political reform. No, the problem was the way it was done. The GMEI basically amounted to a series of high-sounding principles that imposed themselves on Arab countries from up above. But the last thing the region needs are more principles. They've got charters and constitutions and principles from here to eternity. Principles mean sweet fuck all, quite frankly. What's needed is a mutually-agreed-upon framework for dealing with the problems of the region: namely, the hordes of angry young Arabs disillusioned by the present state of affairs and ready to blow stuff up.

No, what the United States should have done—and what it should do now—is to identify concrete political issues—legalizing political parties, holding national elections, expanding the power of legislature—and work out with Arab nations what specific steps they can take to improve on these fronts. But this needs to be a two-way dialogue—which means the U.S. will have to start discussing security issues, including the Arab-Israeli conflict. I know the Bush administration's collective skin would crawl to hear this, but America needs to listen to the concerns of Arab nations—even the short, brutish, and nasty ones—and put some concessions on the table.

Looney had it right at first—changing the rule of law and forms of governance in the Middle East will go a long, long way towards "globalizing" the region. It's hard work, sure. But "hard work" was what we elected the man to do, wasn't it?
-- Brad Plumer 10:48 PM || ||