How and Why the U.S. Should Promote Democracy in the Arab World

Dec. 16 2016

While encouraging the spread of liberal democracy was long a key component of American foreign policy, both the Republican and Democratic parties now seem reluctant to engage in that pursuit. Elliott Abrams argues that it is very much in the nation’s interest to foster gradual steps away from despotism in the Arab world, and proposes how it can be done soberly and effectively:

Islamic extremism is an idea, and while it cannot be defeated without arms, it cannot be defeated by arms alone. A better idea, democracy, is a formidable and necessary weapon. . . .

U.S. support for repressive and illegitimate regimes . . . risks further alienating Arab populations, who may see the United States as indifferent or hostile to their desires for less corrupt and repressive governance. Moreover, Arab democrats are usually pro-Western and reliable allies for the United States when they enter political office. Washington always has difficulty sustaining close relationships with repressive regimes. . . . Uncritical support for them is not a realistic policy.

American policy should [also] reflect the United States’ own political beliefs: the goal is not merely democracy in the narrow sense of winner-take-all elections. The U.S. Constitution instead establishes a system of institutional restrictions on government power that guarantees minority rights and the rule of law. . . .

Realism requires an understanding of the role of legitimacy in sustaining regimes. Even the Arab monarchies depend on legitimacy, which they derive from some partnership between the rulers and the ruled. There are many ways the United States can address legitimacy issues, ranging from strengthening the role of elected, if not very powerful, parliaments in several states to reducing corruption, reducing poverty, and relying on law rather than wasta (clout or connections) to determine citizens’ relationships with their governments. Even in countries where there are no political parties and there is little political life, the United States can still promote relations between ruler and ruled that are more just—and may open a path toward stable democracy.

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Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Arab democracy, Islamism, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy