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Bush opens new rift over Middle East plan

• Chirac derides push for democracy • 3-point plan to reshape region

Larry Elliott and David Teather in Savannah

Thursday June 10, 2004

The Guardian

Attempts by President George Bush to exploit the diplomatic triumph of the United Nations resolution on Iraq were last night running into stiff opposition at the G8 summit, as France joined Arab countries in deriding the White House plans for a greater Middle East initiative.

Buoyed by the 15-0 UN security council vote, Mr Bush and Tony Blair were seeking a three-pronged follow-up that would involve greater Nato involvement in Iraq, plans to bring western-style democracy and economic reform to the Middle East and north Africa and a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Britain and the US believed the UN show of international unity could mark the end of the west's year-long schism and draw a close to a turbulent period in which the two leaders have been dogged by violent insurrection and allegations of torture in Iraq.

"After almost two months of rough news, we had finally had a series of significant moves forward on the political side," said a senior Bush administration official.

But the tensions between the US and Europe resurfaced at the G8 summit of industrial countries in Sea Island, Georgia, when the French president, Jacques Chirac, said that greater Nato involvement in Iraq would be neither "timely nor well understood". {HUH?}  :unsure:

He also gave strong backing to those Middle Eastern countries that have called on Mr Bush to drop his support for the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, in order to clear the path for peace in the region. Mr Bush by contrast was wholehearted in his support for Mr Sharon's decision to pull out of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

Mr Chirac said: "We must steer the parties back without delay on to the road to political settlement, and halt the escalation of violence." Only by doing so would the G8 "be able to dispel the hostility towards the west which is so widespread in the Middle East".

Mr Bush yesterday presented a watered down version of his plan to stabilise the region to the handful of Arab leaders that accepted invitations to attend a G8 summit for the first time. The most feted was Iraq's newly appointed prime minister, Ayad Allawi, who was praised by Mr Bush for "having the courage to stand up and lead".

Turkey and Jordan were broadly supportive of the plan. But leading Arab states including Saudi Arabia and Egypt snubbed the event to protest what they view as heavy-handed US attempts to impose western values on their cultures.

Mr Bush's plan pushes for reforms such as free elections, independent media and improved legal systems. The plan includes training for judges and lawyers, loans to small businesses and campaigns to reduce illiteracy by 20 million people. It sets a target for training 100,000 teachers.

Sensitive to Arab critics, the statement noted that "successful reform depends on the countries in the region and change should not and cannot be imposed from outside".

But Mr Chirac was also dismissive of Mr Bush's initiative. "There is no ready-made formula for democracy readily transposable from one country to another. Democracy is not a method, it is a culture. For democracy to take root solidly and durably in the Arab world, it must be an Arab democracy before all else."

Mr Chirac's downbeat assessment of progress made at the summit contrasted sharply with that of Mr Blair, who was confident that Mr Bush will be prepared to reinvigorate the "Quartet" Middle East peace process, involving the UN, the US, the EU and Russia.

Downing Street, relieved to have any small concession from Mr Bush towards multilateralism, said the Quartet would be back in Israel by the end of the month.

"Sensible people looking at the situation in the Middle East know there needs to be reform and change,"' Mr Blair said. "Now, that's not for us to dictate to people, but it is for us to help them get there."


Bush's EXPLOITATION of the situation causes a RIFT? Nice piece of propa...er...journalism there, Guardian.

Rift? So French, Saudia Arabia, and Egypt disagree and it is a RIFT? Egypt and SA don't want democracy that close, but what is the problem for the stinking French? IRAQ, Turkey, Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, Afghanistan agree with it.

So they are against Free elections? Independent Media? Reformed Legal System? Educated Teachers? IRAQ PM is for it - but Chirac isn't? Give me a break.


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Reaching for Reform

In the May 31, 2004, issue of Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria, who could hardly be called supportive of U.S. efforts in the Middle East, admitted, "Bush's efforts to push for reform in the Arab world — despite the irritation it has caused — has put the topic front and center on the region's agenda. Everywhere in the Arab world, people are talking about reform.... 'People won't admit it, but three years ago reform was something few talked about,' said a Jordanian diplomat. 'Today it's everywhere...'"

Keep pushing GWB, no matter how hard the opponents of freedom and democracy try to stand in your way.

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For the moment, for this thread, let me try to step away from partisanship...I don't mean the following as either a criticism nor an endorsement of Bush's plans, nor of any possible Democratic alternative.

But there are two truths buried within this article that must be recognized:

1) No plan for Middle East peace will ever be successful until the Israeli-Palestinian fued is settle. Therefore, no American leader--Bush, Kerry, or otherwise--is going to be successful in peace efforts if either the Israelis or the Palestinians feel he is too strongly tied to the opposite side. Right or wrong, if he is viewed as being too allied with Sharon he will have little or no acceptance from the other side. ..Likewise for being too closely associated with the Palestinian side as well. (Of course, if I knew how to strike the happy compromise in between, I'd apply for the job of Secretary of State or UN Ambassador.)

2) Democracy cannot be forced on anyone ("Forced Democracy" is an oxymoron anyway). It does require a foundation in a deep cultural commitment to the process. That cultural foundation, sadly, does not currently exist in the Middle East and must be grown. (Increasing literacy and education is a good start!)

However, we should not be surprised if, once cultivated, the form that democracy takes in the Middle East is considerably different from what we're used to in our Western culture. We can't make them Americans, or Westerners. I hope we can be useful as midwives as they give birth to their own traditions of freedom, but we can't shortcut the process through any sort of western "C-section".

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Most of the leaders in the middle east do not want democracy since it would cost them their job and their hold on power. What I can't get is what is up with France? I think they have little brother syndrome. They are a thorn in our side at every turn. I know they should not agree with everything but every once in a while they could say "Hey good idea".

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France wants desperately to be considered a major power in the world. Truth is, they really aren't. Not militarily, not economically, not even culturally. At least not anywhere near the degree they once were in those areas. So, yes, I do think that some of their obstinance is based out of a Napoleon-complex (pun intended) and jealousy toward the US (and to a lesser degree, Britain).

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I hope we can be useful as midwives as they give birth to their own traditions of freedom, but we can't shortcut the process through any sort of western "C-section".

Correct, we have not and did not impose our democracy on Eastern Europe and Russia, but we over many decades did everything possible to help it along, as we should for the millions of repressed people in the Middle East.

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