PrintPrint CiteCite
Style: MLAAPAChicago Close


Promoting Reform in the Arab World: Report of an Independent Task Force

Speakers: Steven A. Cook, project director, and Next Generation fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, Madeleine K. Albright, co-chair and former secretary of state, and Vin Weber, co-chair and former U.S. representative (R-Minn.)
Presider: Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial editor, the Washington Post
June 9, 2005
Council on Foreign Relations



Washington, DC

JACKSON DIEHL: We are having a discussion about the report of the Council's Independent Task Force on Arab Democracy. I'm here with Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber and Steven Cook, who need no introduction. The report is called In Support of Arab Democracy, Why and How. And we've come up with a pretty straightforward presentation, which is that Secretary Albright's going to talk about the why, and former Congressman Weber's going to talk about the how, and then Mr. Cook is going to sort of wrap things up, and then we will have questions and answers.

Before we get started, I just want to remind everybody that this session is on the record, so all of you can use all of the remarks here. And so with no further ado, I'm just going to start with Secretary Albright.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Jack, thank you very, very much for being a part of this important panel and spending time with us, and we all very much appreciate the incredible work you do in terms of making clear the importance of a free and functioning media.

I am very pleased to be here and to have been the co-chair of this Task Force with Congressman Weber. We have found that we have worked together extremely well throughout this whole process, and I think point out what is very special about this report. And that is, that it is a bipartisan report in the best sense of the word, and we have been very proud to work on it together in that regard. And also, we want to thank Steven Cook for all the great work he's done and everybody that participated in this. And we had a great time; that is for sure.

I will talk about the why— why should we support Arab democracy. And there are several reasons: One, obviously, is that democracy is consistent with Americans' ideals, and that's the first reason. The second is that support for democracy is an important tool in our fight against— in counterterrorism and working in that particular way. We also believe the best stability is actually democratic stability. And finally, that support for democracy, we believe, will help restore America's credibility in the Middle East region.

It, however, is not an easy task that has been set. It is a unique challenge to promote democracy in the Middle East. We are promoting it and supporting it in countries that are our friends and also where the United States has myriad strategic interests.

The part we also have to make very clear is true is that the U.S. doesn't really have the constituency in the region among the leaders, many of whom are not interested in democratic change, and, frankly, many of the democratic leaders don't like the United States. And clearly, in looking at all of this, is its evidence that there are risks, and we always hear those— and I know many of you know them also— is that people say it creates instability, that it's possible that there would be an emergence of unfriendly governments toward the United States, Islamic powers, and that it is possible also that, with American promotion of democracy, it is something viewed as an American activity and therefore, to some extent, creates an antipathy toward it. And that it is not something that is— that the period of instability actually does provide a very important nurturing ground for people who oppose us, anti-democratic revolutions and possibly al Qaeda.

In doing our study, we do understand that there are two elephants in the room— I guess a term I shouldn't use, donkeys, gorillas [laughter]--that we do, in fact, talk about a little but obviously is not central to us, but we recognize the existence of, and that's the Arab-Israeli conflict. And what we think should happen is that the United States should promote peace regardless of democratic progress. And there needs to be the promotion of democracy regardless of the prospects for peace. These are two very important goals, and they don't need to be a zero-sum game; they need to go on in parallel. In some ways, it paraphrases the very important statement that [Israeli] Prime Minister [Yitzhak] Rabin used to make, which is that the Israelis had to fight terrorism as if there were no peace process and support the peace process as if there were no terrorism, because you can't then decide that one trumps the other; they go together.

The second shadow in the room is Iraq, and I think that it is obviously a mixed issue in terms of the Middle East. Frankly, the invasion has not helped Washington's standing in the region. Not too many people in the region look favorably upon a regime change brought in at the point of a gun. And there are not a lot of countries in the neighborhood who say they don't want their country to look just like that. And I think we have to understand that it's not yet because what has happened is that we also have to recognize the positive aspects of what happened— the Iraqi elections— that has contributed to a lament and for change in the Middle East. There's no question about it; there's no question there's a great deal of political activity in Iraq, and so I think there is that dual aspect to that particular shadow in the room.

Also, I think it's evident how timely this report is because the recent Lebanese elections highlight one of the most interesting components of this report. And that is the role of Islamist groups in more democratic and open Arab societies. And what we said in this report is that Washington has to confront the terrorist groups. But we can't just turn a blind eye to the repression of non-violent Islamist movements. We can't and should not object to the peaceful political participation of Islamist groups that have been involved in violence in the past, provided they demobilize their military assets and they demonstrate a credible commitment to all the aspects of a democratic process.

We do not think the United States should deal with groups that are on the terrorist list, but we also think it's very important for us to recognize that peaceful Islamic groups are very much a part of the process. And policy-makers have to recognize, in any case, that armed organizations such as Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah are already participants in the democratic activities of their societies. And we also think Washington should support elections in parallel with the development of democratic institutions and constitutional mechanisms that ensure minority rights.

I'm more conscious of minority rights than ever and one has to understand majority rule, but minority rights go with it. And elections are but one part of the democratic process. The institutionalization of other aspects of democracy, including minority rights, is something we favor in the Middle East and everywhere else.

And so those are briefly the reasons why we think it is important to support democratic movements in the Arab world, and I now will ask Congressman Weber to talk about the how.

VIN WEBER: Thank you very much. I just want to echo what Secretary Albright said, that the process that we've been through has been a very exciting one, challenging one. I suppose when you're talking about the regions of the world where politics can turn lethal, you shouldn't say that something is fun. But I think we actually had a really enjoyable time, as well as a rewarding and productive time, in working together to produce this report.

And without spending a lot of time on credits, we did have a lot of excellent people helping us. People from the Council, [Director of the Task Force Program] Lee Feinstein and, of course, Steve Cook, who you're going to hear from in a minute, as well as the rest of the excellent Council staff and members of our Task Force, some of whom are in the room with us this morning, as well as the participants from the region who we spent some time with a few months ago. All in all, it was a really rewarding process, and we drew on the experience and knowledge of a lot of people.

I too want to thank Jackson Diehl for helping us out today and commend not only Jackson but the entire Post organization for the time and attention they spend as a news organization focusing on exactly these kinds of issues, not just in the Middle East but across the world. It's really, really gratifying. And thank you, Jackson.

A couple of things: I won't go on at too great a length because we want to get into some interaction. But we answer— in thinking of the importance of the report— we answer a couple of questions that are so obvious they do need to be stated. The first one is: Is there really an opportunity for democratic reform in the Middle East, or is this just a passing moment like many others in the past? And we answer that question quite resoundingly: No, this is not the same as the past; yes, there is a unique, historic moment, and we'll look upon it as such.

And the second question obviously is, as Secretary Albright talked about: Is it clearly in the United States' interest to promote democratic reform in the Middle East? That's not quite as obvious to everybody as it would seem, but it's obvious to us, and it was obvious to all the people who participated in our Task Force.

So just to begin with, stating the obvious that maybe isn't so obvious, this is a unique moment in history in the Middle East. The United States can play a unique supportive role, and we should grab that opportunity as it's in front of us. But it would be foolish, we believe, for the United States or the rest of the Western world, to look at this opportunity and this moment and ignore the fact that we have a lot of historical baggage to carry with us when we talk to the people in the Middle East. Not just this administration, not just this generation of leaders, not even just this country, but the entire Western world's approach to the Arab world in the 20th century is one that leaves Arab people wondering whether or not we are serious when we talk about their rights, their opportunities for self-government, and their opportunity for democracy. We don't say that critically of anybody, or even necessarily cast judgment on the past, but just as an objective fact, and so we have to deal with that reality. I mean, we think it's wise for our government to consider constantly that reality as we approach reform in the Middle East.

There are a few things that we suggest: First of all, we believe that because of the skepticism people in the region justifiably have toward our motivations, and certainly even more so toward their own government's willingness to reform, that we need to make very concrete the direction that individual countries are taking. While we understand that this should not be a straight-jacketed approach, a uniform approach, or what you might call cookie-cutter approach, every country in the Middle East is different. We believe that the United States should work with the governments in the region, for each country to establish its own, as we would call it, pathway to reform. There's nothing magical about that phrase, but we think in order to instill confidence in the people and to hold leaders accountable, there should be objective, tangible criteria and a path toward meaningful reform that the governments of the region work out. And we can help them to do that, and then we and their own people can help hold them accountable to that. That accountability is pretty important.

The United States has leverage in the region, greater leverage with some countries than with others, because of our financial, political, military involvements in the region, and much of it can be and is very helpful. But we do have a couple suggestions.

One is in the model with which we support a lot of reform within the region, and I have to say at that point, Secretary Albright and I are quite free to admit we come to this with a certain bias about the model for support for democratic reform in the Middle East and elsewhere. Secretary Albright is the chairman on the National Democratic Institute [NDI] and I'm the chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy [NED]. And we've worked for many years through those organizations to support a particular model, which says the United States' support, in many cases, is best provided not directly with a big stamp "Made In America" label on it but through nongovernmental organizations [NGOs] and other organizations run by people from the country that we're trying to have an impact on. That's not a uniform policy; there are certainly times when it's appropriate for the United States to get more directly involved, but we think, to the extent that it's possible, we will be more effective if— and certainly more sensitive and consistent with the cultural values of the country's working— we're working in, if our support for reform is channeled through NGOs and indigenous organizations in the countries we're trying to impact.

We believe economic reform is a part of the process we're pursuing, not exclusive of democratic reform, and we support pretty strongly the administration's trade initiatives in the region, which are both offering opportunities for great economic reform in the region and can be used to leverage political reform in the countries that are pursuing bilateral trade negotiations with the United States. We also came away quite impressed with the qualified industrial zone project in Egypt and believe that project has a certain critical mass, is a good model and should be extended as quickly as possible throughout the nations of the region.

Let me just say, finally, that there are some risks the United States has to face up to when they pursue this policy, which we believe has to be consistent and long- lasting and bipartisan in the Middle East. Secretary Albright mentioned one of them quite clearly, which is our belief that if you really support democracy, you have to be prepared to see parties participate and perhaps win elections that are not to your liking. That happened in November to Secretary Albright. [Laughter]

But with the one caveat that we don't believe we should be supporting parties that embrace violence and advocate the violent overthrow of governments. We believe the United States has to be supportive of full participation, including by parties that we may consider to be extremists and Islamists in the region.

There is another aspect of that same risk, if you will, that I think is also important and that we talk about in the report. When we talk about democracy, we talk not only about an election— I mean, election maybe is the ultimately manifestation of democracy— but when we talk about democracy, we're talking about all of the preconditions that are necessary for a successful democratic government. And they include many things. They include, we believe, a certain kind of economic system; [they] may include human rights, particularly rights for women in this region of the world, [and] many other things.

But critical among them is a free and independent media. One of the encouraging if controversial signs in the Middle East for us is the emergence of free and independent media. Certainly that's controversial because that media, particularly in the case of Al Jazeera, which has become quite famous, if not to say infamous in this country, says a lot of things that we don't like. And in the view of many in our government, literally encourages terrorism. We don't suggest for a second that the United States government or anybody else should cease to be critical of what they see as excesses in media in the Middle East, but we think if you support the model of democratic reform in these countries, genuinely support it, you have to view the development of independent media on balance as a positive development that is encouraging reform in the Middle East, even if there's some things they report we don't particularly like. So while we think it's all right to criticize that media, the United States should not engage in efforts to suppress their content or work through governments to suppress their content.

Those are the risks of democracy and freedom. We think, as Secretary Albright said quite clearly, in the long term that it is in the United States' security interest, and that defines a new way of looking at stability, if you will, but we understand that it takes risks, and the United States needs to be prepared to face them. Thank you. Steven?

STEVEN COOK: Thank you. I just want to start out very briefly and to extend my own thanks to a number of people who made this report possible.

I just want to single out three people from the Council on Foreign Relations. First, Lee Feinstein, the director of Task Force programs, who's based here out of the Washington office, Lindsay Workman, his assistant here in Washington as well. And, of course, my research associate, Kareem Idriss, who played an invaluable role in drafting this report and undertaking all the activities that had to do with it. And I also want to express my deep appreciation to both of you, Madame Secretary and Congressman Weber. It's been truly a privilege for me to work with two great public servants like yourself.

I'm just going to take a very brief few moments to discuss why we think this report is unique and newsworthy. First, as you can tell by the banter between the two co-chairs, it's clearly a bipartisan report, and we did have a good time putting it together, but, more importantly, it demonstrates, both from the co-chairs and through the profile of the Task Force itself, that both sides of the aisle can work toward democracy, in support of democracy in the Arab world. This is not at all a partisan issue and both sides of the aisle believe this to be a very, very important project for the United States.

The second reason I think the report is unique and newsworthy is that it pronounces the end of the Arab democracy exception. It very clearly states that the United States should support and promote democracy in the Arab world, as it should throughout the rest of the world. Regardless of what our strategic interests are in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, we should not let those countries off the hook in terms of extending political rights to their citizens.

The third aspect on why I think the report is unique is that it contains some bold and, quite frankly, provocative recommendations regarding Islamism and politics in the Middle East and how the United States should view Islamist political leaders.

Fourth, the report offers practical means for promoting evolutionary democratic change in the region, and both Secretary Albright and Congressman Weber discussed what we called pathways to reform. And these are certain benchmarks— public benchmarks that the United States should work with its Arab friends in the region to develop so that both Arab citizens and the United States can hold Arab governments accountable towards opening their political systems.

And finally, I think one of the most important things is that this report was done in consultation with Arabs in the region. We traveled to Egypt in late January and we met with a group of Arabs from across the region in an effort to mirror the profile of our Task Force members back there in Washington and New York. We met with business leaders, reform activists, and regional specialists to get their input on the report. They take no responsibility for the content of the report, but they were merely there to provide their advice and input on what they believe the United States should be doing to support democracy in the region. With that, I think I'll just hand it back to Jackson Diehl to start the conversation. Thank you.

DIEHL: Great. We're going to have some questions and I hope we'll have a very open session. I'm going to start with a couple myself and then we'll open it up. I'd like to ask the two co-chairs to comment on one thing. You say in the report the main way the United States can promote democracy in the region is by using its leverage on government. But you also mentioned in your op-ed that you wrote for the Post about the dangers of sham democracy. And in particular you raised the case in Egypt.

There's been a multi-candidate presidential election announced for this fall in Egypt, but as you noted, so far, it doesn't seem like there are conditions there for it to be a genuinely democratic election. And we're at a very important moment, in seems, in Egypt, and the government is promulgating the regulations for that election just at this time.

I wonder if you could comment a little bit about what role the United States should play at this particular moment. We have a very important relationship with them, a major aid client of the United States. How hard should we press on this? How important is it for us at this moment that this year's election [should] be a general democratic election, and what should be at stake? Should trade be at state? The trade relationship? What should we do?

WEBER: Well, first off, to state the obvious, these are tough cases. There's no question about it when you have strategic partners and economic partners. They have leverage, as well as we, and we recognize that and we don't mean to suggest there's an easy magic-wand approach that can be applied to all these countries. But we do believe that the United States, because it has overcome a lot of its Western baggage that I talked about a little bit, has to be pretty forceful in pushing for genuine democratic reform, including in countries like Egypt.

I was pleased at the president's speech at the 20th anniversary of the NED. He mentioned Egypt and Saudi Arabia by name. Now words may not be everything, but words are a lot. They're more than empty rhetoric. They can be fairly fulsome rhetoric. And the rhetoric from our administration and our government and our political leaders matters a great deal to me.

As to what we're actually doing to prevent the development of a sham election that we're fearful of, I hope, and Secretary Albright can speak more directly to this because she's actually been in a policy-making role. I hope the administration's doing a lot behind the scenes. I think one of the things we do believe is that a heavy-handed, big-footed approach is probably not the most effective approach. But certainly passivity, in the case of the development of a sham election, is also the wrong thing. So we believe there should be considerable pressure, and we believe that it should be applied as appropriately as the administration can. And if the election does not turn out to be a genuine one, we should say so quite publicly. Do you want to comment more on how we should be doing this?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I do think it's a key issue obviously. And I, very specifically, not only said here, but when we were in Cairo speaking to a very large group of people, and I was asked a question what is the definition of a democracy. And I just gave kind of my standard definition that we developed at the National Democratic Institute early on, which was— elections are great; there's no question. But truth is that anybody can have an election and get 96 percent of the vote. I must say there was a little bit of teetering in the audience when I said that in Cairo.

And then I said that we had talked a lot about the fact that democracy really means a rule of law. It means the free media. It means an institutionalization of a civil society. And it means the viability and presence of an accountable opposition party. An opposition party is an essential aspect of democracy because it allows people choice, and it makes it necessary for the party in power to be accountable.

Now the reason that we talked about a sham election was that you can't have what I see in Egypt, which is a managed opposition. A sign that you can allow a certain number of seats to go to the other party, but that you don't really allow the evolution of a real political party. I think that it is, as Congressman Weber said, an incredibly complex issue, especially when a country like Egypt is important to us in the Middle East peace process and they have the ability to shift the pockets whenever they need to. Offer a meeting in Sharm El Sheikh or something like that.

And so we need them. And I think— I hope very much, because I know that in many cases in diplomacy there are a lot of things that happen behind the scenes that you don't know about. It certainly was true in our case, and I'm sure it's true in this case. I believe that, in terms of leverage, it's more a matter not of taking away things but adding things that they might get for having done something well in terms of moving the democracy forward and recognize the fact and explain to them that they are much less stable these days if they suppress various dissident movements.

COOK: Jackson, can I just get in on that for one second? You asked— part of your question was how much pressure the Bush administration should be placing on Egypt. We struggled with this issue quite a bit in our task-force meetings, and I think the way the task-force report reads, quite clearly, is a sort of Goldilocks approach for the administration— not too fast but not too slow. Somewhere in the middle is just right. And what we want, because we have strategic interest in Egypt, we want a smooth transition to democracy.

And that's why we talk about pathways to reform. That's why we talk about channeling our aid to help develop viable opposition groups. So there isn't just an Islamic opposition group. This is something that Secretary Albright and Congressman Weber spoke quite a bit about when we were in Cairo meeting with people, is that there needs to be a development of viable opposition parties as well as more carrots for the Egyptian government to do the right thing in terms of reform. Otherwise they may be overwhelmed in time as political pressure in Egypt builds. Nobody wants to see that.

DIEHL: Another thing about this report that I think is remarkable and important is that you have taken a very firm position on a matter that is full and a subject of great controversy and debate inside the administration, which is the role of Islamic parties and the role of Islamic movements. And you seem to be saying fairly clearly that, provided they're willing to respect the rules of the game, they should be accepted and allowed to participate in a new democratic forum. And so I would like to ask a couple of specific aspects about that.

If you take that principle as a starting point, does that mean that the United States should now be urging the Egyptian government to legalize the Muslim Brotherhood? And does it mean that we're to be telling the Palestinian Authority they should go ahead with legislative elections that include Hamas even if Hamas might win?

WEBER: Well, let me begin by saying we realize this is a tough issue, but we do feel very strongly about it. And we discussed it at great length among ourselves and with everybody that was a participant in the process both in the region and here. So we take it as a serious, serious question.

But our strong belief is based on those discussions and those successful consultations that we're creating a worse problem for ourselves and those nations are creating a worse problem for themselves by basically sucking the oxygen out of what should otherwise be a public space. People who want to see change in those countries have no outlet other than through their religion. Through Iran that becomes a radical expression of their religion.

And so, it is entirely possible that those extreme parties, if you will, would begin with a higher level of support than would make us comfortable because they are currently the only outlet for people that want to see change. We think that the best way to change that, of course, is to open up the system, allow people to have multiple avenues for input to the political process [and] multiple avenues to see change in their own societies.

And then that those Islamic parties will find their proper role within society, which we don't think is likely to be, over any long term, a dominant role. But to ban them in many ways just makes them stronger, and that's why we've made the recommendations that we have.

In terms of the Muslim Brotherhood, and we asked people a lot about it in Egypt, I don't want to tell the Egyptians— we don't want to tell the Egyptians who they should legalize and who they shouldn't. But we certainly feel that they should have a genuine election in which nonviolent participants are allowed to contest for the presidency.

As to Hamas and Hezbollah, we've got a different situation, because we don't believe we should be dealing with groups that are terrorist groups that have not renounced violence. It creates a very difficult situation, probably the most difficult in the region for us, but I think that's United States' policy. Secretary Albright had a major role in creating that policy, and as difficult as it is, we don't think we can just abandon it and say start dealing with terrorist organizations.

ALBRIGHT: Well, having put them on the list, I believe we can, and it's the law, we cannot deal with organizations that see their function in many ways as using military means and terrorism. The thing now that we— the reason that we did spend so much time on this— it's obviously a key issue, but also what has to happen here is a reality check.

Hezbollah in Lebanon just won a very large percentage [in the June 5th round of elections]. They are going to be in the Lebanese parliament. What is interesting, is that one of the reasons that they are there— some of it, obviously, is via the fact that they got the Israelis out of Lebanon, but the other is that they actually do grassroots work; to use an American term, constituent services. They really are there. They're closer to the people. And I think it's very hard for us to simply say, "Ignore the whole issue." And what we would hope is that— our greatest hope would be is if they separated themselves from their military means. But short of that, it would be useful for the other parties, as they are legalized, to understand the importance of being that close to the people.

And as Congressman Weber said, there's something very attractive about forbidden fruit, and it creates kind of a sense that that's the place to be, and so alternatives have to be offered. But I would never suggest that any American official break the law. This is the law. We don't deal with Hamas. We don't deal with the Hezbollah. But we do have to recognize that they are there and that they will play a role, and hopefully by making them part of something where they have to solve real problems. The Palestinian mayor who has to deal with the sewage problems, et cetera, is part of the system.

WEBER: What we are seeing, if I can say, is if you read the reports that are coming out of the region, the Israelis are beginning to work through this problem themselves. And while they're quite clearly not going to negotiate with terrorists, they're also not building walls [laughter] around the cities where Hamas has had political success. It's a delicate and complicated process for them and it is for us as well.

DIEHL: OK. I'm going to open it up for questions. I would just ask that if anybody wants to ask a question, please identify yourself and the answers on the record.

QUESTIONER: Yeah, Alan Platt, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. I'm sure you both have had some conversations with people in the executive branch. I'd be curious to know what the initial reaction of the people of the Bush administration has been. And as we look out over the next year or two, I'm sure there are some of the pathways to peace that you've outlined that will be followed by the administration. And there will be other pathways that they won't follow. What are the key pathways that you're going to be watching to see how much of your report has been adopted by the Bush administration?

COOK: I'll just say, first of all, we spent a long session with [Bush administration Middle East adviser] Elliot Abrams, Secretary Albright and I did, well in advance of the report to get his input, discuss what we were doing, and found it a very positive and productive session. And I think it's fair to say he welcomed what we were doing. You know, we're not in the business of simply endorsing administration policy, and they're certainly not in the business of endorsing the findings of the Task Force, but I think it was a very positive and constructive engagement.

We also had some conversations at the State Department. And I spoke with Liz Cheney the other day; we're going to be doing a much more thorough discussion with a broader range of people in the State Department about the report now that it's out. You know, we— our purpose is to speak to our government in constructive terms. The thrust of the report is supportive of the administration's policy of encouraging democracy in the Middle East. We are basically saying at that threshold level, "Yes, you're right, that's the right policy." But we're also trying to make suggestions as to how they can most effectively pursue that policy, and maybe even in some ways alter it.

As to what standards we want to establish for holding this administration accountable, Secretary Albright is better at that than I am, so I think I'll let her answer that question.

ALBRIGHT: Just on this subject, right? [Laughter]

COOK: Just on this subject. [Laughter]

ALBRIGHT: I think that what is very clear about this report— this is not addressed to the Arab world; this is a report addressed to the administration. And so we welcomed the interaction with them, and we want to see more of it. I think that what is important is that the president, I think, make a very bold statement at the National Endowment [for Democracy] and made very clear that this was his goal.

Where I think— what we have done is to add the underpinnings of what needs to be done. And I think the only kind of criticism in it is that we have specifically said "support" rather than just "promote;" that it can't be just as an American model, that there are other ways to do things. And so there's some subtle messages, I think, in terms of trying to get further help from other countries and not just the imposition of democracy and an American pathway.

The pathways are really something that we would see to be developed internally in those countries, with an urging and ideas coming from other places. For instance, speaking for NDI, NDI is spending $60 million in 12 countries in the region, and we are there giving technical assistance in a variety of democratic things, whether it's writing constitutions or working on women's rights or looking at how local governments can participate more in the whole process. And I think that the kind of standards and rules that should be set are basically international ones in terms of the extent to which people are able to participate in the political process, the development of civil society, how nongovernmental organizations work.

But I think the key thing— and we keep saying the same thing, all of us— there are overarching principles that we think need to be followed out consistently in the region, which is support for human rights and openness and development of institutions. And then each of these countries has to be looked at separately. So it's impossible to say what each particular standard should be. And we think that a mistake is if you just look at the whole region and say, "This is where they have to go in this particular step." And as Steven said, it's evolutionary not revolutionary.

But we would hope very much that we would continue to have contact with the administration on this; that they don't see this as a blast at them, which is not what it is at all. In fact, it is in support of their policies with some specific suggestions, especially in the media, in education. In more detail, we look and talk about the importance of opening— you know, returning to the possibility of having students from those countries come in, the whole visa issue, and educational exchanges, and much more active public diplomacy from our perspective.

DIEHL: Yes, sir. Yes, in the green tie.

QUESTIONER: My name is Mohammed Elmenshawy, and I work a New York independent Arabic outfit sponsored by Center for Defense Information. And I have been following the American political system for quite a few years, and I usually find these great policy recommendations and great reports from former officials, from our secretary, from our congressmen. But we never see policy action from current people in office, whatever it's secretaries or congresspeople. When will we see that? Not from former officials; from current ones.

WEBER: Well, I think the current government's done quite a bit. I mean, I'd just restate what Secretary Albright and I both said. This administration has articulated a new approach toward democracy in the Middle East, and that's somewhat controversial within this country. The beginning of what we're saying is, we applaud that. We agree with that change in policy. There have been specific actions taken. There's been a— at the NED, we've seen roughly a doubling of the core budget of the National Endowment for Democracy at this administration's request, virtually all of the increase dedicated to our programs in the Middle East. And that's also reflected in the activities of the National Democratic Institute and the other organizations that we support, and we make reference to the [Middle East] Free Trade [Area] Initiative and others. So there's been an awful lot that has been done.

But I think we have to, you know, be reasonable about the pace of progress. I mean, this is going— this has to be a long-term project. One of the things Secretary Albright and I have talked about is, one of the reasons that it is essential to form a bipartisan approach to this issue is because it is surely not going to be resolved within the tenure of this administration or probably even the next administration, whoever's that may be. So we have to have a bipartisan framework, and we're trying to inform this administration on how it can help develop a policy that is sustainable over a long period of time.

I just want to add, you know, when we talk about democratization of the Middle East, it's not as if we're talking to a bunch of people that have no experience with this. In the pro-democracy— we count as activities in the pro-democracy community a number of people that have been in this administration. The vice president was on the board of the NED. Secretary Rice was on the board of advisers of the Journal of Democracy. [Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs] Paula Dobriansky was the vice chairman of the NED. [Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs] Scott Carpenter has been involved in the IRI [International Republican Institute]. There are a lot of people in this administration who were doing pro-democracy work prior to being in the administration. And we're talking to people that have a long commitment to this, and we're trying to work together with them to form, hopefully, the right policy for our country and for the Middle East.

COOK: I just want to point out something in response to that question. Whatever problems you may have with the Bush administration's policies in the Middle East, you can't deny the fact that the president has spoken clearly and openly about support for democracy and freedom in the Middle East. Beyond his public words, this administration has devoted more resources to this issue than his predecessors have, and apologies to Secretary Albright. There's clearly a commitment. What the report does, is say how the money, the new money that is going toward these initiatives, should be used better, how the United States should use public support to promote freedom and democracy in the region.

It's not going to be overnight. It is going to be something that is going to take time, similar to what we found during the Cold War, from Democratic administration to Republican administration to Democratic administration to Republican administration. There was a clear, consistent goal in terms of containing the Soviet Union. That has to happen in terms of supporting and promoting democracy in the Middle East.

QUESTIONER: But yet, nonviolent Islamic groups have been in the region for years. And in the former administration, we never had the initiative to conduct or engage them [inaudible] process. We just [inaudible], but you mentioned that during Clinton administration. I have nothing against the Bush administration, but these Islamists who have been there forever and never been approached now are saying let's approach them after we left the official [inaudible]--

ALBRIGHT: Well, let me respond to that because, again, I would like to say— and I don't mean to be secretive about this— but there are numbers of things that happen behind the scenes. And there were a number of times that we operated trying to change our relationship with Iran, and also a number of different things that took place during our administration. Democracy wasn't just invented in the last three or seven years. And I do think that there is a great value to a cooperative approach between whatever administration and outside experts. And were I secretary of state, I would welcome this particular report because there is a tendency, when you're in the government, to read each others' memos and not have enough outside input.

We worked very hard to have a bipartisan foreign policy. I think it's very important to have it. But I think also one has to look at each administration and what it's dealing with separately. And I take a lot of pride in what we did in our administration, creating a community of democracies and beginning to work much more with a whole host of dissident groups in a way that was very appropriate to the period that we were in.

QUESTIONER: Mohammed Arami with Al Jazeera. Some people, when they look at the global policy of this administration, may argue it lacks credibility and consistency when it comes to ideals of democracy— Guantanamo, its policies of renditions, et cetera, but also in its bilateral relations; you know, its coziness with [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, and its open hostility to democratically-elected presidents because they don't like their policies— the French, Brazilian, Venezuelan presidents, for example. To what extent do you think this lack of consistency and credibility will affect its efforts in the Middle East?

WEBER: Why don't you go first? Let's not drag the French into this one. [Laughter]

ALBRIGHT: First of all, I think that it is only somebody who's never been in government that would ask a question like that, because it is very important to understand how difficult foreign policy is, and especially for the superpower in the world that has relations with every country and that has interests everywhere. And you can't do everything all the time. And there is the importance of finding the right tool for the right issue. And, you know, there are those who say consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

What is important is to have an overarching set of principles which I believe that the Clinton administration had and I believe that the Bush administration has. I happen to disagree with some of them, but they have overarching principles. And it is the job of statecraft to find the right tool for the right job.

I might disagree with some of the specific bilateral issues. My problem is a little different. I think that we are still focused just on one part, that we're not dealing with some of the others. But I think that it is an incorrect question or focus to just think that a great democracy like the United States has a policy that's exactly the same for every country.

It is— that's what diplomats and elected officials do, is to fine-tune the policy to suit the particular national interest and strategic interest. And while I might question some, I don't question the fact that you have to have a different approach for different places.

COOK: I want to add to that for a second and bring it right back to the report. The first recommendation of the report says that the United States should treat each country in the region differently, based on its local context and what our interests are there. But at the same time, it closes a loophole that some may look to say that, "Oh, well, we can't treat Egypt or Saudi Arabia this way because we have strategic interests." It says very clearly that the United States, at the most basic level, must consistently support human rights, women's rights, rule of law, tolerance, and all the kinds of democratic principles that we hold dear in this country.

QUESTIONER: Just a quick follow-up. What you have in a Muslim country like Pakistan and a military coup, overthrowing a democratically elected government— and there's no principle here? Because of this pragmatism, we can overlook a coup d'etat against democracy?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I will say my statement, which may be a little less bipartisan, but we didn't have that policy in the Clinton administration. But what happened was 9/11, which is something that shook the United States' psyche more than I think any foreigner can possibly recognize. And so I think that it went in a different direction. I personally do think it's important to keep restating the fact that Pakistan should move towards a democratic system. That was what we had said at the time.

WEBER: I agree entirely.

DIEHL: Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: My name is— is this on? My name is David Dunn. I'm with the law firm of Patton Boggs, and we've been working in the Arab world for about 25 years. We have partners who are members of the bar in the Arab world now. And one of the issues that you've raised as a central criteria to move to democracy is rule of law, one that we focus on a great deal in our day-to-day experiences. And if I can add a third elephant in the room, or a shadow cast over that critical principle, it is the role of Islam or the role of sharia law.

In our democracies, our notion of democracy, the rule of law is a function of government and government's responsibility to protect it as a source of legitimacy. In the world where Islam is a dominant source of legitimacy and where sharia law is defined by religious leaders more often than secular leaders, there is this paradox. Could you address this issue in the context of your views, and particularly secularism versus what we have in most of those countries?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I mean, you have raised a very important and, frankly, very difficult issue. And it is obviously what they're discussing in creating the constitution for Iraq, the extent to which sharia law will be the dominant law, not just in private but also in public activities. And I think that the problem is going to be the extent to which it is possible to integrate legal systems in this particular way.

I don't think we have an answer at this point. But I do also think that as there are greater interactions— and I say this as a political scientist mainly— as there are greater interactions between countries that are predominantly [led by] sharia law, that then have to operate within an international legal system, they will find that certain parts of it simply do not work and that they can't functionally cooperate. I don't know whether this is the ultimate answer, but the bottom line is if you completely exclude sharia law from the system, it will again acquire a mythical presence and be the thing that people are more interested in than the legal system that they need to do business with you. And I— Congressman Weber and I have had many, many interesting discussions, and I think among them has been that we are actually now very good friends, but we come at this very differently.

And the reason that we actually were able to produce this report is we were dealing with functional and real issues. And it makes you cut through a lot of other things. And that was always my hope for— not that either of us is one or the other— between the Serbs and the Kosovars or Israelis and Palestinians, that when you really have to work on real issues, some of the ideological input disappears.

WEBER: That's all I was going to say, too. I don't think that there's a theoretical answer to your question. There's only a practical answer, and I don't know exactly what it is. But, you know, there probably— if you want to go way back in history, there probably wasn't a theoretical answer to the question of, how are you going to integrate Christianity and Catholicism with democracy and the rule of law in Western Europe, the United States either? It worked out over time. And I don't want to just say, "Take it on faith," but we have to work it out over time and they've got to work it out, practically speaking.

COOK: I just want to underscore that there really is no fundamental incompatibility between sharia and democracy, and we shouldn't look at it that way. Islam plays a central role, as you all know, in the lives of Muslims throughout the Muslim world, in the Arab world. And we should not look upon integrating elements of sharia into legal codes as necessarily a bad thing.

DIEHL: Yes, with the pen. Go ahead.

QUESTIONER: [Inaudible] I would be interested in your view— first, thank you for the report. I very much look forward to reading it. I would be interested in your views on the role of American partnership with other democracies in the world. Are there huge opportunities? Are there pitfalls for partnering with the EU [European Union], with specific European countries— Japan, Australia, others outside of the region? And is that something that's important, or is that something that is not necessarily at the forefront of your recommendations?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it's very important to partner. And I'll tell you why, because, as I said earlier, democracy wasn't invented in the year 2000. It was a fairly old process. And even though we are the oldest democracy, we are not the only democracy. And there are various other models that might be more suitable. And I'm very proud of the work that NDI does. We have teams everywhere, and they are multinational teams to a great extent— many Canadians, many Europeans that are part of it. And I think that the different models are what is important, and also to show that different models of democracy can be compatible. And so I think that it is very important to work together.

We have also not talked enough about another aspect of this report, which is how economic and political development go together. Democracy has to deliver. It doesn't do any good if people talk about democracy and then the people can't eat. It may sound Marxist, but people prefer to eat than to vote. And so the combination of having support for economic issues in these countries that we are trying to move in this direction is an essential aspect of this, and for that we need cooperation with other countries.

WEBER: I think we should be encouraged about— first of all, I want to thank you for coming; I appreciate that. I think we should be encouraged by the world movement for democracy, really. As Secretary Albright repeatedly said this morning, we're quite used to working through the NGO process. And one of the encouraging things for us is that it is a world movement. There's, I don't know how many— I should know this— David Lowe from the NED is here; my friend John Sullivan from the Center for National Private Enterprise. There are NED/NDI-like organizations throughout Western Europe. Germany really sort of was the leader in spawning that kind of an effort before we did. Japan and, I think, Taiwan now, David, have started organizations like this recently. I went and met with the people in Australia when I took my family on vacation a few years ago. They're working in Malaysia and Indonesia on a lot of the same issues that John Sullivan's organization works on.

So there are a lot of activities around the world. We should find that very encouraging, and we should try to harness, to the extent we can, that force and draw them into those activities in the Middle East as well.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. [Inaudible] I'd like you to be more specific on the ways that— the tools and instruments for promoting democracy. And I raise this because my own experience, which is largely with the Latin American region, suggests that there is really a very tenuous idea of what the democratic idea is about. And this results in malfunctioning, legislatures, governments that don't deliver results and so forth. There are very few American studies programs or democratic studies programs, for example, in universities. I once looked at the Fulbright program's website and there is relatively little effort on democratic governance in that exchange program. What kind of tools have you thought would be useful to facilitate dissemination of the idea, particularly in university and perhaps secondary programs?

COOK: Why don't I take that? Fist, let me just say there's been some encouraging developments in the Arab world with regard to this. The American University in Cairo has just established an American Studies Center. Believe it or not, the American University did not have an American Study Center. Cairo University has a model congress that was launched a number of years ago and is apparently oversubscribed to the point where they need to interview students to get in. There is now the American University of Kuwait, which is copying these types of programs; the American University in [inaudible]. There's all kinds of— of course, Education City in Doha.

What the report calls for, in terms of this kind of thing, is an increase of exchange between the Arab world and United States on specifically these types of issues not just at the university level, not just in education, but in terms of working with officials from the state. We called for an increase in the IMET [International Military Education and Training] funding so that to inculcate Arab military officers with the ideas of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. We look specifically at these types of things in what we call pathways to reform: benchmarks that Arab governments should meet publicly in order to inculcate, in order to create a more democratic atmosphere, open atmosphere.

One of the things that I think is most important to understand is that there is a lot of demand for democracy and political openness in the Arab world. I don't actually think— in all the time that I've spent in the Arab world, there is a kind of fundamental misunderstanding of what this means. Of course, certain groups have a majoritarian view of democracy, and one of the things we do recommend is certain constitutional mechanisms to be put in place in the process of constitutional reform to protect the rights of minorities.

DIEHL: We'll try to squeeze in one more question. Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: Don Bandler, Kissinger McLarty Associates. Following up on that direction, how— did you talk much about issues of how you get from where we are now to the goals? And specifically, I have in mind tolerance-building in societies, cultural heritage, including— well I worked with Secretary Albright on one of those where we tried to preserve a mosque and preserve an important monastery. These kinds of underlying— I mean, in some respects, I think this is a soft underbelly to get towards the broader goals of political, if you will, hard political democracy.

ALBRIGHT: Well, we did generally talk about the importance of public diplomacy, which to me includes cultural diplomacy, something that we did work on. And I think that it is— goes to this concept that we talked about, that we have to look at each country individually and understand the culture.

A lot of the things that people in the United States believe have something to do with Islam is actually more cultural than religious, and really requires a greater understanding. And what we are advocating here is a much greater in-depth look at each country and an attempt by the government as well as by nongovernmental organizations to really understand the pace of what has to happen and what will make something work. This will require much more than just statements. I mean, it requires this kind of functional cooperation that we were talking about.

And again, I think as we conclude this, I think we understand how hard this is. I mean, we've all— those of us that have been in government have worked on this and know how hard it is. There is no magic formula, here. It is very hard work, and— as the president says— and something that has to be done in conjunction with a number of departments within the U.S. government and also in cooperation, a public-private partnership.

I think something that I believe in more and more, especially as I'm now in private and not public, about the importance of public-private partnerships in the countries. Often, many of our corporations can be our best ambassadors— with apologies to former ambassadors— but basically can operate there and be helpful in terms of being good citizens in the countries where they are. And I don't think it hurts for there to be an increased emphasis on public-private partnerships and working with NGOs. And it's kind of a full force of all of us working together as well as with the other democracies. This is not a solely American project. We happen to be talking to the American government, but I think that it would help to have larger partnerships.

WEBER: I just would echo that. I don't think people learned tolerance from their government. They can expect their government to practice tolerance, but they learned government from other interactions with each other in nongovernmental organizations. And the absence of that whole sector in many of these countries is a big problem. And that— the answer to that most difficult of questions, it seems to me, it has to be in the building of a sector that is neither governmental nor exclusively religious.

ALBRIGHT: Can I just add one thing to this? And it goes back to the original question, Jack. One of the reasons that we state that it's important to work with Islamic parties that follow a democratic approach is that we have to get rid of the sense that Islamic means terrorist, and that the tolerance comes from understanding that those who have a different belief system can still operate within a democratic system.

NDI had a conference in Istanbul about democracy and Islam. They are not incompatible. And so I think all of this in many ways responds to your question. If we don't want to deal with terrorists, that's for sure, but there is not automatic that an Islamic party is a terrorist party.

DIEHL: Thank you very much. We're out of time, but I want to thank our chairmen for coming and participating, and thank Mr. Cook, and thank everybody else. [Applause]

ALBRIGHT: Thank you all.

COOK: Thank you.

ALBRIGHT: Take care.

WEBER: Thank you.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you.






More on This Topic