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United States: Presidential Hopefuls and Middle East Democracy

Author: Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
December 2007, Volume 5, Issue 10
Arab Reform Bulletin

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While the heady days of the so-called Arab Spring of 2005 and the soaring rhetoric of President Bush’s “forward strategy of freedom” are long past, the question of whether and how the United States should promote democracy in the Middle Eastis still debated.  Each of the prospective candidates for the 2008 U.S. presidential election has, in one way or another, established a position on the issue. Keeping in mind that a new president’s actual policies are often shaped more by breaking events than by campaign rhetoric, there are already some observable differences.

The six candidates often cited as most likely to win their parties’ nomination (Senators Clinton, Edwards, and Obama on the Democratic side; Senator McCain, Mayor Giuliani, and Governor Romney on the Republican) have expressed common themes on the subject of democracy promotion in the Middle East. For example they all say (as does the Bush administration) that if Arabs are provided with an opportunity to process their grievances through democratic institutions, there will be less terrorism. In the wider pool of candidates, only third tier contenders Republican Ron Paul and Democrat Dennis Kucinich have rejected outright the notion of promoting political and economic change in the Middle East.

Yet, in recognition of the failures of Iraq , all the candidates emphasize that democracy cannot and must not be imposed through force. They also agree that free and fair elections are only one component of a democratic society, citing the need for the establishment of the rule of law, transparency, accountability, human rights, tolerance, women’s rights, and an educated citizenry as other primary principles of a democratic polity. In general, the candidates have been rather vague about how the United States can promote such developments.

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