Democratization vs. Liberalization

DEMOCRATIZATION vs. LIBERALIZATION….Greg Djerejian points today to a piece by Ray Takeyh in National Interest about democratization in the Middle East:

A genuine strategy of democratization would concentrate, first and foremost, on placing significant curbs on executive power….The second imperative of democratic change is an independent judiciary.

….If Washington is serious about democratization in the Middle East, as opposed to liberalization, it has to change strategies….A viable democratization strategy would employ the considerable economic leverage that the United States and Europe possess to pressure these states toward viable reforms. Preferential trade agreements, foreign assistance and access to U.S. markets should be contingent on the level of progress that regimes make toward democracy. The U.S. experience vis-a-vis Latin America, especially Mexico during the 1980s and 1990s, and that of the EU towards its eastern periphery make it clear that when political reform is linked to economic benefits, regimes can be induced to introduce changes that lay the basis for a democratic transformation. The West should link aid to reforms designed to reduce state controls over both political life and the economy.

Takeyh’s main point is that Washington should stop worrying about an inchoate “liberalization” agenda and instead focus on a concrete goal of reducing executive power in autocratic Middle Eastern states. “This would imply no more state visits for President Mubarak and Crown Prince Abdullah until the behavior of their regimes alters,” he says. What’s more, he continues, we shouldn’t let fear of radical Islamists dissuade us. They aren’t the danger that Washington bureaucrats think they are.

From a nonexpert point of view, this strikes me as correct. The obvious problem is that it’s risky, and I’m not quite as sanguine as Takeyh that “Islamism is proving a fading ideology in today’s Middle East.” He says that “a subtle intellectual transformation is underway in many Islamist circles,” but this seems like a subtle shift indeed if the majority of news reports can be trusted.

Still, at some point we need to put our money where our mouth is and try this out. Despite its big talk, the Bush administration has been remarkably timid about taking any serious action outside Iraq that might genuinely promote democracy at the expense of our current allies. Maybe it’s time to start.

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