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15 Feb 2009 - 28 Jul 2011
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Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Month: February, 2009
House Spending Bill and Democracy Promotion in the Middle East
February 27th, 2009 by Cecile
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed a $410 billion omnibus spending bill in a vote of 245 to 178.  $36.6 billion is to be set aside for state and foreign operations, which represents a 12 percent increase over last year. For POMED’s overview of portions relevant to democracy promotion in the Middle East and a comparison to last year’s numbers please click here.
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Foreign Aid, Legislation, US foreign policy, US politics | Comment »
President Obama’s Budget Outline
February 27th, 2009 by Jed
President Obama has submitted an outline for his FY2010 budget request which includes $51.7 billion for the Inernational Affairs Budget, a 9.5% increase. While the plan does not include specific details, which will be released in April, additional documents highlight some priorities for the foreign affairs budget. Such priorities include beginning on the course to doubling foreign assistance, building additional capacity for diplomatic and development operations, including the Foreign Service and USAID, and an increase in non-military assistance in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
In The Wall Street JournalYochi Dreazen discusses the lack of details in terms of State Department spending. While it’s clear the budget will provide increased funding for elements of U.S. “soft power”, it’s unclear how long increases will last and how many new jobs may be created. Dreazen notes that while the document does not provide specifics it does symbolize a new way of engaging the international community.
The Office of Management and Budget has posted specific departmental breakdowns on their website. The breakdown for the Department of State sheds more light on foreign affairs expenditures. In regards to doubling foreign assistance, the document states that the additional “funding will help the world’s weakest states reduce poverty, combat global health threats, develop markets, govern peacefully, and expand democracy worldwide”.
Posted in Diplomacy, US foreign policy | Comment »
Advice for Hillary
February 27th, 2009 by Cecile
At the National Interest, Nathan Brown and Michele Dunne argue that when Hillary Clinton heads to Egypt next week she should remember that as far as Gaza is concerned, economic assistance will not solve political problems. While rebuilding Gaza after the recent war is a “humanitarian necessity,” blindly providing aid to alleviate the damage without an accompanying political strategy only ensures the continuing cycle of construction and destruction. They explain, “aid money can mitigate some of the worst effects of the conflict, but it can do no more as long as the conflict continues.”
Clinton must “present all the parties with difficult choices about the behaviors that impede peace…and encourage the development of genuine democratic institutions that allow Palestinians to settle their differences peacefully.” Only then can aid provide a clear path to development and prosperity.
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Foreign Aid, Palestine, US foreign policy | Comment »
Meet Jihadist Radicalization with Democracy
February 27th, 2009 by Jed
Democracy Digest highlights a new Washington Institute report titled “Rewriting the Narrative: An Integrated Strategy for Counterradicalization” which argues democracy assistance should play a primary role in “counter-radicalization” efforts. Key to the report’s findings is that democracy assistance should not be linked with counter-terrorism and national security policies. Combining democracy promotion with counter-terrorism can result in the perception that U.S. efforts are aimed at regime change not at bolstering democratic reform. The report calls for doubling the amount of funding allotted to the National Endowment for Democracy and the Middle East Partnership Initiative. The report is the final work of the Task Force on Confronting the Ideology of Radical Extremism convened by Washington Institute experts Scott Carpenter, Michael Jacobson, and Matthew Levitt.
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Islam and Democracy | Comment »
Two-State Solution as U.S. National Interest
February 27th, 2009 by Jed
At Middle East Online, Nadia Hajib highlights two competing views of the Obama foreign policy team in the Arab world. Wishful thinkers believe President Obama and Secretary Clinton have a more favorable view of Muslims and the Arab world and as a result will employ a more even handed approach to Middle East policy. Realistic thinkers believe that the Obama team simply sees a two-state solution as national security objective. These thinkers argue that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict breeds anti-american hostility around the world and that this disdain for U.S.  policies has grave effects on our relations with other states. Hajib argues that the realistic view is playing out, and the approach of the Obama administration seems to focus on getting the Palestinians to agree to accept a minimal level of Israel concessions.
In The Daily Star, Ziad Assali, President of the American Task Force on Palestine, writes that the path to a two-state solution now begins in Gaza, where the humanitarian crisis must be addressed.  Assali argues that reconstruction efforts should be coordinated by the U.S. special envoy and include all parties in potential peace talks. Settlements are perhaps the “most pressing political and logistical impediment to peace” and the U.S. should pursue an immediate freeze, according to Assali. Assali agrees with Hajib, in stating that if a two-state solution is lost it would be detrimental to U.S. national interests.
Posted in Israel, Mideast Peace Plan, Palestine | 1 Comment »
POMED Notes: Strategies for Engaging Political Islam: A Middle East, U.S., and E.U. Trialogue
February 27th, 2009 by Cecile
Yesterday, POMED and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung hosted a discussion on developing practical strategies for engaging Islamists. Political Islam is becoming a major force in the Middle East, yet Western policymakers remain unfamiliar with its principles and practices. In working to promote democracy throughout the region, these parties can no longer be ignored. Therefore, what are the best ways to begin a dialogue? How do Middle Easterners think the U.S. and E.U. can play a positive role in dealing with Islamists? Where do American and European intiatives differ and are there shared opportunities for engagement?
Addressing these questions were Ruheil Gharaibeh​, Deputy Secretary General of the Islamic Action Front in Jordan; Shadi Hamid, Director of Research for the Project on Middle East Democracy; Zoe Nautre, Visting Fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations; Mona Yacoubian​, Special Advisor for the Muslim World Initiative, Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at USIP; and was moderated by Nathan Brown, Director of the Middle East Institute at George Washington University.
For POMED’s notes on this event click here.

Posted in DC Event Notes, Democracy Promotion, Islamist movements | Comment »
President Obama’s Troop Withdrawal
February 27th, 2009 by Jed
Foreign Policy discusses​President Obama’s announcement of his decision to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by the end of 2010 at which point a much smaller force would remain, but perhaps only until 2011.
At Arabic Media Shack, they wonder if the troop withdrawal may be too fast. They point out that once American troops withdraw they will certainly not be going back and that a return to sectarian violence caused by withdrawal is not in U.S. interests. At The New Republic, Michael Hanna argues that the time-line for withdrawal may be out of our hands. This “Washington centric” view neglects to understand the role the Iraqi parliament plays, who will have to approve any changes to the current Status of Forces Agreement which calls for U.S. withdrawal from cities by June 30, 2009 and full withdrawal by the end of 2011.
In the New York Times,  Brookings experts Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack discuss the daunting challenges facing the Iraqi government over the next year and the critical role U.S. forces will play in addressing them, not least of which is the central government’s relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government. U.S forces have frequently served as mediators in this relationship and understanding their current role and the effects their absence could have will be critical to ensuring the vitality of the democracy and the stability of the state. Other challenges include managing the return of four million displaced Iraqis, falling oil prices, and the broad goal of increasing the quality of life for Iraqis.
They believe the proposed troop withdrawal, if managed appropriately, can provide the conditions for long term stability in Iraq. The author’s also applaud the President’s changes to the withdrawal plan as it was outlined on the campaign, which include an additional three months of U.S. presence. Flexibility may ultimately define the success of his plan, however, as conditions on the ground may demand President Obama to re-asses the conditions of the withdrawal.
Posted in Iraq, Kurds | Comment »
Talks for Palestinian National Unity
February 27th, 2009 by Jed
At Abu Aardvark, Marc Lynch​posits that the big news today regarding the Middle East is not President Obama’s proposed troop withdrawal in Iraq, but the agreement in Cairo between Fatah and Hamas for comprehensive national reconciliation talks. The two sides have agreed on the principle of a national unity government, however, the form of such a government will be decided by smaller committees. While Lynch admits the agreement is only the beginning to Palestinian reconciliation, he recognizes the importance of shared principles between the feuding Palestinian parties.  There is hope the sides will reach agreement prior to the Doha Arab Summit taking place at the end of March.
Posted in Hamas, Mideast Peace Plan, Palestine | Comment »
Patience is Key when Dealing with Iran
February 26th, 2009 by Cecile
In today’s Washington Post, David Ignatius discusses a recent conversation with Lee Hamilton, former congressman, co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, and unofficial adviser to Obama on Iran. Hamilton argues for a low-key, calculated approach to engaging Iran over a long period of time. Some initial steps should include:
- a stated respect for Iran and its people
- taking regime change off the table
- creating avenues for comprehensive, wide-ranging dialogue
- acknowledging Iran’s security concerns
- acknowledging its right to a peaceful, civilian nuclear program
Additionally, Hamilton argues that U.S.-Iranian dialogue should begin through back channels on the lower level, gradually working its way up to high level officials.
Meanwhile, Kristen Silverberg at FP stresses that Obama missed an opportunity to pressure Iran and the EU during his non-State of the Union address the other night. She urges the president to couple his rhetoric on U.S. engagement with equally public statements urging the EU to tighten financial pressure on Iran.
Posted in Diplomacy, Iran, US foreign policy, US politics | Comment »
Khouri and the Three R’s
February 25th, 2009 by Cecile
Rami Khouri advises President Obama to pay attention to the “three R’s” in approaching engagement with Iran and Syria: respect, reciprocity, and rights. While respect, a relative term, may be the hardest policy to follow he argues that reciprocity and to a lesser degree, rights shouldn’t prove too difficult. All that reciprocity requires is that “principles of policy, national conduct or compliance with international norms be applied evenhandedly by all concerned actors.” Basic rights such as territorial sovereignty, legitimacy, and freedom from occupation should also be simple to tackle “especially when linked…to the principles of respect and reciprocity.” Sounds easy enough, but if history is any indication, this will be much easier said than done.
Posted in Diplomacy, Iran, Syria, US foreign policy | Comment »
Bringing Arabs Back In
February 25th, 2009 by Cecile
Fareed Zakaria argues in the Daily Star that Israel needs to start handling its Arab minority with better care, saying that this “is more crucial even than dealing with Hizbullah or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad​.” However, the relative success of Avigdor Leiberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party seems to demonstrate that the country may be headed in the opposite direction.
Meanwhile, James Zogby​discusses the “profound divisions that exist in Israel and the dysfunctional state of its political system” and argues that “no matter how you add it up, the numbers aren’t going to yield either a majority for a clear direction, or peace.” In light of this, he urges Arab leadership to “seize the high ground and establish themselves as the partners for peace, pushing Israel and the U.S. to make the next moves.”
Posted in Elections, Israel, Mideast Peace Plan, Palestine, Political Parties | Comment »
Injustice in Syria
February 25th, 2009 by Cecile
Babylon and Beyond highlights a recent report by Human Rights Watch on Syria’s  prosecution of those it deems a threat to the state via a special security court. HRW calls for Syria to abolish this court, which has been known to prosecute Kurdish activists, bloggers, so-called “Islamists,” and citizens accused of insulting the president.  Since January 2007, 153 defendants have gone before the court “on the basis of vague charges that criminalize the freedom of expression.”
Read the full report here.
Posted in Judiciary, Syria | Comment »
Jordan’s Government Shake Up
February 25th, 2009 by Cecile
Marc Lynch weighs in on the recent cabinet reshuffle in Jordan, claiming that the changes don’t mean much for reforming Jordanian foreign policy as “the King is really his own Foreign Minister.” However, this move does seem to signal the King’s intentions, namely taking a harder stance on Hamas and preparing the government for Israel’s new right-of-center coalition.
Posted in Hamas, Israel, Jordan, Reform | Comment »
Debate Over Ross Title
February 25th, 2009 by Cecile
On Monday, the State Department announced that Dennis Ross had been appointed to the position of Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the Gulf and Southwest Asia. This role differs from that of Special Envoy in that Ross will not be involved in peace negotiations and his main function will be to provide Hillary Clinton with strategic advice regarding the region.
Steve Clemons points out that this is a step down from earlier rumors which suggested Ross would be “the President’s special envoy to Iran [and] basically a super envoy ranking above others for the entire Middle East region.” He claims that while AIPAC may not be pleased with this seemingly lesser position, this was “a balanced way to keep Dennis Ross in the equation without doing much harm.” Additionally, he argues that the Ross appointment serves as a nice balance to the the likely appointment of Chas Freeman as Chair of the NIC.
David Rothkopf is pleased with the decision, saying “there are few who are smarter, wiser, [or] more experienced.”
Christian Brose and The Arabist seem to agree that “Southwest Asia” is basically just a euphemism for Iran. If this is the case, some are concerned that Ross’ hawkish views will not bode well for engagement with that country. And speaking of Southwest Asia, check out some amusing commentary as to which countries comprise Southwest Asia as it pertains to U.S. policy and judge for yourself.
Posted in Diplomacy, Iran, US foreign policy, US politics | Comment »
Foreign Ops See 12% Increase in Omnibus Spending Bill
February 24th, 2009 by Cecile
Yesterday, House Democratic leaders released a $410 billion omnibus spending bill (H.R. 1105) for fiscal year 2009, of which $36.6 billion would be set aside for the State Department, USAID, and foreign military and economic aid. This represents a 12 percent increase over last year’s levels.
Of the $36.6 billion appropriated for foreign operations $2.4 billion would go to Israel, $1.5 billion to Egypt, and $498.5 million to Jordan. As for strictly economic assistance, the West Bank and Gaza would receive $75 million, Lebanon would receive $67.5  million, and Afghanistan $200 million. Additionally, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor as well as USAID’s Office of Democracy and Governance would receive a total of $116 million.
The Millenium Challenge Corporation would see a significant reduction in its budget to the tune of $875 million, down 40% from fiscal year 2008. According to CQ.com (requires subscription), Congress claims MCC has enough money in the bank to implement its current compacts.
For a summary of the State and Foreign Operations portion of the bill click here.
Posted in Congress, Democracy Promotion, Foreign Aid, Legislation, Military, US foreign policy, US politics | Comment »
US Humanitarian Aid to Gaza
February 24th, 2009 by Mehdi
The news of the United States pledging $900 million dollars for the reconstruction of Gaza has started a hotly argued debate. European Commission representative Christian Berger believes that a renewal to “normal life’ is desperately needed in Gaza. He writes on Bitter Lemons, “It is time that Gazans no longer have to worry whether goods that are not deemed strictly humanitarian in nature like macaroni, candy and fruit juice can be imported, let alone fuel, cement, reinforcing steel and glass panes.” Juan Cole makes the point that aside from a humanitarian interest, “the US has increasing competition for influence in the area.” It thus trying to bolster its reputation and standing in the region to serve as a peace broker. Marty Peretz vehemently disagrees with this strategy. Among his principal complaints- “The administration is assuring us that it will not go to Hamas, as if anyone can assure that materiel and money can be siphoned off just to the desired parties. This, frankly, is a joke…and Mrs. Clinton knows it. So should President Obama.”
Posted in Foreign Aid, Palestine, US foreign policy | 1 Comment »
US-Syrian Relations
February 24th, 2009 by Mehdi
As previously posted on this blog, many experts suggest that Syria will be the integral piece of the puzzle to several challenges in the Middle East including an Arab-Israeli peace deal, democratic reform, and fighting terrorism. But as this interesting piece in the Christian Science Monitor reminds us, “Both sides need to build up some trust before serious talks begin…”. Building this trust will be a tricky endeavor, but Joshua Landis​posts it is a feasible goal if both sides are patient.
 ”At any rate, many in Syria were concerned that Obama’s people were singing that same tune as Bush’s people. Imad Moustapha and others are assuring us that this is not true and that there remains good reason to be patient and hopeful. Senator John Kerry said the same thing. So in the words of Tisdall, we need to indulge a bit of old style rhetoric as Obama’s people work behind the scenes to finesse the many land mines set by the Bush administration.”
 Several congressional leaders have visited Syria recently. It will be interesting to see how the President approaches the country.
Posted in Syria, US foreign policy | Comment »
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