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What is so Inherently Wrong with the US Economic – Political Model Towards the Middle East?

By : Ziad K. Abdelnour| 25 February 2011
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Machiavelli once wrote that princes should see to it that they are either respected or feared; what they must avoid at all cost is to be despised. To have made itself despised as irrelevant: That is the legacy of US faithlessness and willful blindness in the Middle East.

It is obvious to any idiot out there today that America has long supported dictators, instead of democracies in the Middle East ….. simply because our “economic model” in the region always supported strong men who will ensure that their country always acts as a “client state” and by the same token moves to crush countries which refuse to act as satellites to us.

I strongly believe this “godlike” attitude has got to change if we are ever to dream having any presence in the Middle East one day.

Why?

Let’s face the facts:

1. We are today a nation of more than 310 million people and our national debt is quickly closing in on $14 TRILLION dollars. That’s about $45,000 for every citizen. When distributed among the taxpayers, the amount equals more than $126,000!. Current unemployment is officially about 9%; unofficially, it is almost twice that. Forty-five million Americans now receive government assistance to purchase food, nearly two million have filed bankruptcy and more than a million have lost their homes in foreclosure proceedings. As of September 2010, 23% of U.S. homes are worth less than the mortgage loan. Homeowners across the country have lost an average of 39% of the value of their properties over the last three years. Commercial real estate values have fallen 40 percent since their peak in 2007, according to a recent Reuters article. Bottom Line: We are a bankrupt nation and so is the majority of our citizens. Most importantly, we are certainly in no position to impose to a Middle East bloc of 300 million people controlling over $2 trillion in capital and growing how to manage their house, elect their leaders or otherwise….as frankly we are clearly no role model to follow neither on the fiscal nor foreign policy side.

2. The US’s entire frame of reference in the region is hopelessly outdated, and no longer has any meaning. It is a fact that the street protesters in Tunis, Cairo or Libya could possibly care less today of what the US thinks or what the US State Department says; as if the political and economic reform which President Obama stubbornly urges on those countries leaders while they were burning could possibly satisfy those risking their lives to overcome decades of repression and American support to dictatorships throughout the region…wake up folks.

3. US spokesmen stress the protesters’ desire for jobs and for economic opportunity, as though that were the full extent of their aspirations. They entreat the wobbling, repressive governments in the region to “respect civil society”, and the right of the people to protest peacefully, as though these thoroughly discredited autocrats are actually capable of reform. Sometimes I wonder if our spokesmen have ever lived in the Middle East or have any clue of what they are talking about.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg …..

Time to wake up folks. Our “folie de grandeur” has got to stop no matter what. At this point, it is not a matter of choice anymore but a matter of our survival and access to The Middle East’s resources in the years to come.

What led to this mess and hatred for America? In my humble opinion, it is simply a very “flawed” US economic model used to justify our historic support for dictators.

First off, if you look at development assistance from the United States and other international financial institutions, you find that there is no democracy advantage. Democratic countries, in fact, receive less development assistance than do non-democratic countries; basically democracy is not their business. They increasingly talk about good governance as one aspect of development, but not about democracy. The people who run USAID believe that their job is to promote development, and not democracy. That permits them to consider good-governance issues, but not to ask the fundamental question: Is this a democratic society that we want to support?

Second, there is a widely held view that poor countries need to delay democracy until they develop. The argument goes that if a poor country became democratic, because of the pressures in a democracy to respond to the interests of the people, they would borrow too much, they would spend the money in ways that did not advance development. These poor decisions would mean that development would not occur; and because people would then be disappointed, they would return to a dictatorship. Therefore, the prescription is, get yourself a dictator under our little thumb—it is never quite explained how you would make sure you had a dictator that spent the money to develop the country rather than ship it off to a Swiss bank account—wait until that produces development, which produces a middle class, and then, inevitably, the middle class will demand freedom, and you will have a democratic government. How wrong and stupid can that be….go figure.

Last, we in the US tend to assume that once autocratic countries reach a middle-income range, they will make the transition to democracy. Given the limited growth that we have seen under authoritarian systems, relatively few authoritarian countries actually reach this middle-income range. In fact, since 1960, only sixteen autocratic countries have reached a per capita base above $2,000 a year….that is over a 50 year period.

The reality is :

Democracies do a far better job at avoiding catastrophes of all types. If we look at financial catastrophes for each of the last four decades and look at the twenty worst performers over each of those decades, we find that of eighty cases, only five are democracies. Similarly, if you look at a 10 percent contraction in GDP per capita on an annual basis, you find that poor democracies are half as likely to experience this sort of acute recession as are autocracies.

Democracies and openness contribute to higher levels of transparency and lower levels of corruption. Various data show that corruption cuts heavily into GDP growth on an annual basis.

Democracies not only have a self-correcting mechanism, but also mechanisms for a systematic means of changing ineffective leadership. This allows for a stable transition to a new policy framework that might allow for a more effective process of addressing the problems that a country is facing, one that is appropriate for its particular circumstances. Because of this process of succession, you don’t have the same instability in democracies that heavily cuts into growth in other systems, either because of the political uncertainty or the civil conflict that results.

Democracies don’t fall off the edge of the cliff and hit bottom in the way autocracies do.

Though it is clearly politically incorrect today to extol publicly the virtues of autocracies, the view that these governments do a better job of promoting economic growth and stability among poor countries remains firmly entrenched in the minds of many world leaders, economists, national security advisors, business executives, political scientists, and international civil servants starting with US policy makers.

How naïve and potentially dangerous can that be?….you tell me.

It is high time to wake up and drastically change our posture towards the new Middle East shaping up.

Having long opted in favor of political stability over the risks and uncertainties of democracy, having told ourselves that the people of the region are not ready to shoulder the burdens of freedom, having convinced ourselves that Muslim culture or religion stands in the way of democracy, suddenly the US has nothing it can credibly say as people take to the streets to try to seize control of their collective destiny.

Democracy can be a victim in lots of silent ways. No wonder why events in the Middle East have today slipped away from us; whether we like it or not.

Time to stop fooling the American public by stating that our goal there is to stop terrorism when it is nothing more than being a superpower (i.e. an empire) looking for “client states” to suck off their natural, financial and human capital resources.

As George Bernard Shaw once said: “Capitalism has destroyed our belief in any effective power but that of self interest backed by force.”

Well, I am afraid the party is over folks.

Time for new leadership in the US who truly understand the geopolitical and geoeconomic nuances of the “New Middle East” in the making.

Your feedback as always is greatly appreciated.

Thanks much for your consideration.

Comments

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  2. Bill TimmmermanBill Timmmerman

    Ziad – Very interesting analysis. By extention it implies we should be actively supporting the Iranian dissidents [and I understand we provide zero help], the anti-Kadafi folk. Where would it leave us with the Saudis, UAE, and Bahrain? Not to mention Syria and The Palestinian state..

  3. SylviaSylvia

    Such rich beauty of art, science, literature, and design the cultures of the Middle East have given the world. It is a great treasure to be preserved, not a population to manipulate and bomb so as to take their things. If we all took 5 seconds to imagine what it would be like to live in a bombed out building, drinking dirty water and mourning the loss of your husband or wife or child, we might all feel more for ending this senseless war. May reason prevail sooner than later.

  4. reindmreindm

    Well written — as usual. What I am missing is the role of the US/Israel politics in creating the situation the USA is in. And of course we have to consider the influence funding of US politicians by whom, you can guess or find out in Internet. US government will not change its stance unless their is greater willingness of the US voters to read/view real news — these are available free and in clear English.

  5. Elias M. SalibaElias M. Saliba

    Ziad, It is great to hear that the people of the USA are actually more aware of the situation here than the leaders. What is happening in the Middle East nowadays is a reflection of decades of suppression and mistreatment. I think we have been long waiting for a move in this region, a move that will express what we feel. Unfortunately, as you have said, this move is a result of a bad “Higher Management.” Personally I don’t blame the USA Foreign Policy nor the Political Model, I blame other powerful nations for enabling such actions. Stop all the finger-pointing and start a reform somewhere, somehow… but as long as the petrol is governing our relations, it will be nearly impossible to find this reform anywhere.

  6. Shahriar BroumandShahriar Broumand

    Ziad, your words are wise and truthful. What leaves me baffled is how the State Department and the Oval Office can feel their handling of Middle East foreign policy is adequate? Who is advising these people, or are they blind to advice? I am no diplomat but I am confident a few of your readers who posted comments could do a more effective job handling US policy in the region.

  7. PatrickPatrick

    Thank you Ziad for daring to speak truth to power. Although, I think the US is following similar failed strategies first written on papyrus in the past ME and nearby Mediterranean empires millenia ago. Hubris, by any other name, still has the same rewards. My prayer remains the same: may His will, not mine, be done. Thank you.

  8. Mark Solomon HannaMark Solomon Hanna

    You share my view Ziad. Trust democracy and all of its foibles be it peace loving people in emerging markets or first world nations. Corporate and political governance are truly the main obstacles to many political challenges. Simply, if I have what you want and I’m willing to pay fair market value why should I be prevented from bidding, or from using my ability to make changes that benefit people, which is a fundamental basic challenge to societal development.

  9. Leo MattheosLeo Mattheos

    I think what is happenning in Middle East now it is already happenned in many countries in the emerging and third world had long standing dictactorships supported over the years from the USA government for what very bluntly and rightly Dr Ziad Abdelour describe as clients states.That is the reason fanatic religious islamic leaders took advantage of this situation and wrongly brainwashed their followers against the ideology of USA and their policies and found ground for their ill ideas.They developed antiammericanism as movement not against USA as country and their people as be easily translated from politicinas in USA from time to time. . Those antiamerican movenments are not against the american people, their freedom and capitalism but they are against the USA imprerialism and this support given to those leaders (who become Yes Man) did not make much good in their countries who wasted their resources and the right human capital . USA policies and funding programs should now be directly addressed to help people and democratic institutions in those poor countries and show empathy to their newly established democratic values so those people would start to look with less suspicion the relationship between their country and the USA government .In a world of fast technological change , cross border journalism and global flow of info the old practises and politics are not anymore acceptable and unoticeable from the majority of people. The change of policies and approach towards those countries is becoming more eminent nowadays as USA have not anymore the distinctive advantage to be the only country with huge deposits in terms of cash,know how and technology in a world where more and more of those resources are polarized. It is true that in many occasions crisis in relationships with other contries is what can force politicians ,diplomats and who ever is involved in the formation of foreign policy to change their approach,objectives and tactis .I think it is now very much matured the time for USA government to adopt this change .Thanks for your attention

  10. bobby menonnbobby menonn

    Ziad, As Andrei Peterson commented, I was waiting to hear your thoughts on the emerging scenario in the Middle East, North Africa. Having said what you have and as always, bull’s eye on the dot – I’d like to add this. 1) The US presumes that it has an antidote for any socio-economic scenario. The examples are legendary – Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq and how its dealing with Iran. 2) The US presumes that it has the ultimate answer to any situation that is being meted out to the world at large. Be that India, be that China be that anywhere else in the world – Uncle Sam Knows Best. What arrogance! They gotta take a look at Sri Lanka very closely. A tiny island that has an economy of $53,241 billion (2010 IMF estimate) ($104,124 billion PPP estimate),[3] and a per capita GDP of about $5,300 (PPP) can you imagine a Chinese Investment of over six billion dollars? Without moving a single tank or a soldier, the Chinese have made a presence into the Indian ocean. There’s no way that the Sri Lankan Government can get out of its indebtedness to the Chinese Government because there’s no one else out there to bail them. They gotta take a look at the Saudi Influence on India. I’ve been brought up here most of my younger life and I’ve had best friends who were Muslims. I’ve been to their homes just as much as they’ve been privy to my mom and my sister and the sanctum sanctorium of my home – no one was “taboo” and today the Indian Muslim is a more pious Muslim than any single Saudi and I am not talking about the Royal Family!Funds are pouring in from Saudi Arabia and the mosques have never been more grander and the Muslim population in India has never been more militant and Jihad minded than they are now. America has never understood the “Arab Psyche”. They displaced a Saddam Hussein on the pretext of his developing WMD. Remember before the Americans stepped into Iraq, the average Iraqi had a peaceful life. Sure, he was oppressed, but he was not afraid to step out in the street at midnight. Today, they are afraid to step out into the street in the day! So Saddam was a dictator, but then does any single American understand the Iraqi psyche? Do they realize that to rule the Iraqi people a Tony Blair / a Berlo / a Obama / a Manmohan Singh is not a fit candidate? To rule the Iraqi people or for that matter any Arab / North African State one needs a ruler who understands the psyche of their population so well that he can lead them peacefully. History is mute testimony to the fact that any population that wants democracy is not really deserving of that democracy. Take a look at the Kuwaiti’s. Such a brutal people. So many Indian maids in the employ of their Kuwaiti employers will stand testimony to me here. Can you imagine a maid who’s paid 85 dollars a month who is on call 24 x 7 and who is tortured (a recent incident – a maid is burnt with a hot iron on her face and who jumped to freedom from her fifth for bathroom window – can you imagine – that was better than being tortured) And they have the arrogance to say ” we’re in a bit of a soup and we have the money to bring in our American Gurkhas to salvage our asses” The Saudi’s are no better. Dictators are needed to rule the arrogant and mighty. I’ve lived and worked in Libya for five years. This rebellion is nothing new. I was there between 1980 and 1985 till Reagan’s war planes bombed Gaddafi. I know them better than most foreigners. I said that then and I’ll say this now – The Libyans as a country will disintegrate without Gaddafi. They’ll disappear as a Nation without him. Does anyone, I mean anyone, have a clue as to the the mental psyche of an average Libyan? Gaddafi understands the psyche of his country. If you want to rope in a rogue elephant, then understand what kept him there for 42 years and offer him a Legacy. Today, the West (I vomit at that term) lapped up his more than 2.3 billion Pan Am Blood money (Lockerbie) and they came crawling when Libya opened up for contracts and may I add – lucrative contracts, they all came – Tony Blair from the US, the US companies, the European Companies particularly the US companies – and now when the world is up and against the Libyan Leader, you suddenly wanna puke? Yuck. What a bunch of transvestites we have for leaders!!! The US did not mind paying 3.369 dollar to a Dinar for Gaddafi’s crude oil. They bought millions of tons of crude oil. And now they complain? What about the US Oil companies like Occidental and others who made tons and tons of money in Libya when the going was good? How F*****g hypocritical? If the US or any other power in the world wants a seat at defining the democratic map of any re-emerging country, they have to be able to demonstrate without any doubt that the USA is capable and worthy or defining the rules for what constitutes a great country. My bottom line is this – Barack Obama is right in downsizing American hegemony by not “interfering in Libya” the way George ” the Cowboy” Bush did in Iraq / Afghanistan. Let’s give this much kudo’s to Obama. He’s open about saying, “The US hasn’t got a clue about what to contribute to the Libyan situation” by his lack of action. At this rate, I’d not be surprised if the several lobbies that rule the American Political System muster up enough support for an Obama Second Term. Why? Who else is there who will mainain a voice that says, “We don’t have it all” and be bashed for saying so?

  11. Steve PhillipsSteve Phillips

    Until open, honest, and frank discussions become possible about US relations with the Middle East, no real progress towards a rational, productive, and amicable relationship will arise. Unfortunately, in this country today, the actual, pertinent, political issues and forces driving this hoplessly dysfunctional, neocolonial dynamic must remain undiscussed. And where issues are left to smolder, the results can only lead to future flare ups.

  12. Andrei PetersonAndrei Peterson

    Ziad, I have been waiting for the past few weeks to hear your views regarding the future relations of the US and the reforming Middle-East (ME). As usual your comments are incisive and thought provoking. I think few will argue that US policy in the ME has been correct. It has been motivated by economic rather than ideologic (aspirations to expand democracy) interests. Developing democracy and democratic institutions and cultures are complex processes that take time. Regrettably, US politics are rarely based on a longer-term view of events, countries, economic and cultural evolution. Had that been the case, it would have been incumbent on the US adminsitrations throughout the 19th and 20th centuries to promote the building of democratic institutions, education of the populations in developing countries by ploughing back some of the profits and economic benefits derived from the Oil (or other natural resources) extracted from those countries by US corporations. Had the US understood the longer-term impact of supporting autocratic or dictatorial regimes, and their inevitable demise, and had there been public opinion pressure to avoid the outcome of supporting regimes that the US population would not be willing to accept itself (actually apply the principle of “don’t do onto others, what you don’t want done to you”, I assume that preventive action could have been taken. Unfortunately, the US political system is not driven by the electorate, but by economic and business considerations. Consequently, placing an emphasis on “Democratic instituion building”,was never a priority for US policy makers. The tribal and secterian populations of the ME, which never in their histories have experienced, nor aspired to democratic regimes, are now facing the prospect of being over-run by the radical islamist autocratic dictatorial factions. Recent history teaches us that every effort to promote democracy in the Arab-Islamic world has failed. BY all accounts the Palestinian Authority (PA), has failed to gain the support and credibility of its people, and HAMAS, a radical terrorist organisation has wrested control from the PA in the Gaza strip. Similarly, a previously democratic and finely balanced democratic regime in Lebanon has been taken over by Hizzbulah (backed and financed by Iran)and Dictatorial Syrian forces. The budding democracy in Iran after the revolution in 1979, was cut off by the better organised radical Ayatollah’s fundamental Islam. Why and How could we expect better prospect elsewhere? What has the US done to help promote democracy? In order for these comments not to become a “bitching” list, we must ask what can we do now, under the circumstances? 1. The US, and other democratic forces throughout the world must commit to educating and building democratic institutions in the re-shaping Arab world. This means Resources! 2. Carefully select the democratic leaders that are committed to democratic reforms (and avoid the mistakes made in Iraq, and Afganistan, whose “hand-picked” leaders turned to be as corrupt as their predecessors). 3. Provide “Nation Building” resources as never seen before. Not unlike the effort invested in many Central & East European Countries, the US and other democracies must provide “templates” for laws constitutions, and SOP for enforcement entities, with strong supervision. 4. Insist on open press and media in the ME, rather than allow the control of Al-Jazira in this market.

  13. TVardalosTVardalos

    The US is in effect unable to change it’s policies in the Middle East. Those “policies” are in effect undermined by the oil supply and sovereign debt deals that Kissinger carved out with the Arabs and oil companies back in the 70′s. The change that will occur will come from the oppressed people of the Middle East. You are right when you say what we are seeing is the tip of the iceberg. Getting rid of US supported dictators is just the beginning, the people of the Middle East know that the root cause for their dire conditions is in fact the US and US oil companies that have been behind the curtains all these years. Once these facts become the contagion then the revolution message will be US Go Home and Don’t Ever Come Back Here. Over time the Middle East will kick the US out of the region for good, then oil will hit $200, then the USD will free fall, then the US will default on its debts, then the IMF and the Central Bankers show us a new improved global currency and everything will be just fine. Except, the US is now reduced to a third world country with no middle class, and, the biggest wealth transfer in history has been pulled of by the global banking cabal, right under our noses, and in broad daylight. It is time for Americans to start thinking about getting rid of their Financial Dictators, and seeing as the entire Congress has been financialised – that will be a job of revoltlutionary proportions indeed. Peace.

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