Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 February 2005
Issue No. 730
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Salama A Salama

Ukraine as model

By Salama A Salama

At the Munich International Security Conference -- the West's most important venue for setting and coordinating defence policies -- Egypt's foreign minister warned NATO against undertaking missions in the Middle East on the pretext of safeguarding international peace and security. This is the UN's responsibility, he said, adding that NATO's reputation and credibility in the region is not above suspicion.

Ahmed Abul-Gheit's caution was well-timed. The Americans and Europeans are busily mending broken fences following Washington's go-it-alone handling of Iraq and the so-called war against terror. This trans-Atlantic rapprochement is not necessarily in the Arabs' favour. Indeed, there is every reason to suppose it is a prelude to tailoring the map of the Middle East to suit the interests of major powers.

Washington is keen for a thaw. During her recent whirlwind tour of the Middle East and Europe Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was uncharacteristically gracious, speaking of turning over a new leaf. Following her cue the US secretary of defense told his fellow conference participants that he had come to Munich as "the old Rumsfeld" -- a jest intended to erase the acrimony he had stirred with his criticisms of the "old Europe". He also said he was looking forward to a period of close cooperation with his NATO allies against "radical Islamists". The Bush administration has apparently woken up to the fact that America, alone, cannot take on the threats posed by those Islamists who, Rumsfeld said, wanted to impose their totalitarian rule on the world.

Despite the conciliatory tone the goals of Bush's second administration are the same as during his first, though we have witnessed the verbal sleight of hand whereby "eliminating WMDs" has been replaced by eliminating tyranny and spreading liberty and democracy. The rhetoric has been toned down, with Rice ruling out the use of military force against Iran "at present". Bush has, though, urged both Egypt and Saudi Arabia to move closer to democracy.

Some political analysts suggest the Bush administration has reverted to cold war tactics. Radio stations are beaming American propaganda across the Middle East, as it used to do across Eastern Europe, while Washington simultaneously pressures Arab governments to alter their religious education curricula and infiltrates Arab NGOs and political parties. Ukraine, it seems, has emerged as the model by which the US plans to spread liberty and democracy in the Arab world.

America won the war in Iraq but failed to achieve peace and security. Moreover, the situation promises to get worse now that the elections have opened a new and bloodier chapter in Iraq's history. Washington now appears bent on involving NATO in the Middle East, in Iraq and in arrangements for regional security, raising the prospect of a replay of the Balkan scenario in which NATO forces remain bogged down. Some believe NATO is ready and willing to comply. The security organisation, they hold, is on the lookout for a way to expand its activities, whether it be on the pretext of fighting terrorism, drugs or illegal immigration. The next step will be to move to the offensive in order to overturn dictatorships and spread freedom and democracy -- goals on which both sides of the Atlantic converge -- in a manner that will sideline and further debilitate the UN. If Kofi Annan fails in his efforts to reform the UN, then vulnerable regions in the world -- the Middle East in particular -- will face a relentless storm.

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