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New US Initiative a Tough Sell

The annual summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrial powers was concluded last week on Sea Island off the Georgia coast of the United States.


One of the dominating agendas of the assembly was the ambitious US plan to "help" Middle Eastern countries carry out political, economic, social and cultural reforms -- also called the "Great Middle East Initiative."


Although it still remains under discussion which countries will be involved in the program, the United States has unequivocally exhibited its strategic purposes in the Middle East in its attempt to apply the plan to the region.


Through the plan, the United States is attempting to eliminate once and for all the potential dangers posed by some "extremist" nations or countries US President George W. Bush has labeled "rogue states" or members of the so-called "axis of evil."


It is the US opinion that its war in Afghanistan and Iraq has constituted an inalienable part of the plan. While digesting the fruits of victory in Iraq, it is making post-war arrangements for the country to serve American interests and this is regarded as a concrete step towards fulfilling its ambitious program.


Furthermore, in order to realize a non-nuclear Iran and Libya, Washington hopes to exert influences upon the two countries' internal and external policies, and also pressure Syria into changing its allegedly anti-American position.


US Secretary of State Colin Powell even openly cautioned Syria that it should review its past policies and, according to the current situation in Iraq, should contemplate whether these policies will influence its future.


Powell also proposed the Syrian leadership learn a lesson from the fall of former Iraqi Saddam Hussein regime and Libyan leader Mummar Khadafy's agreement to abandon his build-up of weapons of mass destruction.


The United States is attempting to "democratize" the Middle East by promoting this program.


To that end, the United States will work with European powers to push for "democratic" reforms, advance and assist in free elections in the region, prop up the new independent media and cultivate a new generation of culture.


Under the slogans of "freedom, knowledge, and women's rights," the United States said its program will greatly help improve women's social status in the region and facilitate their participation in politics.


It further claimed it would cultivate a team of 100,000 female teachers in the Middle East by 2008.


The United States also regards the program as a necessary means to push for economic liberalization in the Middle East.


According to the plan, the United States said it will set up a free trade area in the region and assist economically underdeveloped countries.


It also said it would facilitate Middle East nations to join the World Trade Organization (WTO).


Whatever a tantalizing prospect the United States has portrayed for the region, its ambitious "Great Middle East Initiative" will unavoidably meet several obstacles.


Since this year, the United States has been in active negotiations and consultations with related countries about the formula.


In January, US Vice President Dick Cheney, at an economic forum in Switzerland, called upon America's friends and allies to join the effort to promote the program. In April, President Bush successively invited leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the United States, trying to persuade them to support his plan.


However, Washington's enthusiasm for the plan has received a snub from the Middle East countries and even from its European allies.


First, the Middle East countries are ideologically different from the Western countries.


Shortly after it was made public, the "Great Middle East Initiative" was greeted with widespread opposition in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two heavyweight nations in the Middle East. The two countries said Western democracy does not suit the Middle East, a region whose stability, to a large extent, has been propped up by the region's royal regimes or military strongmen.


It is predictable that once forced into accepting Western free elections, the foundation for Middle East stability will be weakened.


Powell recently admitted the change of a nation should start internally. To dismiss misgivings from Arab countries, Bush claimed the United States had no intention of imposing its values upon other nations, and his country's efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East should not be construed as disrespecting Arab countries' inherent rights and interests.


Bush also promised the Arab countries the United States will help them set up a just election system, carry out judicial reforms and realize liberalization of non-governmental organizations.


Bush's promises have, to some extent, eased distrust in some Arab countries, but others in the region have severely criticized the "Great Middle East Initiative," saying the concept means the United States is trying to impose its own values upon others.


Second, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, a core issue plaguing the Middle East, will make the program's realization even more difficult.


The Palestinian-Israeli issue, entwined with territorial, ethnic and religious conflicts, will not be settled overnight. The US-drafted "roadmap" to peace still remains in stalemate.


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent "unilateral disengagement" plan has gained support from Washington, but has met strong opposition from Palestine and other Arab nations. At a summit meeting of Arab countries in Tunisia late last month, several countries stressed their willingness to push for all-round reforms and promote democracy and human rights, but they also said the settlement of the regional conflicts serves as a necessary precondition to the regional reforms and that every country has the power of choosing the method and speed for its own reforms.


Third, the postwar situation in Iraq remains a huge obstacle to the US "Great Middle East Initiative."


The United States gained a victory in its war against Iraq, but has no capability to bring the unruly situation in the country under control. In fact, Iraq is still in a state of war. The formation of a new Iraqi government and its plan to take over the country's sovereignty from the US-led coalition forces by June 30 have not rid the world of misgivings about whether the new government will gain a real say in its country's affairs.


A new resolution on Iraq passed by the UN Security Council, in spite of some concessions from Washington, has not deprived the United States of its long-coveted dominant power in Iraq's post-war affairs.


Fourth, the prisoner abuse scandal has also made the "Great Middle East Initiative" more difficult to apply. The US soldiers' abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison provoked strong indignation among the Arab world and seriously undermined the US image in the region, striking a heavy blow to the US Middle East strategy.


The American ethical image of "freedom and human rights" has been seriously compromised and Bush's Iraq strategy has come to failure, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said following exposure of the prisoner abuse scandal.


The United States also faces some insurmountable difficulties in forming a combined force with its European allies in pushing for its "Great Middle East Initiative."


With different interests in the Middle East, the US' European allies, such as Britain, France, and Germany, have so far shown different attitudes towards the scheme.


(China Daily June 18, 2004)




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