Flashlight on the Potomac

The Middle East, Still Dark in Bush's Gaze

But on this question, the U.S. continues to believe it knows best, maintaining that these conflicts are separable, and that the Arab fixation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows a lack of maturity. Most of the world, including a legion of retired American diplomats, disagrees. This includes Zbigniew Brzezinski, who argued in a March 8 New York Times op-ed piece that without efforts to help the Palestinians, "democracy will seem to many in the Arab world to be window dressing for continued external domination."

For a moment last fall at the NED, President Bush seemed to understand.

"Time after time," he said, "observers have questioned whether this country, or that people, are 'ready' for democracy—as if freedom were a prize you win for meeting our own Western standards of progress."

Sadly though, that is exactly what Bush has asked of the Palestinians. Not only have the results of their last presidential contest—the only transparent Arab election in recent memory—been nullified by the U.S., but self-determination has become, quite literally, contingent on prerequisites demanded by Washington: not a right, but a prize.

Professor Bassiouni was a consultant on the pre-war Future of Iraq project, the State Department initiative to rebuild Iraq that was shelved by the Pentagon after the war. Now, the institute he heads at DePaul University has the contract to rebuild the Iraqi legal system. In short, he is no knee-jerk rejectionist of American involvement in the region.

"There might be a silver lining in all this," he said, noting that the U.S. initiative seems to have prodded the Egyptians and the Saudis to create their own rival plan. "The administration should just declare victory, and give up."

Additional reporting by Matthew Craft in Cairo.

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