Monday, November 21, 2005

Braving This New World Disorder - Part 2

A test case of the United State's new approach to funding democracy occurred this past weekend in Bahrain. On Nov. 12, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met in Bahrain with representatives of governments of what the State Department has termed the "Broader Middle East" in the second annual Forum for the Future. The summit discussed the US Foundation for Freedom initiative and it's two funds--one aimed at supporting small-business in the region with an initial funding of $100 million, and the second with $54 million aimed at encouraging democratic transition by supporting civil society in the region. The grant-based foundation is part of the United States Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) managed by the Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Liz Cheney, daughter of US Vice President Dick Cheney. The Foundation is currently being directed out of Washington, DC with expertise funded by the World Bank, amongst others, although plans are to eventually base it in the Middle East. The Foundation’s objective is to support and offer grants to individuals and groups in the Middle East to promote democracy, including recipients who are not registered or licensed to operate by any government. The US officials left the summit in dismay after a failure to secure the agreement it wanted, after Egypt objected to the US requirement that the fund be allowed to circumvent national laws and go directly to recipients selected by the Foundation and its donors. Egypt, not opposed to the concept in principle, raised concerns about allowing domestic individuals and groups to receive external funding if not legally registered as non-government organizations.

This situation raises questions at various levels. In the context of combating terrorism and its funding sources, why is the US opposed to governments allowing only registered groups to be recipients of external funding? Secondly, democracy, as a multi-faceted right of all individuals, must be grounded in the rule of law, so why is the US supporting activity that is outside of the law? Thirdly, domestic US law itself does not allow candidates for state or federal office or political parties to receive external funding. Even such liberal organizations as MoveOn.org announced that they would no longer allow funding from foreign sources. Why, then, is the US promoting such activity elsewhere? While furthering democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere is a commendable ambition, serious thought should be given to it being done at the expense of respect for the rule of law and by allowing loopholes through which seditious and terrorist activity may find sustenance. Again, perhaps a more inclusionary, rather than exclusionary, and effective strategy would be to examine the laws governing the registration of non-government organizations in respective state domestic laws and supporting measures to remove any barriers to registration of groups with legitimate objectives including the promotion of democratic values.

More to the point, what exactly is the likely outcome of this intense US push to backdoor state sovereignty and legal frameworks the world over? As we have seen in Iraq, democracy is not something that can easily be "brought," to put it lightly, and it surely can not be "bought" either. With recent revelations such as secret CIA prisons, use of white phosphorous incendiary bombs in Falluja, and torture and degrading treatment at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the democracy flag that the US is waving increasingly looks to have a very ugly face. Furthermore, the US’ utter disdain for multilateralism, as evidenced in the rejection of Kyoto, and the International Criminal Court, as well as its failure to respect its own existing international treaty obligations such as the Geneva Conventions with respect to captured combatants, is torpedoing the concept of international law itself.

In the midst of all this maneuvering, such questions must be posed. What is the world image the US is trying to shape through the United Nations and other tools? The UN's original objective of ensuring world peace, security and human rights rose out of the ashes of the Second World War. It is based on the supremacy of state sovereignty and a respect for international law and multilateralism. Is the US trying to revamp the UN to take on a new role, one in which state sovereignty and international law now take a back seat to US concepts of democratic design in the US image? The reality is that the US is approaching democracy as though it is an acquired taste, one which only the US appreciates and that it must be “forced” upon states. The reality is that democracy is not a US taste, nor is it a US forte, but even that is secondary to the fact that democracy can only be embraced if seen with an inclusionary and kinder face.

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