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Rather, the opening third of Abrams’s book is a riveting 40-year history of an idea: the idea that human rights and, later, democracy promotion should be not just the nice-sounding but throwaway advice we spoon-feed to dictators on the American dole or to the leaders of insignificant countries in irrelevant places, but at the center of American foreign policy and at or near the top of the agenda in U. At every one of these disputes, serving on Capitol Hill or in the State Department or in the White House, Abrams was there, either as an intimate observer or as a key player, and his account reflects an insider’s sensitivity, nuance, and appreciation of the human motivations that drove leaders at critical moments.
Bush administration, which reached the high-water mark of White House commitment to Middle East democracy only to let it recede in the latter part of the president’s second term when the Iraq experiment foundered.
This ebb and flow, inherent in our system of government, is just one factor that ultimately limits the influence the U. can exercise on politics in other countries, Arab autocracies being no exception.
But no one should miss Abrams’ 91-page introduction.
This introduction is not your typical after-the-fact effort by an author trying to impart a semblance of methodological coherence to the often disparate chapters that will follow. In illustrating his theme, Abrams gives us a ringside seat to a succession of battles royal, from, in the 1970s, Henry “Scoop” Jackson vs. détente, with Soviet Jewish emigration being a key flashpoint, to, in the 80s, the policy wars over the Communist threat in Central America (Nicaragua, et al.), to, again in the 80s, the debate over the wisdom or lunacy of Ronald Reagan’s ideological insistence on labeling the USSR an “evil empire,” followed in the 90s by the debate over the wisdom or lunacy of NATO expansion and in the 2000s by the skirmish over the pursuit of democracy in the Middle East.
On another front, Abrams is similarly correct to assert “the need for politics” in most Arab countries.
Only through requiring and building popular support on a broad range of public-policy issues will the innate advantage of Islamists eventually erode.
Ghannouchi, he was told, was a Muslim Brotherhood wolf in democrat’s clothing. Indeed, “[i]n the years since then we have seen that it was wrong: Ghannouchi has led his party toward offering genuine support for democracy.” I was one of those who at the time warned against too close an embrace of Ghannouchi, whose comments on a private visit to my own institution were characterized by deception and duplicity.
Despite the subsequent steps enumerated by Abrams—most importantly, the peaceful handover of political power after an electoral defeat—I retain my skepticism today.
Yes, finally, Arab rulers will find all sorts of ways to postpone, defer, sidetrack, or subvert any real contest for power—including by favoring extremist groups the prospect of whose ascension to power is even more terrifying to American policy makers.
But American presidents should not underestimate the immense clout they wield and their ability to compel even the most recalcitrant “friendly tyrant” into tolerating a real political opening.