Saturday, March 12, 2005

Lebanon, Jeffrey Sachs, An Old Story, and a New Doctrine

Events in Lebanon are emotionally draining right now - there is a see-saw effect between the prospect of a Lebanon free to determine its own destiny and one that will be dominated by Syria for the foreseeable future. Remarkably, events there have begun to overshadow Iraq, despite the large number of our troops who still face danger. All but the diehard Bush-haters have largely conceded that the goal of a democratic Iraq is quite near to accomlishment - the appalling continuation of death and destruction is akin to the thrashing about of a cornered bear who has just been fatally shot.

The flexing of Hizbullah's muscles this last week can be seen in the same light by optimists. Michael Young of Lebanon's Daily Star, a large-circulation English language paper, is a clear member of the optimist camp. In an insightful analysis entitled 'Must Lebanon Pay for Hizbullah's Pride?', he asserts:
Hizbullah has today, quite voluntarily and in contrast with its policies throughout the 1990s, placed itself bluntly against the Lebanese consensus on Syria...

...Not only is there no desire in Lebanon, even among many in the Shiite community, to bear the potentially devastating consequences of continued conflict with Israel; there is also no consensus to continue providing Hizbullah with the cover it needs to pursue a regional agenda that might harm broader Lebanese interests.
Ahh, the old story, then; you can't view events in the Middle East, it seems, through any reference frame that doesn't involve Israel. One is hesitant to throw around the term anti-semitic lightly, but the real story behind the story in Lebanon is the clash between those who would say enough to the endless obsession over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and those who would continue to wage the war as Syrian proxies. Make no mistake; with Saddam out of the picture, it is Syria that is the foremost obstacle to a peaceful Middle East. Caroline Glick, deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, paints a pretty depressing picture of the real state of affairs in a call to action by the Bush administration (hat tip to Betsy's Page).

I have a proposal that I think would please Glick and the pro-democracy elements in the Middle East. Before I unveil it, I want to reveal the proposal's bullet-proof wrapper, the part that would make it difficult to oppose on liberal or 'progressive' grounds. The proposal would be packaged as a response to Jeffrey Sachs' call to end poverty as we know it. I have written previously of my skepticism to Sachs' assertion that $150 billion annually could end severe poverty worldwide, arguing instead that the best help to the less fortunate is a continued call for democracy and transparency. This proposal would be designed to cover both bases. There is another another layer of protection, but first the proposal.

Karen Hughes is returning to Washington as the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and the timing could not be more fortuotous - her genious at communications is just what this proposal needs to fly. Put her in charge working the allies, with the goal of announcing in the 2006 State of the Union a new Bush Initiative: The Democracy Fund.

The Democracy Fund would be administered by the United States; it would be a discrete sum of money dedicated to foreign aid (say, $30 billion initially), with the following provisos:
  • The aid would be open to any nation deemed eligible either through extreme poverty or lack of transparency in government
  • The determination of eligibility would be made by the new bicameral Democracy Fund Committee, to be co-chaired by the Senate and House minority leaders (more on this in a minute)
  • The amount of funds received, if any, would be determined by the committee
  • The eligibility of nations would require two-thirds confirmation in both houses, and would be subject to presidential veto; however, the amount of funds to each recipient could not be altered by Congress or the President
  • To be eligible, a country must show substantial progress towards transparency in government and economic affairs as determined by the Committee (this would be the trickiest part, setting the parameters and ensuring they are met - I'm a big picture guy; I'll leave the details to the wonks)
  • The aid would not be distributed in lump sums, but rather in targeted investments in infrastructure, job training, institution building, education, and health
  • Under no circumstances would any funds be provided for military use
  • The ennabling legislation would expire annually; thus, each Congress would have to confirm or deny the wisdom of pursuing democracy overseas in a substantive manner
  • Excess or unrewarded funds would be pledged to the fight against AIDS (or to reduce the deficit, or...)
The final bit of political theater is designed to win bipartisan support; in addition to the leadership role of the minority party, each party would nominate ten committee members. The opposite party would then vote 5 of those ten onto the committee. With the co-chairs both belonging to the opposition, 7 of 12 committe members would always be from the minority party.

The proposal addresses many real problems in a politically astute way: it encourages economic and politic reform in troubled areas; it provides real aid to the impoverished; it would engage the opposition and improve bipartisanship; and it would send a clear signal of our foreign policy priorities. Clearly, perceptions are changing: of America, of the possibility of real change in the Middle East, of the wisdom of the 'neo-con' agenda - we must strike while the iron is hot. Our place in history waits in the balance.

No comments: