Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Excellent Academic Publication

I recently read an article published in the US Army War College's publication, Parameters. Bradley Bowman wrote the article, "Realism and Idealism: US Policy Toward Saudi Arabia, from the Cold War to Today". I found Mr. Bowman's article to be extremely engaging and very readable. Unlike many academically based foreign policy publications, Mr. Bowman was able to conduct a survey of American foreign policy in Saudi Arabia and the greater Middle East in an articulate manner that was not beyond the general understanding of the average reader.

I was particularly impressed with the way Mr. Bowman explained how the United States can achieve its realist interests in a manner that reflects the country's idealist conscience. He was quick to point out for the US policy of spreading and supporting the growth of democracy to be effective, more work must be done to temper the expectations of the American people. The growth of democracy will certainly not happen over night and recognition of this fact and adjusting the expectations of the American people will help to better clarify the policy of the United States to Americans. In much the same way most Americas were familiar with the concept of containment during the Cold War, Americans now need to be re-educated on the policies and philosophies governing US foreign policy during the 21st century and beyond.

Mr Bowman then went on the rectify the concerns over the pace of government reforms in countries of strategic importance to the US versus the need for stability. Before elections can take place and the final touches are completed marking the transition to democratic governance, the key components of civil society must be in place or else elections will prove to be destabilize and counter-productive. The civil institutions identified by Mr. Bowman include, "constrained executive power, rule of law, an independent and nondiscriminatory judiciary, civil liberties such as the freedom of press and the freedom to join groups and lobby government, and the right to own private property...". Without the existence of these institutions, elections will be at best tenuous and at worst fraudulent in their execution.

Reading through the article and understanding the US high priority on oil supply stability over democratic reform in Saudi Arabia, one is tempted to contemplate how much better off the US would be if it had a diversified energy sources. However, while the need for energy source diversification is important, readers should resist the temptation to reduce this article to a discussion on the subject. In a globalization world, the US is always going to need something from someone. The question is how the US secures that something without compromising its moral standards. The pursuit of secure and viable oil supplies is just one example for study between America's needs and its values.

After reading this article, one topic worthy of discussion is how best to temper the expectations of the people in the countries in the world with the least amount of freedom. During the Cold War the US often times pursued its realist interests at the expense of its idealist conscience by supporting authoritarian regimes for the sake of stability and containing the spread of communism. Unfortunately the support of authoritarian regimes went hand in hand with the restriction of freedoms for many of the people living in these countries. This inherently led to an erosion of US image in many of these countries and was a contributing factor to the overall deep levels of frustration within countries not featuring democratic governments. Therefore, its imperative for the US to continue to articulate its policies overseas and to utilize every resource to temper the expectations of the the people living in the countries with less than ideal democratic tendencies. This is especially the case in the countries where the US depends on the support of questionable regimes and governments (see Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Kyrgyzstan). If the citizens of these countries continue to believe the US is willing to turn a blind eye to the repression of their freedoms for the sake of stability, the image of the US will continue to plummet. For this reason US Embassies must do a much better job of articulating US policy goals and encouraging the establishment of civil institutions in countries where they're non-existent or underdeveloped. US Embassy sponsorship of small business initiatives, local universities, think tanks and good governance non governmental organizations is essential to countering the idea of US hypocrisy in its execution of foreign policy.

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