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There's no mystery why attitudes toward the U.S. are so negative. In the past, the U.S. has supported corrupt, repressive regimes like that in Egypt (and, in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein's Iraq) because it suited its purpose to do so. The American Administration's commitment to democracy in the region seems to have been a long time coming, and so far has had little heft behind it. In December, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave an important speech, in which he said the U.S. must give "sustained and energetic attention to economic, political and educational reform" in the Middle East. Powell then announced a new U.S.--Middle East Partnership Initiative to span the "hope gap" with "energy, ideas and funding." There will be rather more of the first two than the last, since the program currently has only $29 million to spend. (To be fair, the Administration can reply that it intends to increase the funds for worldwide development assistance over the next three years by $5 billion, and that it has sent some $600 million to help the new Afghan government, which is more than any other nation has done.)
And then there's Israel. Plenty of Arab commentators make frankly ridiculous attempts to blame their region's woes on the Jewish state. Even the otherwise sensible authors of the Arab Human Development Report claim that "Israel's illegal occupation of Arab lands is one of the most pervasive obstacles to security and progress in the region," as if the failure of any sizable Arab nation to build a successful, diversified economy could be laid at the door of the Knesset. Nonetheless, the Bush Administration has not done all that it could to show that its approach to the Israel-Palestine question is evenhanded. A good example is the tale of the "Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israel-Palestinian Conflict," which the State Department prepared in October. The road map is a rather sensible, thoughtful document that sets out the concessions that both Israelis and Palestinians need to make if a Palestinian state is to be established by 2005. Publishing the road map might help the U.S. convince Arab opinion that it was genuine in its desire to see a democratic Palestine. But at the urging of the Israeli government, the paper has been kept under wraps. An Administration that is so timid in its policies should not be surprised if the price is a loss of respect.
In one sense, of course, the Bush Administration is anything but timid. From outside the U.S., the principal method that Washington has chosen to move toward its worldwide goals is very clear. It isn't diplomacy, and it isn't money for Middle East partnerships or seminars in legislative procedures. It comes in a uniform, and it delivers high-technology munitions.