The relationship between the United States intelligence community and the General Intelligence Department (GID) of Jordan has been particularly strong since 2001. Hollywood has even cashed in on this relationship with films that hide reality with only the thinnest of veils. After the death of a Jordanian intelligence officer (along with seven Americans) in Afghanistan, media sources have (re-)highlighted the importance of Jordan in the fight against terror in the Middle East. Perhaps importantly, the Jordanian, one Sharif Ali bin Zeid was a relative of the King and a distant relative of the Jordanian ambassador to the United States. Later information showed that the bomber was also a Jordanian informant and had been working undercover for months. The bomber, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, had previously worked with the United States in Afghanistan and had already provided ‘actionable intelligence’ to the CIA.
The resurgence of Jordanian importance in the Western media coincides with the dissolution of the Jordanian parliament, the dismissal of the Prime Minister and the postponement of legislative elections. King Abdullah speaks a lot about human rights and democracy; however, the reality on the ground in Jordan is much different:
“The nature of humans is they want democracy,” said Ali Dalain, an independent member of the Parliament that was dissolved. “Since 1993, democracy in Jordan has been receding. One person cannot solve all problems and cannot make everyone happy, so people must share in determining their fate.”
The actions against the legislative branch in Jordan certainly undermine the credentials of King Abdullah as an advocate of democracy, even if he is aiming to improve the struggling Jordanian economy. The juxtaposition of the importance of Jordanian intelligence to the US and the general undemocratic nature of King Abdullah’s moves brings to light the balancing act that is the US Middle Eastern policy. America has been clearly pushing democratization as a goal in the Middle East. It is one of the main reasons Bush invaded Iraq (that is, after no WMDs were found) and it is a clear objective in the war in Afghanistan. However, the United States tends to have a sliding scale to determine what makes a democratic government in the region.
America’s main allies in the region, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, hardly score well on democracy reports. According to World Audit, Egypt ranks 95th in total democratic standards, Jordan, 77th and Saudi Arabia 108th. Freedom House considers Egypt and Saudi Arabia to be ‘Not Free’ while Jordan moves up to ‘Partly Free.’ The 2009 report puts Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the same plane as Iran (anyone see the recent protests?) and Afghanistan; Jordan is as free as Yemen and Somalia (See full country reports here: Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia). While Israel is considered ‘Free,’ the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories are categorized as ‘Not Free.’
The reason I bring up the rather undemocratic partners of America is not to point out the hypocrisy of the US claiming moral superiority in America’s dealings with the Middle East (whoops), but rather to question the origin of anti-Americanism in the Middle East. Clearly, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are detrimental to the Arab view of America. The American support of Israel is another very obvious factor. Yet the support of regimes like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia that are seen by many in the Middle East as, at worst, illegitimate and, at best, unsympathetic also add to the general ill-will towards the United States.
In the comments section of Chase’s post on power we debated the best way to reduce anti-Americanism in the Middle East. My thoughts were that our unwavering support for Israel other undemocratic regimes (i.e. Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) hurt America’s image and credibility. I speculated that a more even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis would reduce the level of anti-Americanism. Chase agreed, but thought that the decrease would not be as dramatic as I thought because of the continued American support of other unpopular regimes. Perhaps it is the idealist in me, but I like to think that loosening the grasp that the Israeli lobby has on American leadership would not only allow fair negotiations, but would also give the United States a better reputation among Arabs. I know that there will always be anti-Americanism as long as the United States supports certain actors in the region and that extremists would be hard-pressed to give up the views they currently hold, but I believe that some simple policy shifts concerning Israel would benefit America.
With that I pose two questions. First, would anti-Americanism in the Middle East diminish if the United States based its support for Israel on certain conditions (settlement freeze, serious negotiations, proportionality in retaliation…)? And second, does the need for local allies in Middle East require dealing with non-democratic regimes; is this a morally justifiable tradeoff?
Photo from Freedom House
UPDATE: The Washington Post agrees on the lack of democracy in Egypt and wonders whether the Obama Administration should push for fair elections. Follow-up question, would pushing a non-democratic ally towards democracy diminish the returns of that alliance? In other words, would pushing Egypt towards fair elections also push the country away from the United States?