James Goldgeier has just published a smart, short piece that outlines the structural differences between the revolutions that brought down totalitarian regimes in 1989 and what is now unfolding in 2011. In particular, he notes substantial differences in the outreach of the US and Europe to opposition groups in Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe and the build-out of a comprehensive security architecture that was attractive to these states.
In contrast, the failure to secure the Arab Peace Plan in the region that would have led to normalization between Israel and 57 other Arab and Muslim nations has also preempted security infrastructure discussions along the lines of an ASEAN Regional Forum for the Middle East. There has been a serious cost to the paralyzed Israel-Arab peace process.
James Goldgeier writes:
In 2011, the United States does not have the same standing in the Arab world with opposition movements that it did in 1989 in Europe, nor do these countries seek to join Western institutions.
The West has not promoted a Helsinki-type process in the Middle East that might have built ties with opposition forces, nor fostered a broader regional security framework that could promote peace. Although Hosni Mubarak won’t be around past September, President Obama doesn’t have the kinds of carrots for reform that his predecessors had in the 1990s. And even if Egypt makes a peaceful transition to democracy with a supportive, rather than oppressive, military, it is not inevitable that other Arab countries follow suit.
Secondly, as Goldgeier indicates, we have a weak record of reaching out to and even knowing the political opposition in these countries. We should know all sides of the equation — and yes, including the Muslim Brotherhood who themselves in many parts of the Middle East are the biggest advocates for democratic practice and principle.
It’s time that the US deal with all groups in these regions — and at least have interaction with and communications with key leaders. The Muslim Brotherhood is automatically part of that list, and it is in American interests — as well as in the interests of Israel and Arab states in the region — to begin to normalize discussions about democratic political norms with the rising political Islam movement.
— Steve Clemons