America’s difficult export commodity: democracy

President George W. Bush tried to sell it by a strategy of aggression. Unsurprisingly, he failed. Now there is a new man at the helm who wants to sell the same commodity to far away markets of Arabia, not by force, but by what pundits call the "mellow doctrine."

Will it work? It may, but the "return on investment" would certainly not accrue during President Barack Obama’s tenure, not even if he is re-elected for a second term. This is going to be a very long-term investment, worth trying because there is no alternative but may not eventually yield the desired returns.

Sadly, there is an incompatibility between the commodity America wants to ’export’ and the consumption patterns of the target market. No, this is not a mission impossible; it’s not trying to sell pork in Saudi Arabia. It just looks like mission almost impossible. Or such was the impression I got during the two-day conference this week in Doha, Qatar, where this particular American export commodity and its exportability to Middle Eastern markets were discussed.

Unfortunately, President Obama took over from "point well below zero," not even zero. In Doha, the Americans were a little naively Ğ and as almost always, without a powerful sense of empathy Ğ trying, if not to market the commodity themselves, to have some intellectual impact on the market so as to increase its fitness for export. They were confronted with resentful intellectual "buyers" from the Middle East, who apparently had bad nerves about the idea of democracy being imposed on their nations. Blame it on Bush’s bad legacy, but realistic questions floated in the air, like, "If the U.S. supports democracy and democratic values, why does it intervene in the affairs of democratically elected leaders like Hugo Chavez [of Venezuela] or Evo Morales [of Bolivia]?"

Or like, "Which part of the U.N. charter can democracy be compatible with interference in sovereign nation’s internal affairs?" Or like, "Can there be democracy where there is no economic and social justice?" Or even like, "Was the Israeli military offensive against Gaza fully compatible with the democratic values the Americans hope to export to this part of the world?" Tough questions. But the Americans had a luggage full of nice, polite, theoretically convincing answers, like, "We don’t advocate exporting American values, we advocate exporting universal values." Or like, "What’s wrong with advocating ideas against torture and for fair trial, free speech and gender equality?" These explanations are problematic on many fronts, not only because they seemingly fail to convince even the "liberal/intellectual Arabia," let alone the "ordinary and radical Arabia."

America has a major problem in this grandiose export project. Its talk of defending democracy is too weak to convince even the most pro-American buyers. There is either laughter, or shy smiles; the former when the object is neutral, and the latter when the object is pro-American. For everyone knows America does not care about defending democracy in non-democratic parts of the world: It does so when it fits its interests and just turns around and whistles when it does not.

That double-standard argument comes in addition to America’s own failings terribly highlighted during two terms of Republican rule, like Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, axis-of-evil moral certitude and the schoolyard politics of punishment, to name a few.

What, otherwise, could explain why the Americans are so keen on democracy in Russia, Belarus, Iran, China, but not so keen when it comes to Saudi Arabia, Georgia, Egypt, Jordan and even the host country for the Doha forum? Do the Americans have a problem about the undemocratic practice in this selected list of ’friendly regimes/countries"? Certainly not. If, an Arab participant told me with resentment, the Americans can play the happy-go-lucky with the Arabian kingdoms and emirates, why should they not do so with the Russians and the Chinese? I smiled at his remarks the next day when I was reading "the nation briefs" column in the Qatar Tribune, supposedly the Qatari version of this newspaper. This was the list of headlines in the nation briefs as they appeared on the page:

Emir to visit Saudi Arabia today

Emir receives Darfur panel members

Emir meets Israeli Knesset members

Emir receives letter from Congolese president

Emir receives Oman minister...

The next article went out of line and was headlined "Cypriot president to visit Qatar today." But of course, the news said the Cypriot president would hold talks with Emir...

Do the Americans complain? Oh, no!
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