2006/02/26

The US press, Rice & Mideast diplomacy

Now y'see, this is what annoys me about the US press. These are the last four paragraphs in a 10 kilobyte story about Secretary of State Rice trying to bring the blessings of democracy to the Mideast.

In the Arab world, the impression left by Rice's trip -- which also included stops in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates -- was that she was on a mission to round up support to punish a series of U.S. enemies, such as Hamas, Iran and Syria. The campaign against Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, drew particular scorn because it was seen as hypocritical to want to punish a group that had achieved power through democratic elections. The United States and the European Union have designated Hamas a terrorist organization.

The skepticism in the region was reflected in the blunt questions posed to Rice by Arab journalists.

In Saudi Arabia, a female journalist, dressed head to toe in a black abaya, demanded: "How is it possible to harmonize the U.S. position as a nation supporting freedom of expression and the right of people to practice democracy with your effort to curb the will of Hamas?"

Egyptian Television's Mervat Mohsen also rattled off a series of tough questions. "American calls for democracy have unwittingly brought unprecedented support for the Muslim Brotherhood, but you're not happy with the Muslim Brotherhood in power," he said. "Is this some kind of designer's democracy then, Dr. Rice?"

It would have been nice to have gotten Rice's answers to these very good and relevant questions, just as it would have been useful to have placed these quotes at the beginning of the piece so as to have given readers a better flavor of the obstacles that Rice was facing in trying to convince Arabs that the US was serious about democracy. As it is, the US is having a difficult time covincing Arabs that it isn't simply using democracy as a cheap talking point, as something to be dragged out when convenient and ignored when it conflicts with other foreign policy goals.

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