The Greater Middle East Project
“Hegemony is as old as Mankind…” -Zbigniew Brzezinski, former U.S. National Security Advisor
The Greater Middle East is a political term coined by the Bush administration to describe a project known as the Great Middle East Project which was considered the pinnacle of the Bush era.
The Great Middle East Project is a plan which englobe together various countries, pertaining to the Muslim world, specifically Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Various Central Asian countries are sometimes also included. US political speakers used the term to denote areas with significant Muslim majorities, but this usage is not universal.
This expanded term was introduced in the U.S. administration’s preparatory work for the G8 summit of 2004 as part of a proposal for sweeping change in the Middle East.
Former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, alluded to the modern Middle East as a control lever on an area he calls the Eurasian Balkans. The Eurasian Balkans consists of the Caucasus (Georgia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, and Armenia) and Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan) and Turkey. Turkey forms the northernmost part of the Middle East. Turkey’s Western lands (i.e. the Eastern Thrace and the areas around Istanbul) are considered a part of the Southeastern Europe, and not the Middle East.
US Imperial aspirations
The Bush administration justified the invasion of Iraq on three pretexts. The first was the war on terror declared after 11 September 2001; against all the evidence, Saddam Hussein was presented in the United States as an accomplice, if not a sponsor, of Osama bin Laden. The second argument was the threat of weapons of mass destruction. We now know that the information the US and the United Kingdom provided about this subject was untruthful. As the first two faded, a third grew in importance: Washington promised to make Iraq so attractive a democratic model that it would set an example to the entire Middle East.
On 26 February 2003, on the eve of the Iraq invasion, Bush set out his ambition to spread democratic values in the Middle East before the American Enterprise Institute thinktank, a hangout of neo-cons and unconditional supporters of Israel. Then on 9 May 2003, to show the kind of values that needed spreading, he proposed “the establishment of a US-Middle East free trade area within a decade”.
The Canadian Michael Ignatieff, a Harvard professor and human rights specialist, adopted a disaffected tone, the better to convince his readers when vaunting the merits of the US empire, which he essentially described as an “empire of good”. The US, he claimed, was “an empire lite, a global hegemony whose grace notes are free markets, human rights and democracy, enforced by the most awesome military power the world has ever known”. As his lengthy defense built to a finale, he declared: “The case for empire is that it has become, in a place like Iraq, the last hope for democracy and stability alike.”
Yet the occupation of Iraq, and the horrors that followed has only compounded US legitimacy problems. For most people of the region, it has only reinforced their view that the US is more interested in oil and its dominant military position than it is in the welfare of the Iraqi people.
Muslim peoples have long been familiar with the US hypocrisy; from it stems their incredulity, tinged with irony, about Washington’s promises of democracy.
The Greater Middle East as an alternative plan
On 6 November 2003 he gave a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. non-profit organization that was founded in 1983 to promote US-friendly democracy by providing cash grants funded primarily through an annual allocation from the U.S. Congress. His main theme was democracy in the Muslim world, and he illustrated his flexible concept of it, commending the leaders of a long list of autocratic countries – Morocco, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Yemen, Kuwait, Jordan and even the Saudi monarchy – while condemning the “Palestinian leaders who block and undermine democratic reform”.
On 13 February the liberal Arabic daily Al-Hayat, based in London, published a working paper, “G8-Greater Middle East Partnership”, which Washington circulated to G8 leaders’ aides preparatory to a summit scheduled for June in Sea Island, Georgia. The paper detailed levels of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment in Arab countries to alarm G8 members, whose common interests are thought to be threatened by “an increase in extremism, terrorism, international crime and illegal migration”.
The paper the offered the answer to the troubles of the Arab region, by creating a Greater Middle East Development Bank on the model of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (Ignoring the fact that Arab countries already have one such institution – Afsed – but it is not run by Western countries); create free zones (there are already several in Arab countries); and press for countries to join the World Trade Organisation and for the reforms that this would require.
Arab World Reception of the Project
After its disclosure by Al-Hayat, the plan detailed sparked a fire fanned by criticism in the Arab world. These began with its definition of the Greater Middle East: besides the Arab countries, it covers Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and Israel, which share no common denominator with the Arab world.
This reflected the politico-strategic priorities the US persuades its Western partners to adopt, because there is no geographical, cultural or economic reason to justify such a grouping. Such a logic could not be accepted by the governments of the countries, or their peoples, except for Israel, which strongly shares Washington’s strategic priorities because the other countries are its main causes for concern.
One of the first and angriest Arab critiques of the paper came from Egypt, by the chief editor of the Arab Human Development Report, the Egyptian Nader Fergany. Angry at the way Washington appropriated the report, he published an article in Al-Hayat stressing that the US procedure, leaving little time for its G8 partners, let alone the Arab states, to comment on the project, indicated “the arrogant mentality of the current US administration in respect of the rest of the world, which causes it to behave as if it can decide the fate of states and peoples”.
Fergany took issue with the paper for applying the data in a study of the Arab countries to a huge, mainly Muslim but highly disparate geographic area, deemed by the neo-cons to be a source of terrorism, while disregarding the specificities of the countries. He outlined the main reason to reject the project: it was “imposed from the outside”.
Fergany criticized the US desire to impose its economic model on the Middle East. The paper ignored the main problems of the Arab world, postulating the integration of Israel into the regional fabric without mention of Palestinian rights.
Even that far away from today’s event, Fergany called on Arab states to reject the US project, and with the most accurate foresight, he stressed that rejection would be in vain if they did not make a genuine effort to promote endogenous reform, the renaissance of the Arab world.
This prospect was again outlined in the UNDP-Afsed report of October 2003, which warned against a US plan to replace state-run monopolies with private-sector monopolies to better serve its interests in the Middle East.
Because of the absolute lack of credibility of the US, the reason why even the most fervent supporters of change in the Arab world rejected the Greater Middle East Project.
And the fierce hostility to the Bush administration in Arab countries, and the suspicion of everything emanating from it, has prompted Washington’s main allies and Arab protégés – Egypt and Saudi Arabia – to distance themselves from the US initiative.
Ousted President Mubarak even led the anti camp to defend himself from the reactions the initiative will provoke. After voicing his reservations, he flew to Riyadh to issue a statement with his Saudi hosts rejecting “the imposition of a specific prototype of reform on Arab and Muslim countries from abroad”.
US Reaction & alternative initiative
Faced with this outcry, the Bush administration desperately fought for their ambitious Plan. The State Department was sent to Washington’s Arab allies, to further promote the economical “advantages” of the “Greater Middle East”, declaring in Brussels that the next US/ EU and Nato summits, in Dublin and Istanbul, should discuss reform in the “Greater Middle East” as will the G8 scheduled for June. The Secretary of State, Colin Powell, declared in Kuwait that Washington was counting on the Arab states to address the issue before the G8 meeting.
Reading between the lines, the US’s Arab allies were preparing to re-float a Saudi initiative that was inspired by Washington, but less “aggressive” at the 2003 Arab League summit. But in that summit, Crown Prince Abdulluh’s initiative was rendered politically untimely by regional tensions, the Iraqi crisis and warnings from some of his peers not to submit to Washington’s wishes.
The Saudi initiative died before birth, and the Greater Middle East Project was never spoken about again in Arab media.
But that does not mean it met the same fate of its Saudi counterpart, after all the Bush administration invested millions of dollars in that particular “Project” and they were not about to see this money go to waste, not to mention that the US saw the project as a key for protecting and advancing the US Business Interests in the Arab region.
In his 2004 State of the Union Address, Bush requested a doubling of NED (The National Endowment for Democracy) funding, from $40 million to $80 million, with all of the new funding to be aimed specifically at democracy promotion in the Middle East.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is a semi-private, nonprofit organization created in 1983 to strengthen
democratic institutions around the world through non-governmental efforts.
A report commissioned by USAID determined the following funds pumped into DG (democracy and governance) assistance for countries in the MENA region between 1990 and 2004:
Algeria ($3.7 million in 8 years)
Bahrain ($1.3 million in 2 years)
Egypt ($334.3 million in 14 years)
Iraq ($523.6 million in 3 years)
Jordan ($28.3 million in 5 years)
Lebanon ($28.5 million in 11 years)
Morocco ($3.6 million in 7 years)
Oman ($0.6 million in 2 years)
Qatar ($0.8 million in 1 year)
Saudi Arabia ($0.4 million in 1 year)
Tunisia ($11.2 million in 5 years)
Turkey ($0.9 million in 4 years)
West Bank and Gaza ($155.4 million in 11 years)
Yemen ($6.6 million in 8 years)
That is particularly why the plan was kept alive, but in the shadows, under a low key profile and a less provocative name. The Wikipedia states that the Greater Middle East is sometimes referred to as “The New Middle East”.
For an ingenuous presentation programme to democratise the Middle East, read Victor Davis Hanson, “Democracy in the Middle East: It’s the hardheaded solution”, in the neoconservatives’ house organ, The Weekly Standard, 21 October 2002.
George Bush, “President Discusses the Future of Iraq” Office of the Press Secretary, White House, 26 February 2003.
George Bush, “Remarks by the President in Commencement Address at the University of South Carolina”, White House, 9 May 2003.
Michael Ignatieff. “The Burden”. the New York Times Magazine, 5 January 2003.
Ignatieff had to publish a retraction: “The Year of Living ,Dangerously”, New York Times Magazine, 14 March 2004
Adam Garfinkle, “The Impossible Imperative? Conjuring Arab Democracy”, The National Interest, autumn 2002
Thomas Carothers, “Promoting Democracy and Fighting Terror” , Foreign Affairs, January/February 2003.
Sherle Schwenninger “Revamping American Grand Strategy”, World Policy Journal, autumn 2003
“Remarks by the President at the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, US Chamber of Commerce” White House, 6 November 2003.
The text is on the daily’s Englishlanguage website www. english.daralhayat.com
UNDP and Afsed Arab Human Development Report2002 and Arab Human Development Report 2003, New York both at http://www.undp.org/
Note illegal immigration is associated with other scourges.
Nader Fergany “Critique of the Greater Middle East project: the Arabs sorely need to refuse a reform from abroad” (in Arabic), A l Hayat 19 February 2004.
As a reprisal, the Bush administration has considerably reduced the US contribution to the UNDP budget already passed by Congress.
Moncef Marzouki “The US project for democracy in the Greater Middle East Yes, but with whom?” (in Arabic), AlHayat 23 February 2004.
Nevine Khalil, “Winds of Change” A lAhram Weekly Cairo, 26 February 2004.
Amira Howeidy “SwanSong for Arab Unity”, A1-Ahram Weekly 6 March 2003.