Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Losing Hearts & Minds

Karen Hughes, the soon to be former Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy, leaves behind a disastrous record. I only hope James Glassman is able to undo her legacy and rebuild our image.

What is especially sad is that the Bush Administration is trumpeting Ms. Hughes increasing her budget from $616 million to $845 million. Spending more for something that is not delivering is not the kind of success indicator we should applaud.

One of the final straws that ended Ms. Hughes’ tenure was the Pew Research survey on America’s image abroad. The survey found that majorities or pluralities in 33 of the 47 countries polled expressed a dislike for American ideas about democracy.

What is worse, the Pew survey showed a distinct decline in support for America. This included both more countries falling away from the US and sharp declines in key Muslim nations.

Ms. Hughes’ failure is only one of the many indicators showing that the Bush Administration has made every blunder imaginable in their war against terrorism.

First, Bush and his advisors have never addressed the root cause of terrorism – Wahabism. This obtuse view of Islam brought the Saud family to power in Arabia after World War I. In the 1970’s they began using their oil profits to promote this movement on a global scale. During my years in Africa, I watched as Saudi Arabia became the “McDonalds of Maddrassas”, building schools and mosques everywhere. This West-hating dogma has become one of the prime breeding grounds for Al Qaeda. Bush should confront the Saudis and find ways to derail their militant missionaries.

Secondly, the Bush Administration promotes “democracy” over “liberty”. This is a recipe for disaster in countries that have neither. It has led to Hamas taking over Palestine. Bush and his advisors have forgotten or never learned that economic liberty leads to other liberties, and these liberties will ultimately lead to democracy. History shows that the rise of towns and the merchant class led Europe out of the “dark ages”. Only after centuries of capitalism did democracy take hold.

One example of forgetting history is our development policy in Egypt. Starting in the mid-1990’s USAID worked with the Egyptian government in building its private sector through a series of highly successful programs. My company was one of the vendors who assisted in this effort. The Egyptian participants enthusiastically embraced management best practices so they could become more competitive in the global economy. However, in 2004, Bush officials, notably Elizabeth Cheney, terminated all these private sector programs in favor of elementary school support. They forgot that a large, educated but unemployed, populace is the easiest to radicalize. They also forgot that, in every culture throughout history, progress and liberty arose through growth in the merchant or business classes, not from government.

When I travel to the Persian Gulf I see vibrant market economies and safe stable regimes. Dubai is one of the wonder cities of the world showcasing technology, architecture, and management that are on the cutting edge of the 21st century. This is all happening less than a hundred miles from the Iranian coast. Dubai is an example of why it is important to have economic freedom that fuels economic vitality. Instead of sending Americans abroad to promote America, we should send Americans to learn about Arab successes.

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