Freedom's Unsteady March: America's Role in Building Arab Democracy

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Freedom's Unsteady March: America's Role in Building Arab Democracy. By Tamara Cofinan Wittes. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2008. 177 pp. $26.95.

Wittes 's central thesis - that the Bush administration was right to try to advance freedom in the Middle East but went about it in the wrong way - will probably find wide acceptance. No U.S. president can eschew democracy promotion as a mission. It is in our national DNA; it is our light unto the nations; it is what we see in our flag. Equally, few will argue with her assertion that "we failed" in Gaza and Lebanon (though there is vigorous debate about Iraq) because elections there are empowering Islamist extremists who have no interest in peace and no enduring interest in democracy. Wittes, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, provides extensive and compelling evidence that the absence of freedom impairs economic, social, and political development in Arab countries. Ergo, since what Bush was trying to achieve was indubitably the right thing although he got a bad result, he must have done it incorrectly. The challenge is to find the right way, and here Wittes contributes many informed and detailed recommendations.

Binyamin Netanyahu and Natán Sharansky will find Wittes 's core argument as convincing as will Barack Obama. …