Subtle Signs of Change in the Middle East

WaPo columnist Jim Hoagland sees “Subtle Signs of Change” in recent events.

It is too small and random an event to be described as a turning point, but too significant in context to be ignored: When Saudi security forces shot it out with a small terrorist gang in Jeddah on Monday to protect the lives of U.S. diplomats, they made an important statement about the course of change in the Middle East. In differing ways, that same point about change was made elsewhere this week — by the inauguration in Kabul of an elected Afghan president, by the preparations in Rabat, Morocco, for a high-level conference on democratic aspirations in Islamic societies, and in Washington by the White House appointments list.

In this interlude between George W. Bush’s reelection and his second inauguration, the appointments list is a better guide to the next term’s priorities than any speech or policy paper. It has been filled in recent days with key leaders from the Middle East and Central Asia, not from Europe or the Orient. At the top of the list were President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and Ghazi Yawar, the interim president of Iraq. To listen to their accounts, American help has begun to turn the tide against al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist networks of the region, and opened the way to vital elections in Iraq in January. You have every right to be skeptical about their accounts. Their fates are on the line. It is not in their interest to express doubts or dangers to scribes. My own skepticism about Musharraf’s promises to the Bush administration has been stated here often and directly.

But when you hand a Pakistani general a club with which to belabor India’s leadership and he declines to swing it, you know some things have changed. He turned away my question about India’s intentions by noting that New Delhi is working with Pakistan toward peace and “is looking in a more westerly direction” in foreign policy.


The United States will not prevail over global terrorism that originates in the Middle East unless moderate Muslim political, religious and civic leaders take command in that struggle. Morocco steps up to the challenge this weekend by hosting an international forum in which Arab civil rights organizations and entrepreneurs will press their governments to modernize.

Certainly, we have seen positive signs before only to see rapid backsliding. President Bush the Elder proclaimed a “New World Order” after the first Gulf War and many commentators who should have been more skeptical believed that the coalition of Arab and Western states against Saddam could be made permanent. Similarly, we got too carried away by a token treaty between Israel and the Palestinians–so much so that the mass murderer Yasir Arafat was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps, though, the intractable nature of terrorism and the apparent long-term interest the United States has in defeating it will reverse this one step forward, two steps back pattern.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    At this stage in the game, I’d settle for 5 steps forward 4 steps back… As long as we are turning a profit.