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May 28, 2007

Bush and the Brotherhood Agree
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I posted last week on the deteriorating political situation in Syria, and offered a note of caution that Nancy Pelosi's April meeting with Bashar al-Assad had been a mixed bag. Well, shortly thereafter, I stumbled onto this article about the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood's reaction to Pelosi's visit. Apparently, the Brotherhood was not in favor, and criticized Pelosi for shaking hands with "the president of one of the worst repressive, totalitarian regimes." And then I thought, that's interesting - Bush and the Brotherhood actually agree on something. It hearkened back to a different era in 2003-2005, when Bush and Islamist groups in the region seemed tied together, however unwittingly and in somewhat parallel fashion, by their mutual dislike and opposition to Arab autocracy. Since then Bush, obviously, has dropped the ball on democracy promotion, precisely because of his administration's fear of empowering Islamist groups through democratic elections.

There was once talk of (somewhat) secret Bush administration meetings with the Syrian Brotherhood. I remember when I was living in Jordan in 2005, I would occasionally read vague and speculative articles in the notoriously speculative Arab press about a covert Bush-Brotherhood axis. Of course, there was rarely any conclusive evidence to this effect. However, I wouldn't be very surprised if there had been some level of contact between the two parties, at least through back channels and intermediaries. In any case, this is what the venerable State Department spokesperson said in late 2006 about the matter. It also occurs to me that State Department-speak should be recognized as separate English dialect. 


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I'd argue that meeting with Bashar isn't contrary to a democracy promotion agenda.

I'm a longstanding advocate of the idea that the U.S. should talk to everyone, particularly the bad guys. This is not to say we should give concessions to everyone, send high level officials to talks, coddle everyone, or any such silliness. I simply think that seeing talks as a carrot is a fundamental mistake. Talking to people is a method, not a reward.

I think this principle is consistent with both liberal and realist world-views. It apparently isn't consistent with the neocon world view, but that's probably because the neocons' favorite tool is force. But, as you've said in prior posts, democracy promotion isn't about invasions.

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