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Pollack: Entire Mideast has eyes on Iraq

Ken Pollack
Ken Pollack

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On the Scene
Ken Pollack
George W. Bush
Middle East

(CNN) -- President Bush called Thursday for the United States to be more aggressive in promoting democratic governments in the Mideast, contending the region's people are not beyond the reach of liberty and freedom.

CNN anchor Daryn Kagan spoke with CNN analyst Ken Pollack about the president's speech.

KAGAN: President Bush is very adamant in what he believes is not just a blueprint for the Middle East, but for all countries around the world. A lot of references looking backward toward Ronald Reagan, saying that when he was pushing for the liberation of Eastern Europe, he proved a lot of people wrong as well.

POLLACK: Absolutely. And what the president is doing is laying down a broad vision. I think it's a vision that most Americans have, in their bones, already come to grips with. It's the fact that after September 11th, there's a recognition now that the problems of the Middle East are very deep-seated. What's more, they're coming home to roost in the United States.

The problems of the Middle East are problems of economic and political injustice. They're breeding anger and frustration among the peoples of the Middle East. And that anger and frustration is being expressed in terrorism against the United States, anti-Americanism, failed states, rogue states, and dealing with these problems is going to require more than just going out and taking out Afghanistan, going in and taking out Saddam Hussein, it's going to require helping the region to fundamentally transform itself.

KAGAN: You can't have this conversation without talking about Iraq and what's taking place in Iraq over the last year. The focus on it, it has not gone exactly like this administration had hoped it would. And many people believe this is the make-or-break country and operation in terms of whether this spread of democracy will go throughout the Middle East.

POLLACK: I think there's no question about that, Daryn. And the president hinted at it in his speech. I would have liked to have seen him put this more front and center. Whether you wanted to go into Iraq or not, whether you thought it was right or not, the simple fact of the matter is, that the entire region, the entire Middle East is now watching to see what unfolds in Iraq.

For the longest time, they basically had two options. They had the autocracy offered by their government and they had the Islamic republics offered by the Islamic fundamentalists. And here comes the United States and says, "We've got another idea. We've got another way of doing things, and that's democratization."

The U.S. is trying to do that now in Iraq. We're doing it with 130,000 troops and 100 billion of our own dollars. The rest of the region is watching to see if it succeeds. And if it succeeds, there is the chance that others will start to accept and start to move in that direction. If it fails, every Arab is going to look at it and say, the Americans tried, they tried with $100 billion, and 13,000 troops, and if it can't work in Iraq, there's on way it can work here.

KAGAN: In a previous speech he came up with the axis of evil. He picked on countries that weren't in the interest of the United States. This time he tried to pick countries that he thought were doing well in the effort to bring about democratic reforms -- mentioning Bahrain, Qatar, Yemen, Kuwait and Jordan. And if you go down the list country by country, these are very different governments and very different situations in terms of what it means to the security of the United States.

POLLACK: Yeah, absolutely. You know, there were a whole range of countries out there. some of them were important U.S. allies, some less important U.S. allies. But virtually all of them have a connection with the United States. And all of them over the last five or six years, have begun to recognize that they need to move in this direction. They tended to do it for their own reasons, recognizing that their populaces are very unhappy and very restless, and therefore, they're going to have to make changes.

The key for the United States, and I think the president did a nice job of that, is to encourage that, to press them forward, to keep pushing them in a direction that they've already started to go in. Because truth to tell, a number of these governments really just want to blow off steam. They just want to give a little bit to the people in hopes that will satisfy their craving for democracy and then stop. And it's going to be up to the U.S. to keep pushing them.

KAGAN: Who do you think the president's intended audience was today? Was he talking to the American people or talking to governments worldwide?

POLLACK: I actually think he was speaking to three different audiences. First, he was speaking to the American people. He wanted to signal to the American people that he really does mean it this time.

Let's remember, we've heard this from the Bush administration. The Arabs have heard this from the Bush administration for several years now. And so far the administration hasn't really done anything about it. So it seems like finally the president is saying,"I really mean it this time, and be prepared because I'm going to start putting real resources against this."

And I think he was sending a warning to the governments -- "I really mean it and in the future, our relationships are going to be affected by how far we move."

And third, I think he was speaking to the people in the region themselves, trying to reach out to them and say, "I really mean it this time, I'm really going to try to help you, and just watch, the Americans are going to put some resources behind this effort this time."

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