Friday, March 18, 2005

The World Around Us: Burma and Wolfowitz's Nomination for the World Bank's Presidency

This FBC Posting contains:

1). Bush selects Iraq war architect to be new head of World Bank, The Times

2). "The Ugly American Bank": A reaction from the mainstream US media

3). Reactions from the Global Civil Society to Wolfowitz' Nomination4). Why democracy stirs in Mideast, Christian Science Monitor

The World Around Us:
Burma and Wolfowitz's Nomination for the World Bank's Presidency

Zarni, Free Burma Coalition

Burmese don't really have to worry about who fills the vacancy at the world's largest development bank - the World Bank. Even if the West decided that they will lift the lift sanctions against our country thereby paving the way for theBank to dole out grants and loans Yangon's way, 'we' have not been able to payback the arrears, a prerequisite for loans and grants eligibility.

But nonetheless, President George W. Bush's nomination of the man known as 'theintellectual architect' of the Iraq war, that is, Paul Wolfowitz, is the talkof the world, the world that is privileged enough to have access to the Internet. This include us, Burmese exiles and expatriates.

Not that it is fashionable to bash everything and anything Bush does or says -although it may as well be the case - but as a matter of political and intellectual necessity, the Burmese should care what goes on in the world around us. To paraphrase the old cliche ' no man is an island', no country is an island in this age of globalization.

Who presides over the institution located several blocks away from the WhiteHouse concerns everyone who has the leisure and privilege to think beyond thenext meal. The rest of the world may be too busy to be concerned about whatgoes on in Burma/Myanmar; but what concerns thinking and privileged individuals around the world is - and must be - a concern for all of us the Burmese.

For what the Bank does will have serious impact on the world around us.

In a twisted way, this quote attributed to Paul Wolfowitz (in FinancialTimes, March 17, 2005) may be a silver lining for the Burmese, who have been walled
in between the two fences of home-grown authoritarianism and the West-imposed
isolation.

"Problems like poverty and HIV/AIDS need to be addressed for their own sake ashumanitarian issues, but it's also the case that soundly-based economic development supports the advance of liberty and freedom as well."

Perhaps with this Amartya Sen-isque 'development as freedom' ideological andoperational framework, Washington may be persuaded to push for development as ameans of advancing freedom for the Burmese.

Given the theocracy of sanctions and isolation (of Burma/Myanmar) which obstinately rejects any empirical evidence of policy effectiveness, this maybe something of an unthinkable. But again all revolutions are about thinking and pursuing the unthinkable.
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http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,11069-1528465,00.html
March 17, 2005
Bush selects Iraq war architect to be new head of World Bank

From Roland Watson in Washington

Paul Wolfowitz is a "compassionate, decent man who will do a fine job," saysPresident Bush (SHAUN HEASLEY / REUTERS) PRESIDENT BUSH sparked howls of outrage from foes and a distinct lack ofenthusiasm from friends after nominating Paul Wolfowitz, the key architect ofthe Iraq war, to head the World Bank. The decision was regarded by some European governments and aid agencies asprovocative and set the scene for a potentially bruising fight with Washingtonover the post.

Germany said that it was underwhelmed by Mr Bush’s choice and France suggestedthat Mr Wolfowitz’s candidacy might be challenged. Even Downing Street saidthat it was only the beginning of the appointment process. Greenpeace said thatit was “very disturbed”.

Mr Bush’s move marked the second time this month that he has risked a rift withallies over an important appointment. Last week he named John Bolton, the fieryState Department hawk, as Ambassador to the United Nations.

The appointments remove two of the most controversial figures of the first Bushterm from the heart of Washington decision-making. But, for all Mr Bush’sconciliatory gestures at the start of his second term, he is sending MrWolfowitz and Mr Bolton, both known for their robust and outspoken promotion ofUS interests, to key seats on world bodies knowing that their arrival will begreeted with trepidation.

The World Bank provides funding for development projects in the world’s poorestcountries and is traditionally headed by an American. The InternationalMonetary Fund (IMF), which offers loans tied to strict economic benchmarks, iscustomarily headed by a European.

The usual niceties may not apply this time. Europeans are striking anincreasingly assertive stance with America, such as their promise to lift theEuropean Union’s arms embargo against China in the teeth of US opposition.

Some European officials also regard precedent as being on the side of achallenge after the United States blocked Caio Koch Weser, a former World Bankofficial nominated by Germany, from heading the IMF in 2000. Officialspredicted harsh opposition from the World Bank board.

Michel Barnier, the French Foreign Minister, said that Mr Wolfowitz’s name wasmerely a proposal. “We shall examine it in the context of the personality andperhaps in view of other candidates,” M Barnier said.

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, the German Development Minister, said: “Theenthusiasm of old Europe is not exactly overwhelming.”

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said that Mr Wolfowitz was “verydistinguished and experienced internationally” but did not take his appointmentfor granted. Mr Straw said that he would look forward to working with him if hewon confirmation.

Mr Bush telephoned world leaders in advance to explain his decision and, at apress conference yesterday, he praised Mr Wolfowitz as “a compassionate, decentman who will do a fine job”.
Mr Wolfowitz, 61, has served as Deputy Defence Secretary since the Presidentcame to office in 2001. He is a former Ambassador to Indonesia and Professor ofInternational Relations at Johns Hopkins University. But he is best known forhis role as the highly controversial neo-conservative hawk who was the “brains”behind the Iraq war.

Cerebral and softly spoken, Mr Wolfowitz had spent much of the past decadearguing that Saddam Hussein had to be replaced to ensure stability in theMiddle East and security at home.
When Mr Bush assembled his war Cabinet at Camp David on the first weekend afterthe September 11 attacks, Mr Wolfowitz argued for confronting Iraq immediately.He was the leading proponent of the strategy that a democratic Iraq wouldinspire democracy throughout the region. As much as anyone else, he is theintellectual father of what has become the Bush doctrine — the use of force, ifnecessary, to spread freedom, both for its own ends and to make the US moresecure.

Mr Bush said that Mr Wolfowitz would make a strong president of the World Bank.He hoped that sceptics would “get to know Paul better” before judging hisfitness to take over from James Wolfensohn, who is standing down in June afterten years in the post.

There is Republican pressure to reform the World Bank so that it becomes moreof a facilitator for private-sector involvement and less of a directintervener.

Mr Wolfowitz’s girlfriend, Shaha Ali Riza, works at the World Bank. Ms Riza,who was born in Tunis and grew up in Saudi Arabia, is an ardent proponent ofspreading democratic rights throughout the Arabic world. Her low-key presencein Mr Wolfowitz’s life surprises critics, who assert that he masterminds aZionist conspiracy from the Pentagon.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ

Born 1943 in New York, the son of a mathematician

Maths degree from Cornell. PhD in political science from the University ofChicago. Taught at Yale
Divorced, with two daughters and a son
1986-89: US Ambassador to Indonesia
1989-93: Deputy Secretary for Defence in President Bush Sr’s Administration.Wanted to depose Saddam Hussein after first Gulf War
March 2001- : Deputy Secretary of Defence. Champion of missile defence. Leadingproponent of Iraq war

WORLD VIEWS OF WOLFOWITZ

“It is important to wait for the end of the appointment process and, of course,we will be involved in discussions and consultations with the US and others. Itis important for us that the World Bank takes forward the challenging agenda weare setting for Africa”
Downing Street spokesman

“This is a nomination by the US Government. Paul Wolfowitz is verydistinguished and experienced internationally and, if his appointment isconfirmed, we look forward to working with him”Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary

“I have known Paul Wolfowitz personally and professionally for a long time. Heis a person of high intellect, integrity and broad experience”James Wolfensohn, outgoing World Bank chief
“The enthusiasm in old Europe is not exactly overwhelming”
Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, German Development Minister

“It is a disaster to put the World Bank, which should be delivering sustainabledevelopment, into the hands of a man who clearly will put US and oil-industryinterests first”
Greenpeace

“We need someone with professional experience in helping people to escape frompoverty. Mr Wolfowitz does not have that track record”
Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University
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http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/18/opinion/18krugman.html?ex=1111813200&en=163
4d49bbbee4f9b&ei=5070

OP-ED COLUMNIST
The Ugly American Bank

By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: March 18, 2005


Paul Krugman

You can say this about Paul Wolfowitz's qualifications to lead the World Bank:He has been closely associated with America's largest foreign aid and economicdevelopment project since the Marshall Plan.

I'm talking, of course, about reconstruction in Iraq. Unfortunately, whathappened there is likely to make countries distrust any economic advice Mr.Wolfowitz might give.

Let's not focus on mismanagement. Instead, let's talk about ideology.

Before the Iraq war, Pentagon hawks shut the State Department out of planning.This excluded anyone with development experience. As a result, theadministration went into Iraq determined to demonstrate the virtues of radicalfree-market economics, with nobody warning about the likely problems.

Journalists who spoke to Paul Bremer when he was running Iraq remarked on hispassion when he spoke about privatizing state enterprises. They didn't note acomparable passion for a rapid democratization.

In fact, economic ideology may explain why U.S. officials didn't move quicklyafter the fall of Baghdad to hold elections - even though assuring Iraqis thatwe didn't intend to install a puppet regime might have headed off theinsurgency. Jay Garner, the first Iraq administrator, wanted elections asquickly as possible, but the White House wanted to put a "template" in place byprivatizing oil and other industries before handing over control.

The oil fields never did get privatized. Nonetheless, the attempt to turn Iraqinto a laissez-faire showpiece was, in its own way, as much an in-your-facerejection of world opinion as the decision to go to war. Dogmatic views aboutthe universal superiority of free markets have been losing ground around theworld.

Latin Americans are the most disillusioned. Through much of the 1990's, theybought into the "Washington consensus" - which we should note came from Clintonadministration officials as well as from Wall Street economists andconservative think tanks - which said that privatization, deregulation and freetrade would lead to economic takeoff. Instead, growth remained sluggish,inequality increased, and the region was struck by a series of economic crises.

The result has been the rise of governments that, to varying degrees, rejectpolicies they perceive as made in America. Venezuela's leader is the mostobstreperous. But the most dramatic example of the backlash is Argentina, oncethe darling of Wall Street and the think tanks. Today, after a devastatingrecession, the country is run by a populist who often blames foreigners for thecountry's economic problems, and has forced Argentina's foreign creditors toaccept a settlement that gives them only 32 cents on the dollar.

And the backlash has reached our closest neighbor. Mexico's current president,Vicente Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, is a firm believer in free markets.But his administration is widely considered a failure. Meanwhile, Mexico City'sleftist mayor, Manuel López Obrador, has become immensely popular. And his populist rhetoric has raised fears that if he becomes president he will rollback the free-market and free-trade policies of the past two decades.

Mr. Fox is trying to use a minor violation of the law to keep Mr. López off the presidential ballot. If he succeeds, many Mexicans will believe that democracywas sacrificed on the altar of foreign capital.

Not long ago, the growing alienation of Latin America from the United Stateswould have been considered a major foreign policy setback. So much has gone wrong lately that we've defined disaster down, but it's still not a good thing.

Where does Mr. Wolfowitz fit into all this? The advice that the World Bankgives is as important as the money it lends - but only if governments take that advice. And given the ideological rigidity the Pentagon showed in Iraq, they probably won't. If Mr. Wolfowitz says that some free-market policy will help economic growth, he'll be greeted with as much skepticism as if he declared that some country has weapons of mass destruction.

Moisés Naím, editor of Foreign Policy, says that the Wolfowitz nomination turnsthe World Bank into the American Bank. Make that ugly American bank: rightly ornot, developing countries will see Mr. Wolfowitz's selection as a sign thatwe're still trying to impose policies they believe have failed.

E-mail: krugman@nytimes.com
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from xxxxx

Dear Colleagues,

Please find below a first comprehensive news article on the nomination ofDeputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to be the successor of outgoing WorldBank President James Wolfensohn by June 1, 2005 as well as some of my firstthoughts on the nomination.

Wolfowitz who by many is viewed as an ideologue and close and faithful ally ofBush and who was one of the architects of the neo-conservative “preemptive wardoctrine” resulting in the invasion of Iraq is likely – if confirmed – to bringthe same ideological close-mindedness and righteousness to the World Bank andat least for the duration of the Bush Administration’s second term to do theWhite House’s bidding. The World Bank Board of 24 will have to vote onWolfowitz’ nomination for a five-year term soon.

It was no secret that the Bush Administration was not very happy with theoutgoing WB President James Wolfensohn (a Clinton appointee), who confrontedthe US on many issues, including the role of US and EU trade policies and thefailure to increase ODA to be able to deal with new challenges and commitments(Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Millennium Development Goals). With Paul Wolfowitz,the Bush White House would have a loyal supporter in the World Bank, somebodywho would even increase a World Bank reliance on the US development gospel of“good governance” and the responsibility of developing country governments fortheir own development by following slavishly a neo-liberal economic growthdriven development model.

Likewise, the pressure on the World Bank to dealwith (and support with larger amounts) reconstruction efforts in countries likeAfghanistan and Iraq, where the US is militarily engaged, would in mostlikelihood increase. With the current focus of the Bush Administration onenergy independence and exploration of new oil resources in Sub-Sahara Africa,it could also, for example be expected that a World Bank headed by PaulWolfowitz will increase, not decrease its involvement in extractive industriesprojects.

For the institution itself, it could mean a scaling back of World Bankinvolvement in various global activities that in the view of the neo-cons isbut a distraction from its primary role as a development agency. The BushWhite House has for years supported an increase in the amount of non-repayablegrants that the World Bank gives to developing countries and has advocatedconverting many existing loan programs into grants (The World Bank has alwaysargued that short of appropriating more funds for the World Bank’s work thiswould be equivalent to letting the World Bank starve slowly financially sincerepaid loans are used for future loan arrangements). It is very likely that aWorld Bank under Paul Wolfowitz at the helm would at least try to introducesome of the recommendations a US task force under neo-conservative economicsprofessor Allan Meltzer (today at the American Enterprise Institute inWashington, DC) proposed for the World Bank (including shedding most of itsregional responsibility in Latin America and Asia to the respective regionaldevelopment banks) in April 2000.

As to participation and involvement of civil society and civil society criticsin the work of the World Bank, under a Wolfowitz leadership this is also likelyto decrease or be more severely limited, if the information policy of thecurrent US administration and the Pentagon is any indication. Already for thelast four years civil society organizations working critically on the WorldBank and development issues have complained that they basically have been shutout from access to the US Executive Director at the World Bank.

Worldwide, the nomination is bound to draw strong criticism from developingcountries. They will be at least skeptical of the person of Wolfowitz and themotives of the Bush Administration. Although their protests will not amount toanything – they hold only a minority of seats in the WB board – the debate andpress coverage may highlight once again the unequal distribution of voice andvote in the World Bank (and the IMF) as well as the outdated – and contested –agreement according to which the head of the World Bank would have to be anAmerican.

As to the reaction of the Europeans: Many might see this nomination as a slapto the face and belying the early rhetoric of the second Bush administration toseek more cordial relations with its critics in Europe. Some European NGOobservers claim to have heard from various European EDs that the Europeans areprepared to oppose a nomination of a person they don’t seem suitable. Itremains to be seen if Wolfowitz fits this description to the point whereEuropean governments would be willing to openly oppose the US choice. Wolfowitz might be the man, and this might be the opportunity, for Europeansfor a belated pay-back for the US opposition to the candidacy of German Financeofficial Caio Koch-Weser to succeed Michel Camdessus at the InternationalMonetary Fund (IMF) in 2000.

See also the short reactions from World Bank and IMF at:
IMF: http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2005/pr0561.htm
WB:http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/NEWS/0,,contentMDK:20396132~page
PK:34370~piPK:34426~theSitePK:4607,00.html

So much as a short assessment from my side on the nomination. I will followfurther developments and keep you posted,

Warm regards,
Liane
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For further developments and comments from the NGO community,
seehttp://www.worldbankpresident.org

From the Washington-based liberal Institute for Policy Studies (IPS)
http://www.ips-dc.org/comment/wolfowitz.htm

Top 10 Reasons Why Paul Wolfowitz Would Make a Good World Bank President

By John Cavanagh

He would follow in the great tradition of World Bank president Robert McNamara,who also helped kill tens of thousands of people in a poor country mostAmericans couldn’t find on a map before getting the job.

It helps to be a good liar when you run an institution with employees who earnover $100,000 a year to pretend to help billions of people who live on lessthan $1 a day.

With all his experience helping U.S. companies grab Iraq ’s oil profits, he'sgot just the right experience for doling out lucrative World Bank contracts toU.S. businesses.

After predecessor James Wolfensohn blew millions of dollars on "consultations"with citizen groups to give the appearance of openness, Wolfowitz's tough-guystyle is just what’s needed to rid the World Bank of those irritatingactivists.

Unlike former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, another one of the fourleading candidates, at least Wolfowitz hasn't failed at running a Fortune 500company.

Unlike the Treasury Department’s John Taylor, another leading candidate, atleast Wolfowitz doesn't want to get rid of the institution he would head. While earning a University of Chicago Ph.D. , he was exposed to the tenets ofmarket fundamentalism that have reigned at the World Bank for decades. He has experience in constructing echo chambers where only the advice he wants to hear is spoken.

He knows some efficient private contractors who build echo chambers for only afew hundred billion dollars (cost plus, of course). He can develop a pre-emptive poverty doctrine where the World Bank could invadecountries that fail to make themselves safe for U.S. business, modeled on theU.S. pre-emptive war doctrine he helped craft.

John Cavanagh is the director of Institute for Policy Studies.
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From the International Rivers Network (IRN), a US development group critical ofthe World Bank, based in California:
IRN Shocked About US Pick for World Bank PresidentInternational Rivers Network
According to US Treasury officials and Reuters News, the Bush administrationhas put forward Paul Wolfowitz as its candidate for World Bank President.International Rivers Network is shocked about this choice. The Deputy DefenseSecretary’s strong support for the Iraq war reflects a disdain forinternational law and a multilateral approach to conflict resolution thatdisqualifies Wolfowitz from leading a multilateral institution.
Peter Bosshard, the Policy Director of International Rivers Network, comments:"In his career, Wolfowitz has so far not shown any interest in povertyreduction, environmental protection and human rights. His election as WorldBank President would most likely exacerbate the current backlash against socialand environmental concerns at the World Bank, and would initiate a new era ofconflict between the Bank and civil society."
The undemocratic and non–transparent process which has so far marked theselection of a new World Bank President makes a mockery of the concept ofcountry ownership which has gained prominence under President Wolfensohn.International Rivers Network calls on the member governments and the members ofthe Executive Board to reject the candidacy of Paul Wolfowitz, and todemocratize the selection process for the next World Bank President.
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From 50 Years is Enough Network in Washington, DC:

WOLFOWITZ TO WORLD BANK?! – CRITICS AMAZED

March 16, 2005 - 50 Years is Enough by Soren Ambrose

Two hours ago, President Bush announced his nomination of Paul Wolfowitz,currently Assistant Secretary of Defense, to be the next President of the WorldBank. The U.S., by tradition, nominates the World Bank President. Although theBank’s Board of Governors must approve it, no nomination has ever beenrejected.

“Paul Wolfowitz is the most controversial choice Bush could have made,” saidNjoki Njoroge Njehu, Director of the 50 Years Is Enough Network. “As the mostprominent advocate of imposing the U.S.’s will on the world – the architect ofthe disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq – this appointment signals todeveloping countries that the U.S. is just as serious about imposing its willon borrowers from the World Bank as on the countries of the Middle East. Comingon the heels of the nomination of John Bolton as Ambassador to the U.N., itreveals the contempt this Administration has for the international community.”

“The 50 Years Is Enough Network opposes this nomination,” Njehu continued, “andurges people around the world, and especially in Europe, to contact theirgovernment officials to insist that the nomination be defeated. Once again,just as with Iraq, President Bush may be proving his campaign promise to be ‘auniter, not a divider’: the world will unite against this choice. The ballreally is in the Europeans’ court now.”

Reliable reports from Europe suggest that the World Bank Executive Directorsfrom that region and some government officials are very opposed to Wolfowitz’snomination. When rumors of the choice first arose two weeks ago, most WorldBank watchers concluded that they must be mischievous jokes, and some Europeanofficials may have concluded likewise.

The European countries together form a substantial enough bloc to reject theU.S. action. Doing so, however, would spotlight the absurdly anti-democraticway in which the heads of the international financial institutions are chosen.While the institutions insist that borrowers institute “good governance,” the President of the World Bank is chosen in a secret process by the U.S. and the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is chosen in amessier, largely secret process by the countries of Western Europe. The U.S.was careful not to interfere with the choice of Rodrigo Rato of Spain as headof the IMF last year, and likely expects the same deference from the Europeansnow.

“The Bright Side”

If Wolfowitz does become President of the World Bank, it could have somepositive effects. Soren Ambrose, Senior Policy Analyst with the 50 Years IsEnough Network noted, “If confirm, we would no longer have to work so hard toconvince people that the World Bank is an instrument of U.S. foreign andeconomic policy. Wolfowitz has no experience in development, just a fierceideological dedication to hard-core neo-liberal economics and U.S. domination.With Wolfowitz in place, the Bank’s masterful spinners of noble rhetoric willbe unable to persuade anyone that the institution is really working for thebenefit of the poor. We’ll finally be able to use the word ‘imperialism’ aboutBank policy without raising eyebrows.”

“In other words,” said Ambrose, ”between exposing the true dangers of the lackof democracy at the World Bank and putting the most visible symbol of U.S.imperialism in the most prominent position in international development,President Bush will accomplish more in de-legitimizing the World Bank than anyother single action ever could.”

50 Years Is Enough: U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice
http://www.50years.org

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http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0314/p01s02-usgn.html?s=u
USA from the March 14, 2005 edition

Why democracy stirs in Mideast

The factors behind the political opening from Baghdad to Beirut, and beyond

By Howard LaFranchi

Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

WASHINGTON – The letters came from the Committee on the Present Danger - aninternational group established to support the war against terror - and carriedthe imprimatur of such figures as former Secretary of State George Shultz and"Velvet Revolutionary" Vaclav Havel.

One letter invited Egyptian prisoner Ayman Nour, leader of the politicalopposition party Al Ghad, to join the organization. The other asked PresidentHosni Mubarak for permission to meet with the jailed leader. On Saturday, under the mounting international pressure, Mr. Nour was releasedon bail.

This case represents another small opening in a series of momentous stirringssweeping a region that has long seemed stuck under entrenched authoritarianregimes.

Why all the ferment? As the Egyptian case suggests, outside influences - inparticular Bush policies pairing Arab reform with global security - are atleast part of the explanation for the abrupt rise of democracy activism. Butso, in a circuitous way, is Osama Bin Laden himself. So is the ripple effect ofelections in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, and Ukraine.
And so, as experts on the region emphasize, are the many home-grown democracyadvocates who have long laid the groundwork for an Arab bloom.

"We are witnessing the twilight of the old order. Partly that is because theArab world is feeling the pressure from outside," says Hassan al-Ebraheem, aformer Kuwaiti education minister and longtime advocate of democratic reformsin his and other Arab countries. "But democracy is not made by outsideinfluence," he adds. "To have democracy, you must have democrats."

The post-9/11 mode

It is unlikely that the letters to Egypt would have been sent before theterrorist acts of Sept. 11, 2001: Most Arab regimes have long jailed politicalopponents without much interference from the West. But now a growing roster ofinternational leaders, led by President Bush, is pressing democracy as the bestantidote to the kind of Islamic extremism that advocates anti-Western violence.

Responding to that pressure, Mr. Mubarak has directed the parliament to amendelectoral law to allow for the first multiparty presidential election in Egypt.It remains unclear, however, just how far-reaching the reform will be: Will thepopular Nour, for example, be allowed to mount a candidacy?

More broadly, Mr. Bush has been citing his policies - foremost among them theidea that war in Iraq could plant a democracy to be an example for the region -as a catalyst in what some are calling an Arab spring. In a speech at theNational Defense University in Washington last week, the president said, "Atlast, clearly and suddenly, the thaw has begun."

Various former skeptics, including some Arabs who say they hate to admit it,now say the impact from what Bush calls Iraq's "purple revolution" (referringto the ink-stained thumbs of Iraqi voters) is too obvious to discount. But manyexperts say it is a combination of two crucial elements - long-frustratedlongings meeting unprecedented external support - that is setting things off.

"There is a convergence of internal aspirations and calls for reform in Araband Muslim lands, with external pressures exerted by the internationalcommunity, particularly the Bush administration," says Fawaz Gerges, a Mideastexpert at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. "It would be misleading tosay it is either/or," he adds, "despite those in the region who really want tobelieve that it is all springing from Arab soil, or some neoconservatives herewho say it is all thanks to the Bush policy."

The Middle East produced its own crop of democracy advocates in the yearsfollowing the collapse of the Soviet Union, much as Eastern Europe did, Mr.Gerges recalls. But they were muffled from within and met with no forcefulsupport from outside.

"There were many people enthusiastic about building civil societies: That wasthe buzzword of the 1990s. But they were suppressed at their birth by theAssads and the Mubaraks" and other authoritarian regimes, he says. "Then twothings happened that no one could ignore: the Sept. 11 attacks on the US andthe political emancipation of the Iraqi people."

Different factors in play

But not all the moves toward change should be seen as having the same impetus,specialists say. Most see Mubarak's proposal for multiparty presidentialelections as the clearest case of a direct response to new pressures fromWashington. And Bush is keeping up pressure, using the Defense Universityspeech to advise his friend Mubarak of what the presidential elections wouldhave to offer in order to pass the democracy test: "freedom of assembly,multiple candidates, free access by those candidates to the media, and theright to form political parties."

Other cases, like Lebanon, are more suggestive of the mix of pressures -internal and external, political and economic - that are at play.

Kuwait is a case suggesting that the winds of political change have beenblowing for a while, certainly before Sept. 11. Sometime in the next few weeks,the Kuwaiti parliament is expected to vote on a government-backed reform toallow women the right to vote and hold political office. The reform was firstproposed in a 1999 edict by the ruling emir but lost by two votes in aparliamentary vote.

Many experts also point out that the Arab Human Development Reports, widelyconsidered the most comprehensive and critical calls for Arab reform of recentyears, were launched by the United Nations Development Program in 2000 and wereresearched and written by Arabs.

"To hear so much talk of change in the Middle East resulting from the war inIraq, it's as if the Arabs have no idea or meaningful tradition of reformistthinking," says Clovis Maksoud, a Lebanese development specialist at AmericanUniversity in Washington who is also on the board of the Arab Human DevelopmentReports.

Just back from the Middle East, Mr. Maksoud says he encountered a growingirritation among Arabs, "a feeling that the US, which did not find weapons ofmass destruction in Iraq, is now trying to snatch away these politicalmovements and lay claim to them."

That raises further questions of why the Middle East bloom is on right now.Bush reduces it to a universal hunger for democratic freedoms, but others saythe explanation lies elsewhere.

"People in these countries have a strong sense that things have gone wrong, butthey are not convinced that democracy is the answer," says Jon Alterman, aMiddle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies inWashington. "What they really want are better results."

That means people want jobs and better living conditions and services, he says,than what their current government regimes are delivering. But they don'tnecessarily see democracy as the answer, and that is where the Bush doctrine ofdemocratic reform as the universal answer and local perceptions may end up inconflict. "The real challenge we face," says Mr. Alterman, "is that there is nowidespread belief that American-style democracy delivers better results."