Monday, May 19, 2008
World Economic Forum 2008 Day 1 - Sharm al Sheikh, Egypt
Greetings from the World Economic Forum in Sharm al Sheikh, a truly global gathering of nearly 1500 leaders convening to discuss current political and economic issues of the Middle East. I feel privileged to be a participant, as it's quite an impressive group and a beautiful setting. I'm somewhat disappointed I will not have the chance to dip in the Red Sea or lie on the beach, but discussing the very pressing issues of the Middle East trumps relaxation time. Listen in to the live webcasts at WEF ME Forum
Here are a few notes from Day 1.
The opening session consisted of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah, and President Bush. Mubarak and Abdullah focused on the Palestinian issue as we just passed the 60th anniversary of the creation of Israel, al Nakba, the "catastrophe" to Palestinians. Mubarak and Abdullah also highlighted many of the economic successes achieved in their respective countries, including growth rates of about 4 percent. Unfortunately, this growth has not trickled down to average citizens, who in Egypt, are increasingly agitating against the government due to increases in food prices and decreased subsidies on food and fuel.
As so often happens in US communication in the Middle East, there appeared to be a disconnect between the US and Arab message. Both sides emphasized justice, freedom, and liberty. For the Arab leaders, that was tied to the Palestinian issue. For the US, it is tied to defeating Hamas, Hizbollah, and Iran. Bush again emphasized and nearly chastised Arab leaders for not doing more to promote democracy, freedom, and human and women's rights. What seems to be lost on our President is that this admonition rings hollow for many Arab leaders, who view the US as supporting suppression of democracy and freedom in many Arab lands, especially the Palestinian Territories, in addition to our favored allied nations.
Day 1: Hot Topic: Iraq's Shaky Progress
Panelists: Vice President Adil abd al Mahdi, Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Salih, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, and Congresspersons Christopher Shays and Jane Harman.
Below are notes:
Rep. Jane Harman (Democrat from CA): al Qaida, although reduced, remains a dangerous threat. Even if quashed in one area, can move elsewhere. But these successes must necessarily change US interests on the ground. The US should not leave precipitously; we do have a commitment and responsibility to rebuild. It was our invasion that resulted in a failed state. Our posture should change, provide assistance to counter terrorism, porous borders, protect our Embassy, and train Iraqis. We should end our combat mission in Iraq and support withdrawing combat troops and by end of 2009 have a different posture.
Barham Salih (Deputy Prime Minister)
The success of the past six months is because of a fundamental change in attitude on the ground in other communities. Delivered a serious setback, but resourceful enemy.
Basra instructive: government taking on other groups, and the US in supportive role. We are not yet able to do it on our own. Progress serious, tangible, but fragile.
Rep. Chris Shays (Republican, Conn.)
If Iraq goes badly, it’s because the US at the very point that it should move forward, we’ve left them. The Iraqis are more effective than the US politicians, when you take into account that they need 70% of legislator approval to pass legislation.
Signs of success:
--new Sec of Defense who is not tied to past policy mistakes.
--surge is working
--tribal leaders effective; Sunnis want to be part of govt.
--political leaders able to work on the issues.
Leaders don’t get credit they deserve.
We were wrong. There were no WMD. And then we really screwed it up, but that was then. We are not making progress, and I'm fearful that the American public will drop Iraq at a crucial time. These leaders deserve our commitment. I would risk my election because these leaders risk their lives.
Hoshyar Zebari (Foreign Minister, Iraq): Iran is a major regional player and have to face this reality. Encouraged dialogue between the US and Iran about Iraq.
--addressed concerns to Iranians. Want to keep confrontation away.
-only way to deal with powerful neighbors and influence is for Iraq to get stronger. Also, Arab countries need to help and have so far failed Iraq.
Abdulla-Janahi (Co-chairman of WEF on ME): Iraqis must sign status of forces arrangement with US. Arab countries have indeed failed Iraq. Iraqis also failed Iraq. Much bigger thing than al Qaida. Elites happy to see Iraq bogged down, impoverished, were fearful of democracy. Now it’s been discredited.
--lessons learned: corruption.
--partnership with Iraqis: we only see it from one side, the American perspective. To the US, tell the truth and do better at PR. Iraq PR is abysmal.