The featured speaker at the Forum for the Future conference in Doha, Qatar was American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but the audience could be excused if it thought that it was hearing a representative of the Bush Administration.
It was the Bush administration that had embraced the approach that the best way to combat Islamic radicalism was to introduce democracy to the Middle East. When the Obama Administration took office it scrapped the Bush approach for a combination of what it portrayed as realism with an extra helping of American humble pie.
The new policy was that it would be arrogance for the United States to attempt to preach to other nations how they should conduct themselves. Simultaneously, the world would be safer and the burden on the United States reduced if the United States could forge agreements even with authoritarian regimes that served mutual interests.
Critics of the Obama Administration have claimed that it is so enamored of engagement that it fails to defend democratic forces throughout the world, with a notable example being the too little-too late response to the student demonstrations in Iran.
In its report today, Freedom House reported that Twenty-five countries showed significant declines in democracy in 2010 while the democratic world displayed apathy. David J. Kramer, executive director of Freedom House, lamented "Our adversaries are not just engaging in widespread repression, they are doing so with unprecedented aggressiveness and self-confidence…And the democratic community is not rising to the challenge." This, too, could be seen as implicit criticism of the Obama Administration.
Yet here was Clinton warning the Arab elites that "the region's foundations are sinking into the sand,"due to the pervasive culture of corruption that discouraged participation and hard work. Since the ordinary citizens were now more politically aware, they realized that the tiny elite was the beneficiary of the petrodollars and this engendered attitudes ranging from apathy to anger. If the Arab regimes would not provide vehicles for participation, they would be outflanked by 'Extremist elements, terrorist groups and others who would prey on desperation and poverty are already out there appealing for allegiance and competing for influence'".
The Forum of the Future was launched in 2004 by the G-8 to encourage civil groups who were not mere puppets of the government. The Arab leaders at the forum replied with a stock answer that the pace of reform had to be measured because too rapid a change could play into the hands of extremists (with the obvious example of the Shah of Iran whose ambitions to rapidly remake his country led to his downfall). Secretary of State Clinton was reverting to the Bush administration in rejecting that argument.
Responding to a question about America's failure to induce Israel to stop settlement building, Clinton testily replied that the United States has failed to get a lot of countries to do what it wanted and in general America carried a disproportionate burden of the world's problems on her shoulders. For example, America was the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority, meaning that it was time for the Arab states to walk the monetary walk in addition to the pro-Palestinian talk.