The other face of America! This is how Arab media and political circles describe Nancy Pelosi as she winds up her tour of the Middle East amid criticism from the Bush administration. And, there is little doubt that much of the Arab elite likes that face better than the one presented by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in her trips to the region.
Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, describes her tour as a fact-finding exercise. But, judging by the substantial negotiations she engaged in, hers was a full-fledged diplomatic mission. At least, this is how most Arabs see it.
"She is the friendly face of America," says a senior Syrian official. "Where Condi frowns, Nancy smiles."
Ms. Pelosi was specially feted in Damascus, capital of Syria, the oldest member of the club of "nations sponsoring international terrorism", according to Washington.
"Her visit was a godsend to an isolated and beleaguered regime," says a Lebanese minister. "The Syrian regime, which had been thinking of bowing to international pressure, is now reassured. All it has to do is to wait until Pelosi's party takes over the White House in 2009."
The Pelosi mission confirms the analysis made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the Islamic Republic that the United States is incapable of developing and implementing a long-term strategy. According to this analysis, the US is like a fickle monarch who might wake up one morning and decide to do the exact opposite of what he had been doing for years.
The most radical elements in the region liked Pelosi best if only because she endorsed their campaign of vilification against the Bush administration. Her motto was: Surrender before you have too, and claim credit for it! She represented a superpower that, because no one can take away anything from it, is prepared to give away everything.
The Pelosi Doctrine, as demonstrated during the tour, is the opposite of the Bush Doctrine spelled out in 2002.
The Bush Doctrine links the United States' national security to democratization in the Middle East. It asserts that undemocratic states serve as breeding grounds for terrorism the way that marshes breed mosquitoes. The US should therefore, throw its weight behind those forces and governments that promote reform in the region.
In practical terms, the Bush Doctrine means a number of things.
It means using force to remove regimes that lack internal mechanisms for change, as was the case with the Taleban in Afghanistan and the Saddamites in Iraq. It also means persuading friendly regimes to broaden their popular base, liberalize their economies, and open up the social and political space, as is the case in Egypt and Jordan among others. Elsewhere, the Bush Doctrine envisages robust opposition to the ambitions of such opportunist powers as Syria, in its quest to dominate Lebanon, and the Islamic Republic of Iran in its pursuit of regional hegemony.
In the Bush Doctrine the Israel-Palestine conflict is regarded as an almost peripheral problem that could be tackled best when the region is democratized, liberalized, and woven into the global system.
The Bush Doctrine is based on the implicit assumptions that the US represents a political system that is morally superior to that of its adversaries in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The Bush Doctrine is idea-driven, not to say idealistic.
The Pelosi Doctrine, however, is based on realpolitik of the kind that Henry Kissinger or James Baker III, among countless other cynics, would approve.
It rejects the idea that the US political system, or the culture in which it is rooted, is in any way better, let alone superior, to systems developed by other peoples across the globe, including the Middle East. Pelosi applies the tenets of multiculturalism to international affairs: All systems are comparable; all systems are of equal value. She believes that other cultures might not be as good as hers, but hers sure can be as bad as theirs.
The Pelosi Doctrine opposes the use of force, even against obnoxious anti-American regimes. Throughout her tour, Madame Speaker made it clear that she was determined to hasten the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, with hints that the US military presence in Afghanistan would also be wound down. Pelosi's America would fight back only in self-defense, and rejects pre-emptive war based on perceived threats.
According to the Pelosi Doctrine, the US must work with the regimes in place, including those perceived as enemies. A great power, Pelosi believes, cannot afford to be judgmental. It must work with the realities on the ground rather than seek to change them in accordance with its vision of the world.
Pelosi also restores the status of the Israel-Palestine conflict as the most important issue of the region, if not of international life as a whole, and seeks to resume Washington's role as mediator in a revived peace process. She rejects what some Arabs see as President George W. Bush's partiality toward Israel, and urges a return to the even-handedness that the US demonstrated in the last years of the Clinton presidency.
Throughout her visit, Pelosi sought to project a modest image of the United States as opposed to the "arrogant" one presented by Bush.
What would the Middle East look like if the Pelosi Doctrine replaces the Bush Doctrine as the matrix of US foreign policy?
The US will withdraw from Iraq before the new Iraqi regime is capable of defending itself against its internal and external foes. It will then be up to rival regional powers, notably the Islamic republic, to determine the fate of Iraq, together with their local clients.
The new democratic regime in Afghanistan would also come under possibly fatal pressure. The country's fate would then be in the hands of rival powers, notably Iran, Pakistan and Russia in conjunction with their respective clients within the country.
In the absence of political and diplomatic pressure from Washington, the current trend toward reform and liberalization would come to a halt in most parts of the region. Concerned about the rise of radical forces and greater hostility from revolutionary actors, such as the Islamic republic and the revived Al— Qaeda, Arab regimes would postpone democratization and revert to repressive methods.
Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution" would fade into memory, as Syrian troops return to Beirut to resume occupation.
The Pelosization of US foreign policy would also encourage the "one-state" camp with regard to the Israel-Palestine conflict. At present, a majority of regional powers support a two-state solution in the context of the Saudi peace proposals. But the two-state option is based on the assumption that the US remains an active element in its support, rather than a mediator hedging its bets.
The Pelosization of US foreign policy could plunge the Middle East into endless civil and regional wars, facilitate the return of terrorist organizations now facing defeat and ultimate destruction, and, in time, threaten US national security on a grander scale. And that, in turn, could force the US into wars bigger and costlier than the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq that Pelosi regards as mistakes.