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Fundamental Arab reform can't be had by force

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Whether the US wars with Iraq or not, it should understand that only through careful diplomacy - not force - is there hope for undermining extremism and diminishing anti-Americanism in the world of Islam.

There is no need to sell the idea of America to Muslims, because many of them are dazzled with the American dream.

It's America's "unjust, inconsistent" foreign policy that most Muslim grievances focus on.

Now State Department officials appreciate that winning Muslim hearts and minds requires a broader political strategy than relying on slick commercials produced by the revived Office of Public Diplomacy.

Indeed, recent pronouncements by US Secretary of State Colin Powell and his aides show signs of movement in the right direction by taking into account the root causes of Arab despair.

Mr. Powell recently introduced the "US-Middle East Partnership Initiative" which aims to spread democracy and political reforms in the Middle East, including the empowerment of women. The "three pillars" of this proposed US-Middle East bridge are education, business, and political and private-sector reforms. Although only $29 million is allocated for the first part of the initiative, "significant additional funding" was promised next year.

Powell's director of policy planning, Richard Haass, acknowledged that "successive US administrations, Republicans and Democrat[s] alike" had erred by not making "democratization a sufficient priority" with its Arab allies. He made it very clear that an important part of the solution lies in promoting democracy and providing economic and educational opportunities for the alienated youths who have served as a fertile recruiting ground for militant groups.

But what's alarming is the negative reception this progressive step has gotten in the ranks of pro-US Arab governments and civil society leaders. Arab officials criticized it for misplaced focus on reforming Arab politics at the expense of trying to resolve the dangerous Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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