The average Jordanian is neither a friend of America nor an ally in the War on Terror. In fact, the public of Jordan ranks among the most anti-Semitic and anti-American of any in the world. However, there is no questioning the significance and the degree of Amman’s support for the United States in its war against Islamic extremists. Jordan is also undertaking a series of gradual reforms that will ensure its long-term positive relationship with the United States. Ironically, this has all been achieved under the auspices of an unelected king.
With the death of his father, King Hussein, in 1999, Abdullah II bin al-Hussein inherited the throne to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and has since remained a loyal ally to the United States. While anything else would have been unexpected in Washington, the dual track policy of defeating Islamic terrorists and promoting democracy in the Middle East has made King Abdullah increasingly important to the United States. In this respect, the king’s cooperation with the Bush administration has been virtually unparallel among his unelected counterparts.
The son of an English women and educated in the United States and Great Britain, King Abdullah is far from anti-Western and clearly understands the deprivations of his region when compared to the developed West. Abdullah entered the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and became an officer in the British army in the early 1980’s. In 1987 he graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. with a Masters Degree in the Foreign Service program. Just recently, the king invited his class from Deerfield – a Massachusetts boarding school – to visit him in Jordan for a week. Clearly these are not the credentials of one who might be sympathetic to Islamic extremists or unaccustomed to the structures of a successful society.
Thus, it is unsurprising that a transition in the political structure of Jordan is developing. The traditional composition of governance has centered in Amman with the executive branch. Although King Hussein restored the parliament in the 1980’s, the power of the parliament is relatively weak as it is comprised of thirty-two parties with individual personalities trumping comprehensive political agendas. While King Abdullah has the power to dissolve parliament, he still sees no reason to strengthen the body to a degree where a coalition of Islamist parties could rise to challenge the prevailing judicious policies which have been in place since his father.
Our ally in Amman has been a voice of moderation in the region since he assumed power. In the wake of Muslim outrage over the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, King Abdullah cautioned that "those who want to protest should do it articulately, and express their views peacefully.” Illustrating the dilemma that the Bush administration faces in its ambitious policy of democracy promotion, the Jordanian leader was able to speak to a group in Washington that would have been unimaginable had he had to face his populous in an election.
This transpired on September 21, 2005 as King Abdullah delivered a speech entitled “Judaism and Islam: Beyond Tolerance.” His worlds were impressive and in no doubt sincere. Speaking to a gathering of American and Middle Eastern rabbis the king noted: “We face a common threat: extremists distortions of religion and the wanton acts of violence that derive therefrom.” He added that the only way to prevail would be cooperation between the Jewish and Islamic communities as these faiths “must move beyond the language of mere tolerance toward true acceptance.”
While that all sounds rather cozy, King Abdullah words are not mere rhetoric and they are not spoken from the comfort afforded in the tolerant West. In a remarkable display of solidarity, a 2005 study by The Pew Global Attitudes Project found that 100 percent of Jordanians held an unfavorable view towards Jews. Clearly the king is the smallest of minorities, yet he has displayed the courage in the face of his own hostile population to claim that Muslims and Jews are “kin … linked through Abraham, our common ancestor.”
The aforementioned Pew study included scores of other examples of Jordanian hostility to Western policies and values. The “confidence in Osama bin Laden to do the right thing regarding world affairs” stands at sixty percent in Jordan, while only twenty-one percent of Jordanians view the United States favorably. The virtually unanimous unfavorable outlook towards Jews is paralleled by the ninety-eight percent who consider Judaism to be the world’s most violent religion.
The lack of true democracy in the Kingdom and Jordan’s proximity to Israel are certainly large contributors to the pervasive radicalism in the country. However, one would think that having a moderate leader such as King Abdullah would temper the feelings of repression that exist in undemocratic societies. This is not the case in Jordan as control of the media is nowhere near absolute and many of the independent news outlets fuel the radicalism that helps produce the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The following is from the Jordan Times, an independent daily, from February 10:
Many ordinary citizens in the Arab-Asian region see the European position on Iran's nuclear industry and the victorious Hamas party in Palestine as moving closer to American-Israeli positions that grossly discriminate against Arabs or Muslims … This is no mere clash of cultures. It is a new form of the colonial struggle that defined European-Arab/Asian relations in the 19th century. The difference this time is that the natives in the south are not helpless and quiescent in the face of the West's large guns, disdainful rhetoric or insulting cartoons.
The paper might as well be calling for jihad, and based on opinion polls, it appears that the Jordanian public is incapable of discerning serious news from dangerous propaganda.
While the critics of spreading democracy in the Middle East are mistaken in their – unstated but in reality racist – views that the Muslims of the Middle East are incapable of establishing democracies, the Jordanians certainly do little to prove them wrong. So how should the United States approach Jordan in their fight against terrorism and push for reform?
It might seem that the Bush administration is walking a fine line with promoting democracy and preventing radical Islamists from seizing power in traditionally friendly states. This may be the case in locations such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, but in Jordan the process has been rather simple. King Abdullah is the ideal candidate to produce substantial reforms that will not come back to bite the United States.
On January 26 of last year, King Abdullah revealed his plans to implement a more representative government. One of the key proposals entailed transferring power to regional governments that would be more in touch with local concerns. Of greatest significance, however, is the Jordanian leader’s approach to sincere yet realistic reform. The king expressed in the January 26 nationwide address: “As political development is the gateway to the full participation of all segments of grassroots and civil society institutions in the various aspects of the development process, I assert here that political development should start at the grassroots level, then move up to decision making centers, and not vice versa.”
King Abdullah understands that two necessary foundations must be laid for true reforms to succeed. First, the Middle East as a region must become less volatile as extremists such as Zarqawi and his al Qaeda cadre are marginalized. Second, the people of Jordan must mature politically so they are ready for the responsibilities that come with democracy. As Abdullah stated in April, 2005, Jordan will be a model for development in the region, but “the fruits of reform will take time before they are ripe.”
The above noted polling results illustrate that King Abdullah’s assessment of the political situation in his country and the region are correct. Were Jordanians given the freedom to elect their own leader at the current time, chances are he would come to represent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad much more closely than Abdullah. Given the recent victory of Hamas in neighboring Palestine, a radical leader emerging in Jordan would inevitably have explosive consequences for the region.
If the Bush administration could appoint a leader of Jordan, Abdullah would be it. As a force for stability in his country, the Jordanian leader ensures that Amman remains an ally of the United States, friendly to Israel, and strong enough to prevent Islamists from seizing power. King Abdullah has also displayed an unmistakable interest in helping lead his nation to long-term reform. The interests of Washington and Amman coincide on all of the important issues. As long as the king continues to enhance genuine reform – and America is seen as a driving force behind those reforms – the future of Jordan will be bright. Given the domestic and regional issues that face King Abdullah, he is an ally that the United States is lucky to have.
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