This week's G-8 summit at Sea Island, Ga., is a critical opportunity for President Bush. He's seeking endorsements from European and invited Arab leaders for the final and most important campaign of his war on terror.
That campaign is aimed at creating a new political vision for the Middle East - including Israel - in which any incentives for terrorism are ended by the expansion of peace and democracy. The campaign is, as Mr. Bush said last week, "the storm in which we fly."
Since Bush formally launched this initiative in February, it's been met by tiny diplomatic tornadoes, forcing him to weaken it. The president erred in not working behind the scenes with Arab leaders to propose their own initiative. Instead, the US has created an impression of dictating change. European leaders, too, demanded more emphasis on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a recognition of their regional reform efforts. And American leadership was also damaged by images of US soldiers abusing Arab prisoners in Iraq.
Still, the summit, including a session with Arab leaders, will probably leave behind a few democracy-building programs that could quickly expand. Even these might be a start for what Bush calls "ideological victories" over Al Qaeda's vision of imposed, radical Islamic states. His vision is of Arab societies that reward people's talents and turn "their energies to constructive purpose."
The summit may endorse a foundation to support private groups promoting civil liberties, and a multilateral group to coordinate aid for democracy. Other programs would spread literacy in the Middle East and provide loans for small businesses.
But the most difficult proposal is one that would create an ongoing forum on Middle East reform, similar to the 1975 Helsinki accords that set up a dialogue on human rights between the Soviet Union and the West. Arab leaders see this as a continuing platform for the US to badger them.
No doubt continuing US pressure is needed. Already, since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, reforms are in the works. Kuwait may soon become the third Arab state to give voting rights to women. Saudi Arabia is at least talking of local elections.
And Israel this week endorsed the start of a pullout from Gaza, perhaps a critical step to creating a Palestinian state and one that deserves a positive response from Palestinian leaders.
Laying tracks for reform, however, requires the US to do its part. It must work hard for Israel-Palestinian peace and leave a functioning elected government in Iraq. US money given to Arab reformers will only be welcomed if the US leads by example.