Orwellian name of the week: Middle East Transitions office

Let me get this straight. Washington spends the last decades backing any dictator who could be bought or bribed. Its image in the Muslim world couldn’t be lower. And now it wants to “help” the move towards democracy (via The Cable)?

The State Department has opened a brand-new office to manage U.S. policy toward countries attempting democratic transitions in the Middle East.

William Taylor, senior vice president for conflict management at the U.S. Institute of Peace, has moved over to Foggy Bottom to lead the new office, called the Middle East Transitions office, which began operations this week. His deputy is Tamara Cofman Wittes, who is now dual hatted, also continuing on deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. Taylor’s chief of staff is Karen Volker, who is leaving her job as director of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) to join the new office. MEPI also falls under Wittes’ portfolio. Taylor reports up to Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.

In a Monday interview with The Cable, Taylor said his office will begin by leading State Department coordination on policy toward Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, the three Middle East countries that are trying to make the shift from dictatorship to democracy.

“The idea is we want to focus energy and policy attention on how we support these three transition countries,” he said. “The idea is to be sure this gets top-level attention in the department.”

Taylor’s office will have about 10 to 12 people, and he said he hopes to soon add a resident senior advisor from both USAID and the Pentagon. The office is meant to be permanent, and would expand its operations to cover countries like Syria and Yemen — if and when those countries attempt a democratic transition.

Taylor’s first job will be to lead an effort to develop support strategies for Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Then, his office will go about trying to implement those strategies by working within State, around the interagency process, and then with international financial institutions, non-governmental organizations, and stakeholders on the ground. Taylor said he will attend National Security Council meetings on issues related to his brief.

In President Barack Obama’s May 19 speech on the Middle East, he promised to work on establishing enterprise funds for Egypt and Tunisia, which are accounts meant to support start up programs and activities abroad, and said that U.S. support for democracy will “be based on ensuring financial stability; promoting reform; and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy — starting with Tunisia and Egypt.”

Taylor said that the administration was still eager to pursue enterprise funds for these countries, but that legislation would be needed to get it done.