The United States proudly proclaims itself the upholder of what its presidents have long termed the liberating light of democracy. Enshrining such values as free speech, transparent elections and the right to practise any religion, democracy has become America's most durable export. President George W. Bush's administration is not shy in imposing US values on other nations. Using the war against terrorism as the impetus, democracy is being touted as the solution to the world's security problems. The latest target is the Middle East. In the safe environs of the right-leaning Heritage Foundation in Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday announced a programme to modernise Arab society. He spoke of a grandiose plan of development aid and scholarships. Only $226 million in funding had been allocated, but with the blessing of Congress, billions more would be forthcoming in future years. Mr Powell did not mention Iraq, which would become the centrepiece of the scheme if Mr Bush gets his way and war is declared to topple Saddam Hussein. In the Iraqi leader's place would go a pro-American government replete with all that that entails. It is difficult not to view Mr Powell's announcement with anything other than cynicism. Mr Bush is desperate for Arab support for an Iraqi war and the promise of cash would be a powerful incentive. But even if this is not the case, believing that terrorist groups are the direct result of a lack of democracy is simplistic at best and misguided at worst. Rising anti-Americanism in Arab and Muslim countries is in large measure the result of the Bush administration's insensitivity to and inaction on the conflict between Palestinians and Washington's key ally in the region, Israel. This inaction, not merely poverty or a lack of free speech, has spawned Hamas and al-Qaeda. In Washington's eyes, gestures such as that made by Mr Powell may seem noble, but the reality is that more good can be done by addressing the core issue, not American self-interest.