TWQ: Fix This Middle Eastern Mess - Fall 2008
October 1, 2008
No region of the world has been more shaken by U.S. policy over the past decade than the Middle East. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has unleashed Shi'a-Sunni tensions, empowered Iran, and spread refugees and violence to Iraq’s neighbors. The U.S. push for democracy in the region has backfired and mostly harmed the very dissidents that the United States intended to empower. Hamas and Hizballah, militant groups labeled as terrorist organizations by the United States, have gained power and prestige at the expense of U.S. allies. Iran has made huge strides in its effort to master nuclear power, stirring fear among its neighbors. The perceived tilt in U.S. policy toward Israel has become even more pronounced, leaving intense anger at the United States in its wake. Opinion polls consistently show that respect for the United States across the Arab world has reached its lowest ebb in decades.
After all of this, what role would the people and governments of the Middle East want the United States to perform in the next administration? The first reaction might be a simple reflex: leave us alone. Yet, Arab leaders would then fear the United States might actually take that advice. From their perspective, the only thing possibly worse than the United States meddling is the United States disengaging, so the real answer might be, "Fix this mess." <p>....What the region needs and wants from the United States is sophisticated diplomacy, which has been in short supply in recent years. The United States, for instance, has promoted the idea that there are two strains in Middle Eastern politics: "moderate" states and "extremist" states. This construct is naive, in a place where alliances change as quickly as the desert sands and where "moderate" Saudi Arabia actually has one of the worst human rights records in the world. U.S. diplomacy should not be constrained by arbitrary rules or constraints but must be unleashed, if only to test the possibilities of more creative solutions.
Interestingly, the region is already demonstrating that it cannot wait for a change in administrations. Despite deep misgivings by the United States, Turkey has brokered indirect talks between Syria and Israel while Egypt has arranged a truce between Israel and Hamas. Just as Iran has stepped into the power vacuum left by U.S. distraction over Iraq, so too have allies concerned about the dangers left unchecked by U.S. drift and vacillation.