Analysis: A Middle East message to the new American leader

Mr. President, here are just a few of your challenges.

November 4, 2008 00:17
3 minute read.
Analysis: A Middle East message to the new American leader

Iraq bomb 224.88. (photo credit: AP)


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Dear Mr. President, congratulations! Not only have you inherited a global economic crisis unmatched since the Great Depression but you have also inherited an increasingly tumultuous and more radicalized Middle East. Experts use words like "unilateral" and "preemptive" to describe America's foreign policy in the region in the last eight years. Some simply describe US President George W. Bush's approach as "our way or the highway." Whether or not you choose a more multilateral foreign policy style, you will certainly have to contend with some pressing issues that have arisen or become exacerbated over the past eight years. Thorny issues like the war in Iraq, where more than 4,000 Americans have been killed with no clear end or resolution in sight. Issues such as Iran, which appears intent on pursuing a nuclear weapons program against the wishes of the majority of the world. And you will have to contend with them at a time that America's global and regional reputation has taken a blow as an honest, neutral and even-handed player in the Middle East. Indeed, many in the region today see the US as a country that only pursues its own interests at the expense of others. Here are just a few of your challenges:

  • Iran: This is considered your top foreign policy issue. Your challenge is to figure out how to convince Iran in the next year or two that it shouldn't go forward with developing a nuclear weapon. Sanctions have not worked due to a lack of cooperation by nations like China and Russia. Bush has been very explicit about using force as an option in dealing with Iran. However, some argue that Bush has limited America's options by leading with the threat of military action rather than by using all available tools, such as negotiations or incentives. Ultimately, however, tough decisions would have to be made in case these tools fail.
  • Iraq: Your challenge in Iraq is to diminish the American presence while keeping the country and the region stable. You know that any sort of withdrawal will neither be quick or easy. Some experts, Some experts, such as Stephen Grand of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, argue that the key would be to take a regional approach. In addition to finding a viable political settlement among the various factions inside Iraq, bringing other nations into the fold - countries affected by the conflict such as Syria, Iran and Turkey - is necessary for any long-term solution, he said. "I think that's really what has been missing in the Bush approach; a truly regional perspective."
  • Israeli/Palestinian crisis: It appears that neither side can resolve the conflict on its own and some kind of international intervention - particularly American intervention - is needed to help bring peace to the region. But American mediation efforts have failed thus far and some say foreign policy here should be reassessed. The Arab peace initiative could well be part of any future peace deal. However, any peace broker must contend with new and rapidly changing realities here: including upcoming Israeli elections and the protracted Fatah-Hamas divide in the West Bank and Gaza.
  • Syria: Syria is looking to end years of difficult international isolation while maintaining regime stability. It is counting on a new US administration that will support its peace talks with Israel. But Syria also seems reluctant to sever its ties with Iran and militants in Lebanon and the PA. Your challenge will be to help Syria - perhaps through a mixture of sticks and carrots - to end its unsavory ties with extremists and to disassociate itself from radical Shi'ite elements in Lebanon and in Iran.
  • Egypt: President Hosni Mubarak turned 80 earlier this year, raising questions about his succession and whether or not there could be a political vacuum in this country of some 80 million. Egypt is one of America's strongest and most stable allies in the Middle East, but questions remain about what role, if any, Islamist groups would play in its next government.

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