Trump and Clinton.
(photo credit: screenshot)
A newly elected US president means new directions, new policies and new proposals for solutions in the Middle East. Will this new president, number 45, be better or worse than previous presidents? Only time will tell.
It is essential that the new president of the United States not stumble into the same traps and commit the same blunders that previous presidents have.
The first and most important question that needs to be asked and answered is whether the new president will choose to engage with the Middle East or to disengage. Partial engagement is not an answer, it is a recipe for failure. This is an axiom for the entire Middle East, not just for the Israeli/Palestinian issue. The recent history of US interaction has been partial engagement – and total frustration.
The next US president needs to understand the history of nation building – its failures and its successes.
Before trying to change a society and build nations this president needs to understand why the policies of previous presidents and administrations failed so miserably.
Recent administrations in Washington, DC, have been banging their figurative heads against brick walls trying to create mini-Americas in the Middle East, without understanding the Middle East and the reasons why democracies succeed.
Drafting constitutions and getting the right laws passed in the newly formed governments has not worked, and will never work.
Real emphasis should be placed in two areas. First comes teaching about democracy. Understanding that democracy is less about voting and more about responsibility, accountability, respect, equal protection under the law.
Next comes building democratic institutions using the natural biases of each society, not the natural biases of the US of A. Identify power centers and then build institutions that play to the strengths of the already existing environment. That is what makes the transition to democracy palatable and easier. That was the formula of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson when they successfully created the US model.
Power groups need to be recognized and then brought into the system and allowed to check and balance one another. History has proven the success of this formula, In the US there are three large powers.
They were the cornerstones for the formation of the first government – a commercial wealthy class, a working middle class and the individual states. The Jeffersonian and Madisonian model was to create a Senate representing the wealthy, a House representing the working class and powers to the states that eclipsed even the powers of the federal government.
In England there were two powers, the elite upper class and the huge labor class. That explains the creation of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
In Asia, in Japan and in South Korea they had a different power source – a monarchy. The monarchies were disbanded but retained power, influence and prestige. They retained it through their involvement in banking and a close connection to government, which brings stability. And an upper house and lower house were created.
Just calling for elections in Iraq or in the Palestinian Authority or for that matter in Syria is a proven and guaranteed recipe for failure.
In Iraq powers need to be balanced.
There is a major Shi’ite-Sunni-Kurdish divide. A Shi’ite House and a Sunni House and a Kurdish House need to be established. Power needs to be given to local leaders, who need representation, too. Strong local and regional systems and a loosely defined national government will work.
Imposing national government norms and enforcing them will fail.
All that does is accentuate the centuries of divisions, not ease them or permit them to work together for mutual gain.
The same is true for the Palestinians.
Their power base is found in local and regional communities and among elites from the cities. Not utilizing local leadership and the families who have controlled their villages and towns for centuries will guarantee massive failure and resentment.
The new president of the US can play a significant role in the Middle East. Playing that role means recognizing real power sources already in place. It means empowering those sources to be part of the balance of power and the system of checks and balances that insure that good ideas are acted upon and bad ideas are not.
Recent Washington administrations have been short on understanding when it comes to the Middle East.
Hopefully, this president and this administration will be different.The author is a political commentator.
He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud. Follow him on Twitter @Micah- Halpern.