Rethinking A Counterproductive Dichotomy


(Photo Credit: State Department Photo by Michael Gross)
George Washington University Middle East Studies Program Director and Foreign Policy Middle East Channel Editor Marc Lynch has an excellent post up on the legacy of a counter-productive Bush administration narrative.
Responding to Elliot Abrams’ latest column in the Weekly Standard, Lynch identifies one of the key problems with the Obama administration’s Middle East policies: the United States’ decision to spin a simplistic narrative of the Middle East that depicts (U.S. supported) moderates on one side versus radicals and their patrons on the other.
This false dichotomy has reinforced anti-Americanism in the region, therefore paradoxically compelling the United States’ autocratic allies to repress their populations even further.
From Lynch’s piece:

The Arab core has been hollowed out in large part because of, not in spite of, its role in American foreign policy.
The Bush administration sought to polarize the Middle East into an axis of “moderates” — grouping Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and other like-minded Sunni autocrats with Israel — against “radicals” such as Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. The Arab leaders on which the U.S. relied mostly went along, cooperating to a considerable degree in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and siding against Hezbollah in the 2006 Israeli war with Lebanon and against Hamas during the 2008 Israeli attack on Gaza. But Arab public opinion was largely on the other side, with broad majorities of the population in most of those Arab countries angrily denouncing both the Israeli wars and their own leaders for the positions they took in line with American preferences. To contain this popular anger and to continue to help American policies (such as Egypt’s enforcing the blockade of Gaza), those Arab regimes became increasingly repressive. It is not an accident that after all the Bush administration’s rhetoric about democracy promotion, it almost completely abandoned such efforts by early 2006 after the electoral victory by Hamas, and its legacy was a Middle East considerably less democratic than when it took office.
It is also not an accident that the two most vital, energetic forces in the region today, Qatar and Turkey, are the two countries which have tried the hardest to break away from the Bush administration’s polarized world view.

Lynch’s post calls to mind Stephen Kinzer‘s new book, Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future.
Relying on similar themes, Kinzer makes a compelling argument that the United States’ strategic interests require it to realign its relations in the Middle East away from two of its principal allies – Israel and Saudi Arabia – and toward Iran and Turkey.
Kinzer argues that “for different reasons, neither Saudi Arabai nor Israel is able to articulate or promote policies that serve its own long-term interests.” The United States should instead make every effort to engage with Iran and Turkey, both of which have significant democratic traditions and offer the United States’ greater strategic opportunities going forward.
Kinzer’s argument in favor of a strategic shift is persuasive, but his suggestions regarding how to get from here to there are less fleshed out.
— Ben Katcher


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