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


10 comments on “Rethinking A Counterproductive Dichotomy

  1. Carroll says:

    The US is talking to itself, it’s been around the talking to themselves Israelis too long. No one is listening. I said, people far far smarter than I said, long ago “that the US will not be able to control the ME, …particulary for Israel. It was only a matter of time until a real game changer emerged…and it was Turkey. And the fact that is was Turkey is gonna make the too friendly to the US throne sitters in several Arab countries very nervous for their royal potties.
    Who Wins, Who Loses if Israel Ends Its Gaza Siege?
    By Tony Karon Tuesday, Jun. 22, 2010
    A truck loaded with goods for the Gaza Strip enters the Kerem Shalom terminal, on the border of Gaza and Israel
    Israel’s announcement that it will end its prohibition on a wide variety of civilian goods entering Gaza marks the collapse of the Israeli strategy to topple the territory’s Hamas rulers through “economic warfare.” The Islamists who rule the tiny coastal strip will count the announcement as a victory simply because they survived the siege. So will Turkey, which backed the activist flotilla whose challenge to the siege ended in bloodshed


  2. Mr.Murder says:

    Post peak, the sun should set upon Saudi prominence.
    Israel’s existing as a heavy handed state actor is a non plausible lever for much the region and hemisphere. Why should we fix things if they can’t? Don’t worry about our own land’s repression, blame it on the Jews.
    Must go and gargle salt water now….


  3. James says:

    Yup. Let’s abandon the only democracy in the region
    and the only stable oil producer friendly to us, in
    order to make nice with Turkey dreaming of Ottoman
    Empire and crazy ayatollahs. Good Left-wing
    thinking, Clemmons.


  4. Cee says:

    Knew it, knew it, knew it…
    Israel Escalating Terror in Turkey?
    By Sinan | Aletho News | June 22, 2010
    On the 31st of May early in the morning, almost simultaneous with the Mavi Marmara attack, a navy logistics base in Iskenderun (SE Turkey) was also attacked by the PKK. Unfortunately 7 soldiers were killed in the attack….
    As this article is being written we have news of a bombing in Istanbul. Two soldiers and 17 year old daughter of an army officer were killed at the scene, 6 others were injured. The death toll rose to five when two more soldiers died in the hospital.
    We should not forget that US and Israel are working together as one in the area. As the whole of Iraq is occupied by US forces, we can assume that the US is also in this game. Through their proxy organization PKK, Israel and the US are playing a very dangerous game. The whole nation knows who the real terrorists are and who is behind these attacks.
    Their terror escalation policy is backfiring and uniting the different fractions in Turkey. That


  5. ImadK says:

    Reading that Kinzer states that Us should choose to ally closer to Iran and having similar democratic traditions, i wouldn’t quite agree with that, especially not now. The current regime in Iran is losing legitimacy, if anything that Akbar Ganji can be taken to be true (
    It’s kind of hard to say who the US should ally with, since none of them are hardly paragons of virtue. Saudi Arabia, Israel, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, the other GCC states, they are all that worthy of siding within a conflict. I feel that Lebanon is going on the right track though, It is a democracy (although given a strange twist by the unique confessionalism system) and is recovering from its strife cause by internal and external factors.
    I would rather that it need not seek an “ally” but treat all of these Middle Eastern countries all the same. But I perhaps am being too naive.


  6. nadine says:

    Not to worry, JohnH. The ONE thing these Arab tyrants are good at is lasting. 40 years for the Assads, 70 years for the Hashemites, 80 years for the Ibn Sauds, 25 years for Mubarak. Note: they were already repressive tyrants when they were the allies of the USSR. They’ve always been repressive tyrants.


  7. JohnH says:

    It makes you wonder how long a lot of these Arab tyrants can last. And American fingerprints are all over these regimes. The US has been their bosom buddy and eager supplier of all sorts of instruments of repression for decades. And then the US gladly arms Israel to the teeth, enabling it to do its ethnic cleansing and brutal occupation of Palestinians, which serves as a focal point for Arab anger. And, of course, Ahmadinejad never misses an opportunity to rub Arab regimes noses in it, pointing out their illegitimacy, since won’t lift a finger to help their brothers in Palestine.
    Obviously, no one would ever claim responsibility for such an idiotic foreign policy. But worse, no one in official circles seems to be able to imagine anything better!
    You have to conclude that complete Dolts overran Washington and occupied it years ago. Over course these are the same folks that presided over the fiascoes in Iraq, Afghanistan, New Orleans, Wall Street, an now the Oil Spill.


  8. nadine says:

    So it’s Bush’s fault the Arab regimes became repressive? What a hoot! What does this lunkhead Ben Katcher think they were before? At least under Bush they were in the American camp — they were all USSR clients during the Cold War. But now nobody trusts Obama for anything. They need defense against Iran, and he’s not offering any.
    Those Arab regimes should not be let off the hook for their publics’ opinions, btw — they worked hard to form it through decades of state-run propaganda. Anything to keep the ‘street’ focused on external enemies. They helped create the Islamists who threaten their power today.
    Dan, Mubarak has done damn little embracing of the US beyond taking the $2 billion a year we’ve been sending him since 1979. But you better hope he manages to hand off power to his son Jimmy since the other alternative is a Muslim Brotherhood run Egypt. Functionally, there is little difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and its spinoffs, Hamas and Al Qaeda.


  9. Dan Kervick says:

    One has to wonder how long the Egyptian regime can last. The political regimes that have most firmly embraced the US are the most decadent and repellent.


  10. ... says:

    thanks ben.. as i was saying on another thread, the real truth is a completely different matter, but it appears to matter not to american politicians..
    and in todays news
    U.S.: East Jerusalem demolitions undermine trust vital for Israel-PA talks
    Jerusalem municipal planning committee approves plan to demolish 22 Palestinian homes in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem to make room for a tourist center.


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