As presidential nominee John Kerry formulates his Middle East policy, he would do well to learn from the mistakes of both the Clinton and Bush administrations.
Former President Bill Clinton began his tenure after the demise of the Soviet Union, and thus he was the first president to enter office following the establishment of U.S. hegemony around the globe. Accordingly, maintaining the status quo became the cornerstone of his foreign policy, which meant that U.S. interests would be served so long as the Middle East remained stable. Recently, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk pointed out that the Clinton administration promoted the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians not for its own sake, but rather as a means to uphold stability. Thus, stability was the goal and peace became merely the instrument to achieve it.
After 9/11, Clinton's Middle East policy was radically transformed. Instead of stability, the Bush administration wanted change. The existing American hegemony was deemed insufficient by Bushes advisers, who sought to expand and strengthen U.S. control over the region's oil and natural gas resources. Bush accordingly decided to change the configuration of a few Middle Eastern countries so as to advance these objectives, camouflaging his actions with noble terms like "democratization" and "freedom."
If for Clinton the peace process became an instrument to promote stability, Bush has employed war as a means to bring about change. Whereas Clinton was content with the hierarchical power relations created following the end of the Cold War, Bush set out on a crusade to extend U.S. control. The wars waged in Afghanistan and Iraq are the most evident manifestations of this policy transformation.
Despite apparent differences distinguishing the two administrations, Clinton's and Bush's Middle East policies share a few common denominators, which are ultimately inimical to vital long-term U.S. interests. Rhetoric aside, the two administrations have mistakenly conceived authentic democratization of the Middle East as a threat to U.S. hegemony, both in the domestic and international spheres.
This, more or less, is why both administrations have opposed grass-roots democracy. A democratic Saudi Arabia, for example, might ask the United States to dismantle all American military bases operating on its soil, or may even curtail the business of U.S. oil corporations stationed in the country. Such actions would, according to the prevailing logic, endanger U.S. control over the world's resources and therefore should not be tolerated. The solution, therefore, has been to support authoritarian regimes simply because they appear to be more predictable and easier to handle.
Along the same lines, both administrations have been against the democratization of the international realm, …