Six Ways for US to Reset Relations in the Middle East

Article excerpt

The United States has an image problem in the Middle East. Years of supporting regional dictators and occupying Iraq have undermined influence. The current upheaval provides a rare opportunity for the US to reset regional relations.For years, US strategic interests, such as securing access to oil, counting allies in the fight against terror, or countering Iranian influence, trumped anemic calls in Washington for reform. But it is actually a US strategic interest to stand up for democracy, as open countries are inherently more prosperous, capable of upholding rule of law, and stable in the long- term.Initiating military action in Libya makes a transparent vision for engagement in the region imperative. Foreign policy expert Adam Hinds lists six decisive steps President Obama must take.

The United States has an image problem in the Middle East. Years of supporting regional dictators and occupying Iraq have undermined influence. The current upheaval provides a rare opportunity for the US to reset regional relations.

For years, US strategic interests, such as securing access to oil, counting allies in the fight against terror, or countering Iranian influence, trumped anemic calls in Washington for reform. But it is actually a US strategic interest to stand up for democracy, as open countries are inherently more prosperous, capable of upholding rule of law, and stable in the long-term.

Initiating military action in Libya makes a transparent vision for engagement in the region imperative. Foreign policy expert Adam Hinds lists six decisive steps President Obama must take.

#6 Come clean about US historical support for dictators

Stop treating residents of Arab nations like they were blind to US policies. Although stifled for decades, these citizens know of America's support for their oppressive autocrats. Blanket statements today in support of liberty ring hollow and sound like opportunism. Worse yet, supporting dictators abroad and democracy at home has made us look hypocritical and undermines our standing in the Arab world.

President Obama should acknowledge that cold war struggles often dictated support for leaders who fell short of our ideals. He should also state clearly that such an era is over and that we now stand with those seeking freedom everywhere.

#5 Respect - don't fear - emerging Arab democracies

Start with respect. Recognize the democratic outcomes of these transitions and adjust views that are often to quick to label opponents as militants, creating alliances amongst those who differ with the US.

Islam and democracy are not incompatible. The US should focus less on fear of democracy in Muslim countries and more on reinventing a regional role that supports the development of governance that is responsive to local needs. Expand State Department programs aimed at promoting democracy, including the Middle East Partnership Initiative.

#4 Show commitment and funding for civilian, not just military, needs

Display the commitment and strength normally reserved for military expenditures to support civilian needs. The government spends over $5 billion per year on military assistance in the region. US assistance should focus on a youth development strategy - including promoting entrepreneurship and private-public partnerships - to assist the 63 percent of the regional population that is under 29 with unemployment rates twice the world average. …