Straightening out U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East

By Hagel, Chuck | USA TODAY, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Straightening out U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East


Hagel, Chuck, USA TODAY


A WISE FOREIGN policy recognizes that U.S. leadership is determined as much by its commitment to principle as by its exercise of power. For decades, the strength of U.S. leadership has brought together allies in common cause, addressing common challenges with common action. America must approach the world with a sense of purpose that is anchored by its ideals, a principled realism that seeks not to remake each region in our image, but to help make a better world.

We must avoid the traps of hubris and imperial temptation that come with great power. Our foreign policy should reflect the hope and promise of America tempered with a mature wisdom that is the mark of our national character. In this new era of possibilities and responsibilities, the U.S. will require a wider lens view of how the global community sees us, so that we can better understand the world and our role in it.

Trust and confidence in the U.S. is about more than military might or economic power. Power alone will not build coalitions, inspire trust, demonstrate confident leadership, resolve complicated problems, or defeat the threats that America will confront in the 21st century.

After World War II, the U.S. used its leadership and power to help forge a consensus on vital international issues. We built relationships, alliances, and international organizations. By doing so, we enhanced our power and ability to influence as well as protect our national interests. These institutions are as vital today as when they were formed, although they need constant adjustment to reflect the realities of today and tomorrow. What remains unchanged, however, is the critical importance of these alliances to achieve global stability. America's past leaders recognized that the U.S.--by itself--was incapable of confronting global threats and challenges.

We must maintain a clear-eyed focus on our vital interests and understand regional complexities and dynamics as we pursue our strategic objectives. The violence during Pres. Bush's trip to South America and the reluctance of some of our neighbors to pursue a regional free trade agreement underscore this point. Nowhere is this perspective more important than in the Middle East. Ethnic currents, nationalist and religious ideologies, historical tensions, and long-running conflicts intersect to create a complex regional dynamic. For there to be any hope of peace and stability in the Middle East, U.S. policies must be based on regional perspectives and relationships.

Israel, a close friend and ally, remains threatened by some of its neighbors. Violent Islamic extremism finds refuge in Iraq, Iran, and Syria and seeks to make inroads elsewhere. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remains a threat. Political and economic reform is limited and incomplete--and the U.S. has nearly 160,000 soldiers in Iraq in support of that country's uncertain future.

As former Pres. George H.W. Bush's National Security Advisor Gen. Brent Scowcroft wrote in the Washington Post: "... We no longer have the luxury of treating Middle East policy as a series of unrelated events running on separate calendars. We face the need for simultaneous actions to avoid failed states while reducing the incentives to violence and instability that threaten American and friendly states throughout the region. Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Iran and terrorism are parts of a whole and can only be satisfactorily engaged as such. To cut through this Gordian knot will require not only a new approach but the deep, sustained commitment of the United States and a significant investment of the President's attention."

The challenges that we lace in the Middle East are more real today than a year ago. The unity of Iraq is not assured and its insurgency risks further destabilization of its neighbors. The shakiness of the Assad regime in Syria, the recent terrorist bombings in Jordan, and Islamic extremism in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere continue to pose dangerous threats to regional stability.

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