Real Diplomacy: Strategies for the Middle East and North Africa

By Richardson, Bill | Harvard International Review, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Real Diplomacy: Strategies for the Middle East and North Africa


Richardson, Bill, Harvard International Review


I: We would like to begin by discussing the current turmoil throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In general, what do you believe is the appropriate diplomatic role for the United States and the United Nations in responding to such regional instability for example, in terms of the physical presence we establish abroad? How much intervention is too much?

R: Any intervention should he in the national interest of the United States. There are cases, such as Libya, where an intervention on humanitarian grounds in this case, to avoid a humanitarian carnage is appropriate, and I believe that President Obama took the appropriate steps for limited intervention by air strikes as part of a NATO coalition authorized by the UN Security Council to avert a potential humanitarian catastrophe and to destroy Qaddafi's air defenses and incapacitate the army, which were clearly set to try to eradicate and kill the opposition. So, in this case, the United States intervened and it was the right decision--whereas I believe, years ago, we were wrong in not intervening to avoid another humanitarian disaster in Rwanda.

I: The United States also has an economic motivation in promoting stability in the Middle East. How do you believe we should negotiate these interests in terms of making sure our actions there are in the best interest of the civilians?

R: It is important to state what our principal interests in the Middle East are. We want to protect our alliance with the state of Israel and maintain our commitment to the Israel-Palestine peace process. We want stable, moderate Arab states. We do want to assure for the West and for the United States a stable supply of oil, of energy--that is an objective, it is inevitable.

Another goal is to try to bring democratic systems. It has been [one of our] stated bipartisan goals to promote democracy, especially among repressive regimes that don't take care of their people or give their people a democratic voice. It affects our security if so called friends of the United States that are repressive are toppled. So, what is best is a security friendship with these countries, but also these countries reflecting our ideals of human rights and democraty--of democratization of society, free and fair elections, free press, and respect for human rights. Those are in our interests.

I: Our next question pertains to your extensive experience in diplomacy as a former US Ambassador to the United Nations. After being involved in very sensitive negotiations with countries like Afghanistan and North Korea, what would you say are the best strategies in our diplomatic arsenal for dealing with these countries?

R: My main point is that we should engage these countries--not try to isolate and demonize them. In many cases, these are rogue states, but I believe diplomacy, dialogue, and negotiation are far better than military intervention or threats. I think there are several ways to justify US foreign policy, and for other countries to accept our goals, I believe dialogue without preconditions--as President Obama said when he was running for President--makes sense. …

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