Realigning America's Relations in the Middle East

By Blakely, Andrew | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2010 | Go to article overview

Realigning America's Relations in the Middle East


Blakely, Andrew, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


THERE exists a paucity of original, creative thinking among U.S. foreign policymakers. This is the message being propagated by Stephen Kinzer, author of Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future. Kinzer expressed his concerns regarding Washington's outdated approach to Middle East foreign policymaking in a June 14 discussion at the New America Foundation.

Kinzer focused the bulk of his remarks on Washington's inability or unwillingness to adapt to a changed Middle East context. "The U.S.," he said, "is still trying to deal with the Middle East as we [Americans] wish it were." However, he argued, American foreign policy cannot continue to operate on the same assumptions. Hezbollah, Hamas and other organizations that have long been labeled terrorist and thus ignorable by Washington, for instance, are well-integrated parts of a new context that must be acknowledged.

A re-evaluation of our strategic partners, Kinzer explained, is a crucial step for the future of a successful Middle East policy. For years, Washington has expressed a clear preference for Israel and Saudi Arabia. Generally, but not necessarily, he noted, "what Israel and Saudi Arabia want, they get." In Kinzer's opinion, however, those two countries are not the most logical partners for the U.S. as far as long-term strategic interests are concerned. Emphasizing America's flawed short-term approach to policymaking, Kinzer stated that "we should be looking forward to the deep 21st century and attempt to see what is the long-term configuration we want to see in the region."

Iran and Turkey, he elaborated, are actually the most logical partners with which the U.S. could align itself. Iran, for example, has immense influence and similar strategic interests in Iraq and Afghanistan. Being a Shi'i Muslim-majority country like Iraq, sharing the same linguistic heritage as Afghanistan, and bordering both, Iran has the ability to play either the positive facilitator or the spoiler depending on how the U.S. deals with it. For its part, Turkey is economically significant and is one of the few Muslim majority countries with ties to Israel.

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