“Prioritizing Democracy: How the Next President Should Re-Orient U.S. Policy in the Middle East”
On Wednesday June 20, Shadi Hamid, Director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center, published a policy paper entitled, “Prioritizing Democracy: How the Next President Should Re-Orient U.S. Policy in the Middle East.” The piece examines the Obama administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East and makes several policy recommendations for the following administration toward improved policy in the region.
Hamid argues that what was initially a major strength for the Obama administration has become a potential liability. In the future, “the United States can and should provide critical support to Arab countries transitioning to democracy,” adding, “After supporting autocratic regimes for more than five decades, the United States has a second chance to get it right and, in the process, build considerable goodwill among Arab populations and the governments they elect.” Whatever the results of the upcoming presidential election, the U.S. should: articulate a comprehensive strategy toward the Middle East that prioritizes democracy promotion; institutionalize democracy promotion by coordinating the funding of a multilateral “reform endowment;” Pursue a dialogue with rising Islamist parties; recognize the window for a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is closing, and commit to rebuilding frayed ties with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
In addition, Hamid contends, the near future will provide an opportunity to improve and redirect U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. U.S. support for democratic change in the Arab world will be of increasing importance. “The aspirations of ordinary Arabs can no longer be cast aside as irrelevant to U.S. interests,” he writes, adding that in the coming years “what Arabs think and what their governments do will be much more closely linked.” However, Hamid cautions that “all the support of Arab democracy will still fail to usher in a refashioned U.S. relationship with the region if, as currently seems likely, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to fester . . . With this in mind, the United States should make clear that it stands firmly by Israel during a difficult time, while also impressing upon it the need to act sooner rather than later to make the difficult but ultimately necessary compromises for a durable peace.”