Monday, November 5, 2012

Middle East Memo For President-Elect Obama Or Romney

Dear Mr. President-Elect,

     Congratulations on your election/re-election.  Your term beginning in 2013 will bring with it a number of challenges both domestic and foreign.  The Middle East is likely to remain a critical area of focus for United States foreign policy during your term.  In particular, there are three major trends which will require your attention.

First, the Arab Spring will continue to test American moral authority.  The Arab Spring is ongoing and will likely continue for the duration of your presidency.  Protests demanding reform continue to spread throughout the region, including a major protest yesterday in Kuwait. As conflicts unfold, the U.S. will need to continue to play a careful supporting role in the region.  It must support peaceful reforms without interfering in countries' internal affairs.  In Syria, American moral authority is being tested and it is failing that test.  I urge you to put resolution of the Syrian conflict, which has claimed 36,000 lives so far, at the top of your Middle East agenda.

Second, Iran will continue to destabilize the region and threaten U.S. interests in the Middle East.  Sanctions are taking their toll on Iran's government and its people.  In the early days of your term, it will be important to strike a policy with the right balance of carrots and sticks to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions.  Military intervention must remain an option, but economic and diplomatic pressure are the best tools for inducing Iran to cease weaponizing Uranium.  You must work closely with Israel and strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship to ensure the success of any actions taken against Iran's government.  You must also work closely with the GCC and Gulf States, important allies in a geopolitically strategic position.

Finally, the United States must re-posture its outreach in the region.  Arab publics have never been more important to U.S. foreign policy decisions as they are in the wake of the Arab Spring.  The Arab public, like the U.S. public, hold a multitude of opinions and are often impatient with U.S. policymaking.  However, making inroads to individuals via social media and face-to-face engagement are critical steps to mitigating animosity and building trust between the Arab public and the U.S. government.  Investing in infrastructure and advising political transitions are two ways to show that the U.S. commitment to the region is not superficial, but rather part of a long-term partnership.

Mr. President-Elect, you are inheriting a Middle East in transition.  Managing these transitions to advance U.S. interests is a tricky and tedious process.  The policies explained above will preserve the United States' position as an important influencer in the Middle East.  This self-interest need not be mutually exclusive with the needs of citizens of the Middle East.  Ultimately, finding overlap between the two is the best way to ensure the long-term vitality of America's position in the region.


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