No avoiding Mideast’s underlying issues of governance, corruption and repression


The next U.S. administration will inherit problems associated with the Middle East that are vastly more challenging than any in a generation as the old order has given way to a kaleidoscopic mix of alliances, rivalries and overlapping crises. In the past, presidents have viewed the region through the prism of the Cold War, terrorism or Israel, but those paradigms have shifted dramatically, Peter Baker writes for The New York Times:

Today there is no single overarching issue but multiple ones. Syria, Iraq and Yemen are caught up in war. Turkey and Jordan are inundated by refugees. Russia has reasserted itself as a major player in the region. Libya is searching for stability after the fall of its longtime dictator. The Kurds are on the march. Egypt is fighting off a terrorist threat at home. And Saudi Arabia and Iran are waging a profound struggle for the future of the region.

“In truth, the Middle Eastern order is so fragmented right now that grand visions are utterly unrealistic, if they ever were,” said Emile Hokayem, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies based in Bahrain. “Circumstances, not mere preferences, dictate policy making, and circumstances are dire.”

State failure and proxy war have consumed key Arab states such as Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, with massive humanitarian consequences, argues George Washington University’s Marc Lynch. Local power struggles have been exacerbated by regional and international interventions, he writes in a paper for the ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

The next American administration must act to resolve these wars and assist the reconstruction of shattered states. Rather than new military interventions, the United States should focus on the international enforcement of military de-escalation to accomplish these goals.

Amy Hawthorne, deputy director of the Project on Middle East Democracy*, said the next U.S. president should address underlying issues of governing, corruption and repression in the region. “The United States cannot on its own solve these problems, obviously,” Ms. Hawthorne said, “but we can be doing far more to help those in the region who are trying to find peaceful, constructive solutions,” she told The Times.

The argument for democratic reform in the Middle East seems harder to make today, despite the evidence for it being clearer, than it was when the Arab Spring sprung, argues Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

The violent turmoil in the region may have disabused any idealistic expectations or aspirations of Arab democratization, he told a forum at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“But if you need to be convinced by the argument of cold, hard national interest, just look at what has come to us from the places where reform was resisted,” Malinowski said – RTWT.

*A partner of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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