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A new U.S. President faces huge challenges in the Middle East. Unfortunately, he will not begin with a clean slate. Instead, some uncomfortable fabric has already been cut to fit various policy situations, and a deft tailor is needed to reconsider, redesign, and refit this ghastly, bulky, and multilayered garment we call a Middle East policy with an ear to objections from within the region. Granted, U.S. policy goals differ from those of Middle Eastern nation-states and national entities, like the Palestinians, who have not yet achieved their own states. What I noticed in a recent journey to the region was the heated tone in which different priorities were expressed, and often within a framework of rights (as opposed to the needs outlined by Dennis Ross). Saudis and Iraqis spoke from a discourse of rights to national sovereignty, and Palestinians spoke of basic and universal human rights, whereas Israelis spoke of rights to security. There were strong objections to ideas being touted in the U.S. media as great achievements on the peace or security fronts. The security force training program being pursued by Lieutenant General Keith Dayton and highly recommended by Anthony Cordesman was described by Palestinians as encouraging violations of human rights and torture, or at least as being highly divisive. These objections are quite important in light of proposals elsewhere in the region to dismantle militias and yet find a way to reincorporate their labor.
Various Arab pundits have criticized the U.S. aim to arm and strengthen the periphery of the Middle East in something like a reprise of the Eisenhower era Baghdad Pact. In this vein, many have critiqued the soon-to-be-finalized memorandum on security to be signed with the Iraqi government. Canvassing opinions in Saudi Arabia, one might expect a Saudi disapproval of Maliki‟s government, yet there was agreement on the need for a firm date for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. One must understand that the primary policy concern in Saudi Arabia is any prospect of war with Iran, and some tend to overemphasize the Maliki government‟s ties with Iran in a version of the „Shi‟i crescent‟ threat.
Read Dr. Sherifa Zuhur’s complete op-ed published by the US Army’s Strategic Studies Institute (note: clicking will open a quick-loading PDF file)