America Should Not Be AWOL in the Middle East

White House/Chuck Kennedy

President Obama, with Secretary of State Clinton, delivers a statement, 9/12/12.

Article Highlights

  • It is not the job of the US to reeducate the populace of the Islamic world. @DPletka

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  • It is the job of the US to promote American values, & to reward those parties & countries that honor those principles.

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  • Over the last 3 years the US is perceived to be disengaging from the Middle East. @DPletka

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  • “We may not always win the fight of western liberalism against Islamist extremism, but we could try much harder.” @DPletka

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It should not require the murder of an ambassador and three of his American colleagues to inform the Obama administration that there are extremists in the new Middle East (as in the old), and that we have an interest in ensuring they find no purchase in the new Arab democracies of the region. Yet the history of American involvement in the region since the president reluctantly ordered the military into NATO's operations to support anti-Qaddafi rebels has been one of steady retreat.

"It is the job of the United States to promote American values, and to reward those parties and those countries that honor those principles by protecting political and religious freedom, minority rights and free enterprise." -Danielle PletkaIt is not the job of the United States to reeducate the populace of the Islamic world, nor to rig voting to ensure the election of congenial dictators. It is the job of the United States to promote American values, and to reward those parties and those countries that honor those principles by protecting political and religious freedom, minority rights and free enterprise. The United States remains the most powerful nation in the world, notwithstanding efforts to absent ourselves from the global stage. We have ample tools -- in our diplomats, in our aid dollars, in our moral suasion and, yes, in our military might -- to help affect the course of events.

Nonetheless, over the last three years the United States is perceived to be disengaging from the Middle East. In part, it was the enthusiasm with which Obama quit Iraq; in part it has been the failure to halt Iran's quest for nuclear weapons. But there are other signs as well, including the continuation of aid to Egypt despite ominous signals on everything from women's rights to the growing presence of terrorists on Egyptian soil, the unwillingness to support Syrian rebels in any meaningful way, the emphatic emphasis on a pivot to Asia despite the ongoing turmoil of the Arab world, and most important for many Arabs -- paradoxically, perhaps -- the downward spiral in relations with Israel.

America cannot prevent every tragedy, nor can we assure ourselves of the affection of every Middle Eastern citizen. But we can have a policy in Iraq that fights Iranian influence, a policy in Egypt that incentivizes liberalism among elected leaders, a policy in Syria that hastens the fall of Assad and promotes the rise of moderates, a policy that punishes attacks on our embassies that take place unimpeded by the local government (see Egypt), and a policy that rewards the values we cherish and punishes extremism. And yes, those policies can go hand in hand with a military strategy that attacks our enemies where they live. We may not always win the fight of western liberalism against Islamist extremism, but we could try much harder.

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About the Author

 

Danielle
Pletka

  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.


    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


     


    Follow Danielle Pletka on Twitter.


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