Too little debate by Sheila Carapico
Although it is America’s greatest foreign policy challenge, I expect no debates this presidential campaign season on the United States’ role in the broader Middle East because there is no substantive difference between the two serious contenders on our engagement in the region. Neither the president nor the challenger is likely to put forward a fresh proposal for pursuing American interests more effectively in the future. Instead, both nominees cling to the pillars of a bipartisan Near East policy forged over several administrations, Republican and Democratic.
Even as presidential contenders pretend we are on the right track and need only stay the course, it is clear things have gone awry. Decades of work on a resolution to Israeli-Arab antagonisms have come to naught. The long-standing deal with the Saudi royal family and other Arab Gulf dynasties whereby we protect their palaces in return for cheap oil backfired, badly, in terror attacks by Saudi dissidents both here and in Arabia. The old “dual containment” of Iraq and perhaps Iran too evidently failed. Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq is stabilized, much less democratized. Osama bin Ladin and associates remain at large, their movement enlarged. Yellow alert is the new norm, and many Americans expect orange or red. The gaps and gaffs in our intelligence are truly mind-boggling, and within our security forces, not to mention diplomatic corps, political alienation is palpable. Whatever the campaign promises, these are the problems the next administration will confront, at tremendous cost. Moreover, surrounding these several distinct, complexly interwoven policy challenges is the larger question of the American role in the world in the 21st century.
What we need now, as a nation, is some trailblazing strategic imagination. And it looks as if that gauntlet may fall to scholars and students in universities and think-tanks.
Sheila Carapico is professor of political science. A specialist in the Middle East, particularly Yemen, Carapico received a B.A. from Alfred University and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the State University of New York, Binghamton. She studied for a year in Cairo and received a certificate from the South-West Asia-North Africa program at SUNY.
Moments in time by Akiba Covitz
Certain moments in time encapsulate broad ideas. Some such moments are obvious, like inaugurations or assassinations. Sept. 11 was one—perhaps the defining moment of our times.
Others are less dramatic. One took place on Aug. 10, 1990, the day Saddam Hussein declared “jihad” or holy war against the United States and its strongest ally and the sole democracy in the Middle East, Israel. Hussein, after fighting a devastating war against Iran and invading Kuwait, two Muslim countries, attempted to harness the Muslim world’s anger and resentment at America and the West. He failed. Years later, Osama bin Laden took up that call and succeeded.
Why is America involved in the Middle East? Why are thousands of our soldiers in Iraq? Why does America support Israel and its right to exist? We need the Middle East’s oil to fuel our economy. That much is simple and unlikely to change in the near future. After the first Gulf War and then bin Laden’s terrorist war, access to oil became entangled with our national need to deal with bin Laden’s brutal attacks and protect ourselves from more in the future.
Al Qaeda’s adopted home in Afghanistan was the first task. According to President Bush, Iraq was the next. At the time, a majority in Congress and in America agreed. This presidential election will likely turn on how America feels about that decision now.
Why America supports Israel is tied to how we see ourselves and our own past. According to one leading commentator on the Middle East, “In the global war against terrorism, Israel is humanity’s laboratory for testing the limits of a democracy under permanent siege.” We in America feel elements of that siege mentality. We also see ourselves in the same mold as the Israelis: two peoples whose founders searched for refuge from oppression, and who, through hard work and a sense of mission, created their respective countries against all odds.
Should we withdraw from the region? Should we leave the Israelis to their own devices? America’s preeminent place on the international stage demands that we not flee in fear. It also demands that we support our democratic comrades in arms in Israel and around the world against not militancy or extremism, but vicious terrorism.