Obama's Reverse-Pivot to the Middle East Offers Yet Another Opportunity for "Change"
by Younus Abdullah Muhammad
President Obama's well organized speech in front of the UN General Assembly on September 24, 2013 was marked by an apparent recognition that the ensuing battle for the future of the Middle East, as opposed to Asia, will determine the near-term geopolitical future and balance of power in the world for at least a generation to come. Up unto that point, Obama's Mideast policy had been, by design, mostly rhetorical, meant to salvage the Muslim world's public opinion as much as possible while pivoting the loci of US concern to the projected high-growth economies of East Asia. Mideastern interest was mostly confined to preserving the US's unspoken military dominance in the Gulf and increasingly East Africa.
President Obama's election once spurred some early "hope" that US-Mideast relations would alter but as scholar Fawaz Gerges has described it, "contrary to the public perceptions, Obama's lofty rhetoric about a new start in relations between the United States and Muslim countries did not signify that the region ranked high on his foreign policy agenda. When Israeli-Palestinian peace talks proved much costlier than Obama and his advisers had foreseen, the president first allowed his vice president to be humiliated by the Israeli prime minister and then awkwardly disengaged from the peace process, thereby undermining his own credibility and doing consequent damage to America's prestige and influence. So while Obama has invested some political effort on Mideast diplomacy, he has shown himself unwilling to do more to achieve a breakthrough. The decision speaks volumes about the administration's foreign policy priorities, as well as the decline of American power and influence in the region." (Obama and the Middle East, 2012, p.11)
Nevertheless, Obama's latest UN address seemed to offer a 'reverse-pivot' and path to serious reconcentration. In the speech Obama explained that the US "will be engaged in the region for the long-haul" and he suggested that reengagement will center around reinitiating the Israel-Palestine peace process and resolving the Iranian nuclear issue. Now, after five years of reduced focus, and in turn influence, from all but the region's major oil producers, the Obama administration has recognized that its withdrawal has created conditions under which foreign powers have emerged and through which regional discord, civil conflict and divide have exasperated. Today stark division subsists not only between Sunnis and Shiites, secularists and Islamists, but also increasingly between a politicized and militant social underbelly and their elite and traditionally Western-allied counterparts.
Obama's speech offered one very promising principle that could slowly mediate such clash. While addressing the unfolding conflict in Egypt, Obama expanded the definition of American interests beyond oil, Israel and neoliberal economics to include support for the development of government that "legitimately reflects the collective will of the people." If realized in practice and policy, that would prove a major alteration that might initiate a new era and style of American diplomacy. In the end, long-term lessons might be learned that document concern with the promotion of pluralism and representative governance leads to mutually beneficial engagement while real politick masked in rhetoric more often than not results only in entanglement and eventual catastrophe. If the past five years are any indication Obama's words will prove merely a rhetorical tool, an attempt to deflect the enhanced awareness that Obama really has not had a Mideast policy. Whether because of that reality or in spite of it, the center of gravity in international affairs has clearly shifted back to the Middle East. Any actual connection between the U.S. hegemon's vital interests and support and aid for authentic representative government, with all the plurality and risk that necessarily accompanies it, would not only represent a major change in course but may usher in an era led by America in the Middle East.
The Obama presidency began with an order to close Guantanamo Bay. In June of 2009 he went to Cairo and called for a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims." But, like his promise to close the Guantanamo Prison, his efforts to improve relations have proven overblown. It is important to recognize that Obama did not, at this time, link democracy promotion to the national interests of either the US or the people of the Middle East. In his Cairo address he stated, "I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by another." As opposed to his democratic primary opponent Hillary Clinton, now-President Obama actually rejected a policy of democratization and reform initiated by President Bill Clinton in the 1990's after it became apparent that political Islam was on the rise and the days of Arab authoritarianism were numbered. Instead, Obama called Mubarak a "stalwart ally" and when the Arab Spring protests rent asunder in Tunisia and Egypt his Vice President Joe Biden refused to label Mubarak a dictator. In actuality, US reaction sought to subvert Egyptian protests and first to replace Mubarak with his vice president, Omar Suleiman. They maintained support for Ben Ali in Tunisia until his departure and continue to support oil-rich autocrats in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. They increased military support and cooperation in Yemen even after the regime started firing on protestors and then were pressured by Britain and France to intervene in Libya before remaining totally lethargic so far with regard to Syria. Contrary to the popular American narrative, the number one obstacle in the way of Obama's actual foreign policy strategy has been the surging demand for democratically-minded transformation across the Middle East.
Despite the recent reversion to authoritarianism and other complications, any lasting US influence in the Muslim world "for the long haul" will necessitate both policy and practice that tracks closer to the democratic oratory espoused by Obama's teleprompter. Egypt, home of a quarter of the Arab world's population and arguably its cultural center, represents the best opportunity for such alterations. At the same time it is a case study in American hypocrisy. In Obama's UN speech he argued that in Egypt Mohammed Morsi was elected but "proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was mutually exclusive." The President said nothing however of the reempowered military junta presently running the country with its long experice in autocracy. And Obama emphasized that the US "purposefully avoided choosing sides" while failing to mention that by refusing to classify the intervention as a coup the US has clearly made its decision. "We have determined that it is not in the best interests of the United States to make that determination," as he put it before. He then went on to connect US interests to the support and aid of government reflecting the "collective will" of the Egyptian people. However, "collective will" is a vague term that can easily be manipulated in definition, away from one that supports government for the people by the people and into one that serves as a cover for a return to elite dictatorship protected by sustained US assistance.
So far US policy has show no sign of promoting actual pluralism. In August, Secretary of State John Kerry described the coup in Egypt as "restoring democracy." That was right before the regime gunned down hundreds of nonviolent, pro-Morsi protestors, classifying the women and children killed as terrorists, rounded up the leaders of the nonviolent Muslim Brotherhood and imprisoned them on trumped up charges, shut off free expression, closed down television stations, imposed curfews and reset emergency laws from the Mubarak era. As the late Christopher Hitchens succinctly described it, most nations are states that have militaries but Egypt is a military that has a state. The root obstacle now to pluralism and government representative of the collective will in Egypt is in fact the 'deep state' that revolves around the military. In reaction to the clear coup, the Obama administration merely canceled a joint military exercise, temporarily reviewed the $1.3 billion in military aid before sustaining the bulk of it and has sat idly since as all genuine political plurality has been subverted. For their part, the EU conducted an "urgent review of Egyptian relations" partially suspended the export of military equipment and continued most of a $5 billion package in loans and aid to support "democratic transitions." Such assistance will further entrench the return of Egyptian totalitarianism.
These efforts at 'democracy restoration' do not represent the plurality of either Arab or Egyptian thought. Neither the Egyptian military or US government has ever supported Mideast publics. In reality, such manipulation is part and parcel of a sustained suppression of political Islam that has hallmarked the West's creation of the modern Middle East through the secretive Sykes-Picot accords of the first world war era. The preference for Arab authoritarianism has only heightened since it became clear in the 1990's that any free and fair elections would bring Islamists to power. The interim Egyptian government has issued a "road map" to restore elections. However, that road map was drawn up absent consultation, even with members of the anti-Morsi coalition busy slogging that the people and the military are "one hand." The interim government announced a 50-member panel that will draft a new constitution, but that panel will include only two, pro-regime Islamists and so could not be realistically representative of Egyptian aspirations. The people of Egypt overwhelmingly elected Islamists in initial parliamentary and presidential elections. And while the so-called Islamist constitution of Morsi passed through national referendum, the new constitution will be put to no test other than the scrutiny of a judiciary that recently added insult to injury by releasing Hosni Mubarak from his prison chains.
The interim government is led by former finance minister Hazem el-Bablawi, a proponent of the neoliberal reforms induced under Mubarak who argues for an outright ban of the Muslim Brotherhood. Actual Egyptian political plurality, not unlike the rest of the Middle East, is extremely diverse. True liberals performed horribly in early elections but represent a growing segment of society especially amongst the youth. The National Salvation Front is a coalition of parties that range from strict secularists, to Nasserites, communists, and people of all political persuasions. The ultraorthodox salafi al-Nour party won more than a quarter of the seats in Egypt's first parliament. The nationalist al-Wafd party, present in Egypt since the days of British colonialism, has a heavy constituency and many other parties and platforms formulated in the early days after the Arab Spring. The coup and return of control to the military backed by the judiciary and its remnants of the Mubarak-age will only subvert the collective will of the Egyptian mass through a return to one-party dominance.
Much has been made about the Obama administration's embracement of the Muslim Brotherhood. Truth be told, such embracement had more to do with pragmatism than any actual support for change. The US wields tremendous global economic influence and with the Egyptian economy on the brink of collapse it wasn't hard to imagine that the Islamists early election victories would be short gained. President Morsi was no radical. He appointed General Sissi to please the US and his constitution did nothing to take away the military's powers. He shut out his salafist counterparts almost altogether. He embraced IMF loans and hosted a trade delegation for major US multinationals. US communication was always paternalistic. For example, John Kerry attached its meager financial support to Morsi's backing of IMF reform. "In light of Egypt's extreme needs and President Morsi's assurance that he plans to complete the IMF process, today I have advised him that the US will now provide the first $190 million of our pledged $450 million in budget support funds," he said. At the onset of Egyptian protests against a controversial Youtube video last September, Obama called Morsi's government a "work in progress." The Obama administration clearly recognized that the Muslim Brotherhood led government would be constrained by an obstructionist judiciary that had already dismissed a democratically elected Islamist parliament and was blocking the new constitution.
However, when Morsi issued decrees granting himself temporary autocratic powers, the Obama administration advocated for reforms that would have entrenched the pre-Arab Spring network of privilege that helps to effectively make Egypt a US client state. The administration advised that Morsi make cabinet changes and that "the art of politics is to give your adversaries something," a lesson the Obama administration will soon learn as the US government shuts down. The US maintained contact with General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi. Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel was "impressed" with the former US resident. The White House distanced itself from the coup and continued to advise Morsi to appoint a new Prime Minister. Still, their passive reaction since documents a sustained indifference to authoritarianism in the name of stability and an aversion to any type of actual Arab-world reform representative of its populace's diversity.
Obama's reverse pivot has much to do with perceptions of America's waning influence and the prospect that other powers will step in to fill the void. Any true Middle Eastern alteration, especially if achieved by Islamists moderate or extreme, would threaten an international order increasingly controlled by a global ,as opposed to a western, elite. That elite includes the Middle East's own aristocracy. Saudi Arabia, for example, a country infuriated by Obama's apparent embracement of the Arab Spring and Brotherhood, pledged $12 billion in aid to Egypt along with Dubai to support the Morsi coup. Then on August 8, as pressure for the suspension of US, EU aid intensified, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, head of Saudi intelligence and close confidante of the Bush family, appeared in Russia for direct talks with Vladimir Putin. He was no doubt there to discuss Putin's support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the Gulf Cooperation Council's push for a New Middle East modeled on preserving authoritarianism and potential future inroads for Russian military sales in the event the West pursued a course consistent with human rights. On August 9, Saudi King Abdullah donated $100 million for a US counterterrorism center as Egyptian rhetoric portraying all Islamists as terrorists paved the way for coming massacres. Such emboldened diplomacy led Egypt's military to state on August 18 that its relationship with the US and other western governments was "under review." In a sense, these gestures held the West hostage and forced them to consider the prospects for a returning power struggle along Cold War lines.
Russia would gladly replace Western arms sales in the region and any discussion of a New Middle East, along with the aid, infrastructure investment and loans that would accompany it, represents a potential threat to American dominance. Any offloading of the more than one trillion in petrodollar reserves held by Arab sovereign wealth funds could collapse America's economic imperium. If supported by Russia, in allegiance with Brazil, China, India or South Africa, an alternative international monetary order could form. OPEC nations could dismember that present order tomorrow by simply removing oil's pricing in US dollar terms. No doubt the realists that hold the actual reign of US power were properly alarmed. Consequently, it is little wonder America accepted the Saudi-induced coup and little wonder Obama no longer wants to "lead from behind" in the Middle East. The ultimate reverberations have already induced alternative solutions in Syria (Assad 'must not go now') and in negotiations with Iran, both allies of Russia.
These international connections highlight the reality that the Egyptian military's putsch represents a neo-fascist trend in international relations, marked by a merger between state and corporate power that relegates government so it serves the needs of an interconnected global elite. That growing movement, typically clothed in the rhetoric of democracy, represents the most serious challenge to the balance democratic nation states inherently offer against transnational powers. Today, from the US in the West to China in the East, national policies are increasingly dictated by globally-minded influences, from multinational corporations, a military, industrial complex, international financial institutions and other institutions that serve the primary interests (namely immediate profit) of upper-tiered income earners around the world. Under these conditions, the politics of democracy becomes a mere shadow cast on populations by the "interest" of elites. If viewed from this radical perspective, these influences become evident in the Egyptian coup.
The Egyptian Army, with an annual budget of $4 billion represents the fourteenth largest army in the world. Because the military's influence, in conjunction with the state bureaucracy, extends to every sector of society it is home to some of the most lucrative international contracts. Whether by way of interest rates paid on Egyptian bonds, the sale of weaponry, foreign direct investment or the import of subsidized American food, Egypt serves as a major stimulus for transnational capitalists. Saudi Arabia, a country General Sissi also served in thoroughly, is exemplative of the same. Saudis not only send all their petrodollars back to Wall Street and the City of London for investment, but they have signed record-breaking arms contracts over recent years.
The late Chalmers Johnson described the Saudi military nexus in his book The Sorrows of Empire (2004), "Vinnell Corp. a Northern Grumman firm in Fairfax, Virginia has had primary responsibility for training the Saudi National Guard and has, 'constructed, run, written doctrine for, and staffed five Saudi military academies, seven shooting ranges, and a health care system, while training and equipping four Saudi mechanized brigades and five infantry brigades. Saudi Arabia has, in turn, funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into major defense corporations to equip those forces." As in Dubai, Saudi's partner in the Egyptian coup, where the former CEO of Blackwater, the US's foremost private mercenary firm, resides and provides security for the regime, military equipment and training focuses on protecting the dictatorship from domestic uprising, particularly pertinent in lieu of the Arab Spring. The $12 billion in aid to Egypt will help temporarily quell an impending economic crisis but their concern with the prospects of an altered US government have nothing to do with private western power. In the weeks following the Egyptian counterrevolution, Saudi Arabia awarded $22.5 billion in infrastructure contracts to three Western-led consortiums for a metro-system in Riyadh.
Obama didn't mention any intention of promoting governments reflecting the collective will of Saudi, Bahraini, or Emirati societies. Today's US-led international military-industrial complex has outgrown what Dwight Eisenhower once referred to as its, "total influence - economic, political, even spiritual." The global elite's influence often trumps sovereign political decisions around the world and runs contrary to public opinion. Factions of that network no doubt gave the go-ahead for the Egyptian coup. Egypt's stock market rose 7% in its initial days. So when Egypt's interim ministry reestablished the national security state by gunning down peaceful protesters with live ammunition, the US president remained effectively silent and the secretary of state issued a vague and implicit message to the Muslim Brotherhood to "step back from the brink." When the military rigs future elections and reestablishes Mubarak-like rule, Egyptian liberals may realize that they effectively backed a counterrevolution and Islamists will learn again that America's rhetoric about democratization cannot be believed.
Another factor of realism weighing on Obama's repivot had to be an awareness that the Muslims Brotherhood's failure in democratic participation will prove a boon to militant, revolutionary Islam of the Al-Qaeda type. The alterations and divisions now percolating in Egypt are similar to a previous era. In the late 1980's political Islamists were gaining ground in Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan, while in Sudan a military coup installed Omar al-Basheer. Then, when the Algerian Salvation Front (FIS) won a surprising victory in first round parliamentary elections in December, 1991, it sent ripples of caution throughout the international community. Political Islam was on the rise. In realy January, 1992 the Algerian military cancelled the elections, banned the FIS and arrested and tortured hundreds of its supporters. The French backed the coup and the first Bush administration followed suit with tacit approval. Algeria subsequently descended into more than a decade of civil war that took over 100,000 lives. Today, Egypt also rests on the brink of civil discord.
Attacks on Egyptian security forces and police officers are rising. Low-level insurgent violence has increased in the Sinai and has reemerged along the Nile Valley for the first time since the 1990's.
Weapons from Libya and Syria are readily available. A 2008 cable from the US embassy in Cairo released by Wikileaks cited US analysts as claiming the Egyptian armed forces were unable to engage in combat and cited their inability to quell Islamist insurgency in the Sinai as an example. A front for militants in Egypt would only add to the appeal of groups like Al-Qaeda. In Algeria it was six months after the military cancelled elections before jihadists assassinated the interim prime minister and nine months before the first bombing. As Secretary of State Clinton put it before leaving her post, the US "has got to have a better strategy... the Arab Spring has ushered in a time when Al-Qaeda is on the rise."
Indeed that is the case. In early August the Obama administration ordered 19 embassies closed and issued a worldwide travel alert. In Afghanistan, where Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are set to declare victory at the end of 2014, casualties amongst Afghan troops are at all-time highs. The Pakistani Taliban have surged in influence and just killed more than 70 Christians in church allegedly in retaliation for US drone attacks. Three US citizens apparently took part in the recent mall attack in Nairobi. The Shabab claims to have more attacks planned. Meanwhile, jihadists flock to Northern Syria from all over the world in ways typical of Afghanistan in the 1980's. To coincide with the September 11th anniversary Al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri directed offshoots to continue focusing on attacks inside America. Intercepted communication between he and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Nasr al-Wuhaishi triggered the embassy closure. Militant Islam will only increase under the reimposition of Mideast authoritarianism. So groups like Al-Qaeda have also proved primary beneficiaries exerting pressure on President Obama to reengage.
Despite these nondemocratic pulls, Obama should utilize his last three years in office to initiate both policy and practice that promotes true reform. Initial efforts could pave the way for sustained engagement under a likely Hillary Clinton presidency. Principled policy that pushes for actual pluralism and political contestation poses an alternative paradigm, something sorely needed to break the tragic status quo. Linking US interests to government reflective of the collective will could create conditions that actuate a crosspollination in political ideology. This typically embeds secular notions of the separation between religion and state, no matter the oratory of religious parties. Defending free expression and association helps to promote political contestation over violence. These axioms make the democratic experiment attractive to people across the globe and Arabs are no exception. However, in practice US policy has consistently undermined these principles. It is time to temper America's engagement with realpolitik.
It is also important to recognize that plurality in the Middle East necessitates a role for political Islam. As Olivier Roy described it when Islamists surged in multiple elections in 2012, "Liberalism does not precede democracy; America's founding fathers were not liberal. But once democracy is rooted in institutions and political culture, then the debate on freedom, censorship, social norms and individual rights can be managed through freedom of expression and changes of majorities in parliament. However, there will be no institutionalization of democracy without the Muslim Brothers." That analysis remains true and the US must do its best to promote a return of Islamists to political participation in Egypt in ways that allow them to learn from their mistakes and hold sway.
Since its ascension after the Suez Canal Crisis in 1956, US policy in the Middle East has been marked by a dissonance and anger created by the contradiction between an espousal of Wilsonian idealism and behavior derived solely from self-interests. Under realpolitik, concrete reality not ideology shapes the world. As Dr. Henry Kissinger described it in his Diplomacy (1994), "One of the principle tasks of statesmanship is to understand which subjects are truly related and can be used to reinforce each other. For the most part, the policymaker has little choice in the matter. Ultimately, it is reality, not policy, that links events. The statesman's role is to recognize the relationship when it does exist - in other words, to create a network of incentives and penalties to produce the most favorable outcome." 50 years of failed diplomacy in the Middle East should document that it is time to realize idealistic notions of promoting government for the people by the people with more than rhetoric and absent the footprint of occupation are truly linked to US peace and prosperity. Therefore it can be argued that crafting networks of incentives and penalties to attain democratic objectives would in fact pave the way for mutually beneficial and realistic outcomes beneficial to all.
The contradiction between US behavior and its expressed belief has helped to cement a cognitive dissonance amongst the primary drivers of US policy that blocks the realization that realism has mostly failed wherever it contradicts so-called American values. Blindness of this actuality explains how a Wall Street Journal editorial, and others likely it, are able to advise a continuation of US support for the Egyptian military because it "buys access with the generals." And why it can then explain with a straight face that, "Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile's Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy." In reality, Pinochet was put in charge with the assistance of none other than Henry Kissinger and the CIA. He overthrew Chilean democracy and was ultimately charged with international war crimes. In September, 2000 the CIA was forced to finally reveal that in Chile it, "sought to instigate a coup to prevent Allende from taking office after he won a plurality." Pinochet was assassinating protestors and executing political opponents while the US sustained sales of "controversial military equipment." It took 17 years for Chile to restore democracy and today a rapacious elite continues to rein despite reestablished elections. Chile remains a country with an incredible gap between rich and poor. However, because Chile is now a part of the neoliberal order for the Wall Street Journal it is a success story. It is unacknowledged contradictions like these that allow John Kerry to describe the similar situation unfolding in Egypt today as 'democratic restoration.
The gist of Obama's rhetoric is actually not that new. His initial National Security Strategy outlined that the U.S. would, "reject the notions that lasting security and prosperity can be formed by turning away from universal rights" and that democracy "does not merely represent our better angels; it stands in opposition to aggression and injustice. And our support for human rights is fundamental to American leadership and source of our strength in the world." Additionally, in accepting his Nobel Prize, President Obama rejected "a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists" and explained, "no matter how callously defined, neither American interests nor the world's are served by the denial of human aspirations." While not even the hallmark of his UN address however, Obama's connection between the collective will of Arab publics and the national interest of the United States represents a principle of foreign policy that can be measured. It is only by surveying that record and realizing that it has consistently been opposed that one can see the prospect for positive change if Obama chooses to practice what is preached.
Such a proposition has recently been documented by American political scientist Amaney Jamal. In her important and courageous new book Of Empires and Citizens (2013) she confirms that the US has always insisted on "pro-American democracy or no democracy at all" in the Middle East. Dr. Jamal's thesis that Arab societies are "divided between the people who benefited from their leader's relationship with the United States and therefore sought to preserve the dictatorship and those that did not, and therefore sought democracy" has generated expected but unfair criticism. Nevertheless, such an empirical recognition documents that the 'collective will' of Mideast peoples has always been defined, at least in the minds of US planners, as equivocal to the perspectives of those interested in preserving the regime. Grasping these relationships leads to an understanding of how the American Empire has expanded on colonialist tools for indirect rule. As Mark Lynch, the Obama administration's chief academic advisor during the Arab Spring, put it in Foreign Affairs (May, June 2013), "If Jamal is right then much of the received wisdom of the last decade needs to be reconsidered."
No academic that wants to stay in favor can take that position however. In turn he dismisses her claims as farfetched and instead defers to neo-Orientalism, explaining that Mideast publics, and by discrete extension Dr. Jamal, suffer from 'cognitive bias' - "the misplaced belief that Washington's power to shape their lives is actually much more interesting than the prosaic truth." In reality, Lynch's dismissiveness is typical of the hubris and cognitive dissonance that helps Americans justify its role in making the Muslim world the democratic exception. Conjuring up pejorative labels like 'the Arab Street' helps the wielders of power blame the victims themselves. As Fawaz Gerges explains it, the Arab Street "is a derisive term so often used by the foreign policy community and even by the best Western journalists [that] is in great part a myth that has prevented US policymakers from examining or even acknowledging the existence of civil society politics." Realistically attending to the collective will of the people and connecting that attention to US interests would require such altered realizations. Effecting alterations in defense of the actual collective will of Mideast peoples would require a refusal to participate in authoritarianism. The use of carrots and sticks, or what Kissinger described as a "network of incentives and penalties to produce the most favorable outcomes" has always sought to preserve the status quo and in opposition to publics. That explains Obama's general failure in Mideast policy, the indifference to the Egyptian coup, and his initial disinterest in engaging at all with the faultiness his predecessor's efforts to impose pro-American democracy by force had exposed.
Promoting government that "legitimately reflects the collective will of the people" would serve US interests, especially in the long-term. Apart from seeking to reignite the Israeli, Palestinian peace process and to negotiate with Iran, Obama should make some clear, principled alterations that would have wide appeal. First, the US should immediately halt its military aid to Egypt, making it contingent on the removal of repressions and the reimposition of multiparty civilian rule open to all sectors of society. Gulf sheikhdoms may provide cash but they cannot provide actual weapons or development and while majorities in Egypt have sided with the coup, that support will twiddle away when it becomes apparent Egypt will only return to the age of Mubarak. The military and whoever might be elected to head the new regime will not be able to reimplement authoritarian rule without sustained US assistance. The immediate reaction may be nationalist and anti-American, at least from some sectors of society, but it will subsequently craft a 'collective will' that ultimately proves supportive.
At the same time, the US should arm Syria's rebels and counter Russia and Iran's massive support for the Assad regime. No matter ongoing diplomatic efforts to remove chemical weapon stockpiles, the 'collective will' of the Syrian people also needs supported. For over two years they've suffered most from Obama's disengagement. It is time to usher in an era of foreign policy distinct from Kissinger's realism. On Syria, Obama has followed his advice completely. In a Washington Post editorial from 2012 entitled, 'The Perils of Intervention', Dr. Kissinger argued against humanitarian intervention in Syria and democracy promotion on the grounds it would endanger the world order and induce lawlessness. He asked whether humanitarianism as a principle of foreign policy implied that a vital but nondemocratic nation like Saudi Arabia should be opposed simply because "public demonstrations develop on its territory." One year later, Syria indeed lay in lawless shambles with over 100,000 dead and the world order remains subject to disintegration. Kissinger's point on Saudi Arabia however leads to another necessary adjustment.
Were the promotion of 'collective will' as a principle of foreign policy actually adopted, the Saudi regime would not be opposed once public demonstrations formulated. Instead, it would be subject to immediate cessation in aid and support simply on the grounds it quells all internal dissent and serves as the primary obstacle to development. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal recently warned in an open letter to oil minister Ali Naima, "the world is increasingly less dependent on oil from OPEC countries including the kingdom." The US shale revolution implies the strategic partnership with the House of Saud is no longer appropriate or necessary; now that is true from both realist and idealist positions.
Additionally, discussions with Iran, no matter the displeasure of Benjamin Netanyahu, must continue. The last thing the Mideast or America needs is conflict in Iran that could pull the US into another quagmire or even lead to the breakout of World War III. Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani is no doubt sincere and the potential for peace far exceeds the associated risks, regardless of whether the Ayatollahs will accept the outcome of negotiations. Iran is nowhere close to developing actual nuclear weapons and rational discourse between US and Iranian officials would certainly generate valuable political and human capital, especially amongst the next generation of Mideast leaders. To that end, the US must understand that meaningful negotiations about the Israel-Palestine peace process cannot occur until the US makes sustained assistance for Israel contingent on its cessation of settlement construction. It is absolutely insane to expect the Palestinians to enter negotiations while Israeli occupation is expanding.
Finally, the effects of such an actual expansion in the definition of US interests would entail a "long haul" commitment to development. In the immediate aftermath of the Arab Spring, the US and Europe discussed a New Marshall Plan for the Middle East with Egypt as its pillar. However, to this date US, EU assistance is below the one trillion dollar mark. Yet, in his national security speech in May of this year, Obama claimed foreign assistance is "fundamental to our national security and it is fundamental to any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism." In cooperation with the rest of the international community and especially its local NGO's, a long-term plan for Mideast development should be prepared and funded and a few major initial projects should be initiated immediately.
All of this may seem idealist and the odds are that the traditional principles that have driven US policy will maintain. However, we should contemplate the long-term consequence of a sustained mismatch between our speech and action. At the same time we might also pause to question why, no matter the degree of corporate propaganda, US domestic policy also seems unrepresentative of the 'collective will' and instead caters to an elite. Absent such alterations democracy on American shores will continue to trend much closer to Egyptian totalitarianism.