Posted by on June 10, 2011 in Blog
By Ed Gaier
Ed Gaier is an Arab American Institute summer intern working with TSD Communications.
A recent New York Times Op-Ed by Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Ray Takeyh argues that the Middle East is headed for a post-American era. In this era, the United States would ostensible have limited ability to project its power and cajole Arab regimes to pursue policies aligned with American interests. He posits that new Arab countries in democratic transitions in the “era of self-determination” will not be as subjective to American foreign policy priorities as previous alliances of patronage have been.
Takeyh is right to predict the Middle East is entering a time when American hegemony has decreasing significance and other actors are playing a larger role (as is the case in Africa and Latin America). However, he too easily dismisses the possibility of a more democratic and sovereign Middle East aligning with American interests for a peaceful, stable, and prosperous region.
Takeyh’s piece reflects old-style thinking of international relations. His analysis turns countries into two dimensional unitary actors carrying out policies with respect to one another. However, if the Arab Spring has taught us anything, it is that government policies and interstate relations are having far less influence than dynamic social movements based on common values.
Exogenously funded political groups, financed to change political systems, have had little success. The effects and ‘accomplishments’ of Islamist groups affiliated with the transnational Muslim Brotherhood or Iran’s sponsorship of Hezbollah are dwarfed when compared to Arabs‘ collective impatience with corruption, demands for political inclusion, and refusal to accept authoritarian practices as the status quo. Unlike foreign policies, there was no centralized planning behind the quick spread and immense impact of the Arab Spring. While governments may still have an impact in the “era of self-determination,” human agency and grassroots activism have been proven to be salient political factors.
Tayekh is right to claim that current changes in the Middle East present uncertainty for American relationships. However, this transition presents the opportunity for Americans, and particularly Arab Americans, to help reshape the relationship between the United States and the Arab World. Our ability to build long term alliances based on common values of sovereignty, political participation, and economic opportunities begins with our participation here at home. This is why working to increase Arab American participation in politics and curbing anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments carries more than just a domestic significance.
Arab Americans can provide valuable insight, expertise, and personal experience to help evolve our policies toward to the Middle East. Equally important, Arab Americans provide direct links to people in the Arab world, and are often a valuable resource to connect with overseas communities for a variety of purposes. Without that connection, the shared interests and values of the United States and the Arab world may not receive the attention and support they require. If Takeyh is proven right, and the Arab world does go its own way, it will largely be due to our own unwillingness to bridge the divide with the resources we have at hand. It will be our failure, and not theirs.