The Foreign Policy Issues We Must Elevate

Posted by Eddie Bejarano on October 28, 2015 in Blog

On the second day of its National Leadership Conference in Dearborn, Michigan, the Arab American Institute brought together three foreign policy experts to discuss an assortment of pertinent foreign policy issues. John Zogby, founder of the “Zogby Poll” and the Zogby Companies, Steve Clemons, Washington editor at-large for the Atlantic, and Stephen Grand, Executive Director of the Middle East Task Force at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, spoke to participants about the Israel-Palestine Conflict, the Syrian Civil War and the current status of U.S. standing in the Middle East.

The foundation for the panel began with a question posed by Zogby towards the other panelist. Clemons and Grand were asked what major foreign policy challenges and opportunities are facing the next President? In his response, Grand outlined the need for a complete reassessment for the next President’s foreign policy. Grand challenged the next President to go big in the Middle East, think outside the box, and try to develop a very strategic long-term commitment to the region. Grand’s view of how American foreign policy could change was exemplified when he spoke about how to address the Syrian conflict. He called for a robust U.S. approach that works diplomatically, economically, politically, culturally and militarily, if necessary, to fundamentally alter the crisis and the U.S’ role in it. In contrast, Clemons provided an alternative assessment of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

Clemons discussed the need for U.S. foreign policy to be founded in avoiding unexpected problems and lowering risk. He suggested that the conflict in Syria was a manifestation of broader regional problems, specifically talking about how many countries in the region now host proxy wars between external rival states. Clemons attributed Russia’s increasingly muscular foreign policy agenda in the Middle East to the perception that U.S. standing in the world matters less than it used to. 

Following their general observations on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, Zogby asks both panelists to lend their views on the recent increase in violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Clemons shared his belief that there is going to be a leadership transition within the Palestinian Authority, either peacefully or violently. In his view, the recent spike in violence is a reaction to both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ inability to push the peace process, and Israeli policies. Grand suggested that it is in the interest of both Israel and Palestine to bring about an end to violence. Both panelists concluded that given the current circumstances, it is unlikely that the next President can logically invest in a peace process. 

Throughout the panel, it became increasingly clear that current U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is failing, and that the incoming President will need to profoundly alter the United States’ strategic approach to various issues. As we move closer to the 2016 presidential election, the Arab American community must stake out a position on how the next President should address the foreign policy issues that confront the U.S. The community cannot allow others to speak on its behalf. In that spirit, Clemons urged the community to use its unique stories, vignettes and people as tools to inject the Arab American voice into the ongoing conversation. As a group directly impacted by U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, the Arab American community must serve as a bellwether on foreign policy issues ahead of the upcoming election.