Speaking Clearly: What Should President Obama Say to the Middle East?

Stephen R. Grand
Stephen R. Grand Former Brookings Expert

January 19, 2009

The Project on Middle East Democracy asked a dozen respected American foreign policy voices to address the question: What would you advise President Obama to say to the people of the Middle East? Steven Grand’s answer follows, and the full report can be found on the project web site.

“The time has come to chart a new path in our often troubled relations. Faced with global threats that know no boundaries, we must focus on collaboration rather than confrontation. My Administration will bring a new style of American foreign policy, grounded in international law and institutions and consonant with America’s core values. America has no quarrel with the Middle East; no interest in being the region’s next imperial power; no desire to have our sons and daughters engaged in unending conflict in the region.

The United States does have enduring strategic interests in the Middle East, but the most fundamental of these should be the welfare of the region’s citizens. We as Americans share the same aspirations as you do: to be able to live in a safe and secure environment, find meaningful employment, feed our families, send our children to good schools, and to be free to pursue our own human fulfillment. Our own security as Americans will be advanced immeasurably if we can help citizens of the region realize these basic needs. We should be partners in advancing human development in the region and creating vibrant knowledge societies capable of unleashing their citizens’ full potential so as to compete successfully in the global economy.

We also have a shared interest in working together to resolve the major conflicts roiling the region: to bring a just resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, to bring stability to Iraq and Afghanistan, to ensure that any Iranian nuclear activities are strictly for civilian uses, and to counter the growth of violent extremism.

Finally, we must strive to learn more about each other. Too often raw emotion and ignorance – about our respective values, religions, and ways of life — have colored how we see one another. A new relationship must begin with greater education, mutual understanding and respect.”