Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.
Amidst all the attention poured on the US presidential race, a powerful new trend is rapidly emerging in the Middle East. The Middle East’s governments are increasingly taking a hands-on role in solving the region’s problems. After 7 years of the Bush Administration’s blunders in Iraq, Lebanon and Israel-Palestine, Middle East leaders feel they can no longer wait for America to get a clear-minded view of problems that would allow for practical solutions. For their own security, Middle East leaders feel compelled to solve their problems because they realize the international community will no longer solve them properly. Ironically, the massive US military deployment in Iraq has created a sort of US power vacuum in the Middle East. The Bush Administration has used up all of America’s good will and powers of persuasion and we can’t seem to get anything else done.
But it isn’t just that. Satellite television, the internet, and globalization have exposed the Middle East’s youth to the success of thriving societies in Asia and the West, and they want the same. There is a Middle East consensus from the royal palaces to the slums that what the region needs is the freedom to thrive economically and to combine technology and education, with each nation’s unique take on values, resulting in dignity and national pride. Thus, the region’s leaders feel the pressure to act towards solving problems to create the conditions for this economic success. And by solving problems themselves, instead of waiting for America to come do it for them, they raise their own standing and national dignity. This situation has been compounded by the fact that because of the Bush Administration’s Middle East blunders and heavy handed rhetoric, few leaders in the Middle East are keen to associate with the US anymore-or at least this Administration. Bush is not only the most unpopular American president in modern history at home, he also has the same standing abroad, particularly in the Middle East.
As a result, agreements blessed in Washington are no longer the gold standard. The people of the Middle East have such an unfavorable view of Bush in general, and he is viewed as having such an anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias, that any deal brokered by Washington is tainted. Regional leaders-including now even the Israelis going to Turkey for mediation-are also avoiding Washington because it doesn’t have the credibility to deliver. Indeed, the recent trend started in February 2007, when the Government of Saudi Arabia tried to broker a deal between the two main Palestinian rival factions: the secular nationalist post-Arafat Fatah, and the conservative religious group Hamas. Although the talks failed, they are thought to have been conducted largely without deep nor detailed American involvement.
Then in late 2007, the Gulf Cooperation Council invited Iran’s President Ahmadinejad to attend the GCC Summit, marking the first time an Iranian leader had attended the Arab meeting. In the past month we saw the successful Lebanese National Dialogue in Doha, Qatar whereby Qatar and the Arab League invited Lebanese factions to Doha to mediate an agreement. Almost simultaneously, the world also witnessed the resumption of Israeli-Syrian exchanges under the auspices of Turkey. All of these meetings essentially have been seeking to diffuse the underlying US-Iran tensions in the region through local means, in an effort to keep the Middle East safe, secure and growing economically.
Although the trend of Middle East leaders taking increasing responsibility for their own problems is likely to stay-and the world should welcome that-only a new president in Washington will have the chance to restore American credibility. The new US president’s task will be to extricate the US from Iraq in an honorable fashion, encourage Israeli-Arab peace, and conduct America in a manner that restores its moral leadership-and makes Washington once again the place in which people around the world place their hopes, their respect, and their aspirations.