A reset is in order for our policy in the Middle East. From what the two candidates for the White House have said, neither seems to grasp the fact that current policy is fostering, not stopping, the violence we continue to face there.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says we can’t protect our embassies and consulates in the Middle East with armed guards alone.
She is right. But she proposes no solution. The only way we can function in the region is on the basis of a relationship that does not produce violence against us. We cannot in good conscience leave well-intentioned officials like Ambassador Christopher Stevens as targets over grievances that relate not to them personally but to our policies.
Whoever wins the White House should order a fundamental re-think on the Middle East. Here is a modest agenda:
• Get out of Afghanistan sooner rather than later. Afghanistan will be no more capable of handling its own affairs a year or two from now. Not another American soldier should die there.
• Stop driving Iran into the ground with sanctions that are making it impossible for ordinary Iranians to buy basic commodities.
Iran may or may not be moving toward nuclear weaponry, but we can’t tell some Middle East countries to abstain from nuclear weapons while we pretend that Israel has none. If we oppose nuclear weapons in the Middle East, we must oppose them in the entire Middle East.
• Work with the governments that are emerging from the Arab Spring. We can’t control who wins elections. If we try, not only will we fail but our brand will be further tarnished.
• Take seriously the aspiration of the Kurdish populations of Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran for political solutions that allow them self-determination.
• Stop devastating communities in Yemen and in Pakistan by firing missiles from drone aircraft. The resultant killing of civilians and low-level combatants is doing us more harm than good. We are generating new cadres willing to take up arms against us.
• Promote reconciliation in Syria by proactive diplomacy, before the two parties reduce Syria to something no one would care to govern.
Our current approach on Israel/Palestine is perhaps the most significant spur to violence against us. Gen. David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples“ in the Middle East.
A “to-do“ list on Israel/Palestine should start with the following.
• Work through the U.N. Security Council to force Israel out of the Palestinian West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights. Own up that we knew in 1967 that Israel was not acting in self-defense when it attacked Egypt, the West Bank and Syria. The State Department’s own declassified 1967 documents that show that Israel’s claim of self-defense is fraudulent.
• Restate the position we took in the 1970s, but which was abandoned in the Reagan administration, that Israel’s settlements in the Palestinian West Bank are illegal and must be dismantled.
• Restate our long-standing, but recently ignored, position that the Arabs forced out of Palestine in 1948 have a right to be repatriated. Contrary to what many pundits say, this core issue in the Israel/Palestine conflict is quite resolvable.
• Vote in the U.N. Security Council for Palestine’s admission to the United Nations. Stop telling Palestine to negotiate its own existence with its adversary. Palestine has been functioning as a state for years, despite the occupation of its territory by Israel.
What will we gain from these initiatives? We still stop generating terrorist violence against us.
We should stop shooting ourselves in the foot. A reset by the next administration could go a long way toward protecting our interests and our personnel in the Middle East.
John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University.