How to forge a favorable, long-term American policy towards the Middle East
The Republican leadership in Congress killed, last week, a proposed measure spearheaded by Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Florida Republican, to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights of Syria. A media report suggests the Trump administration signaled a lack of enthusiasm for the measure to House Republican leadership. In turn, the measure was allowed to die an unceremonious death. The White House, according to reports, referenced the soon to be revealed comprehensive Middle East peace plan, which it claimed will include a provision for dealing with disputed territories.
The report did not garner much media interest allowing the administration a reprieve from a public scrutiny. If the bill were to have advanced, it would have compromised the US standing within a global community averse to fanning the flames of anger in an already unstable Mideast. The global community would be outraged, not to mention the potentially destructive reaction of the Arab and Muslim worlds. Such an outrage would be built on top of the latest global consternation following US embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a tacit recognition of the holy city as Israel’s capital.
The Pyramid and the funnel
Years of disappointment with America’s decisions toward the Mideast can only be understood as a symptom of structural issues plaguing the US-Mideast relations. Arab governments deal with the US in a style that mirrors their own political structure, a hierarchical one. While this doesn’t preclude it from having a healthy and dynamic partnership, it makes adjusting the emphasis of the diplomatic effort a necessity. Governments dealing with the US need to devise more effective strategies as they account for internal balance of powers. The power is held at the top of the political pyramid in the Arab world, while the political structure in the US is a funnel-like structure (an upside-down pyramid).
On the top of this American funnel reside the people. As a result, the “people” affect the trajectory of US decisions, especially in the long run, more truthfully than that of the occupant of the White House. It must be understood that the power of the people is delegated to their Representatives in Congress to run the daily legislative affairs of the nation. This reality gives Congress, as the representatives of the people, elevated influence and authority to hold the Oval Office accountable for its decisions. They keep the President honest as they collectively, through their representatives on Capitol Hill, pose a balancing power to that of the President.
Iran’s “malign” activities in the Middle East are facilitating an additional aspect toward a stronger alliance of convenience between the US and friendly Arab governments. Those Arab governments are riding an American wave of opposition against the Iranian regime. Again, this is a government-to-government alliance, but more importantly, it offers an opening to establish a deeper partnershipWalid Jawad
Indeed, the US President is considered to be the most powerful man in the world (relative to other heads of state), but his powers are not absolute. Far from it, there is the balance between his office as the head of the Executive branch and that of the Legislative (Congress) and the Judicial (Courts) branches. This balance is only one aspect of the checks on the White House; the other is the election cycle where the people voice their opinion every four years. The stakes are higher in reelection bids for a presidential second term. People cast their ballots in what amounts to a referendum on the job performance of the President.
In reality, the American people don't have to wait that long to voice their dissatisfaction with the performance of the President; midterm elections are opportune. Case in point, the upcoming midterm elections to be held in November 2018 that will serve as a referendum on Trump and his Republican party.
Members of the House of Representatives are elected every two years. This short tenure forces them to be sensitive to the wishes of their constituency if they wish to win another two years in Washington. Senators, on the other hand, are more deliberative as they have to shift their focus to the elections every six years. Senators balance the emotions of the day against longer-term objectives within the margins of the prevailing will of voters. It is precisely here that Middle East governments can gain or lose the most. Israel understands the game. Presidents and legislators come and go, but the will of American people outlasts them all and Israel has won the American people over. Jewish Americans recognized the power of the role they can play, and they’ve played it well.
Of course, Jewish-American successes made the political environment less conducive to Arab causes. Members of the Arab-American community are not driven by the Israeli-Palestinian state of affairs, or by much of what is going on in the Arab world. The exception being those new immigrants who are still fighting for the people they left behind. In general, politically active Arab-Americans are as fragmented as the Arab world itself. Jewish-Americans in comparison, view the survival and well-being of the Israeli state as an existential issue. Arabs are operating from a deficit dealing with this specific conflict. But there are other conflicts that may unify the Arab cause better.
The Iranian foe
Iran’s “malign” activities in the Middle East are facilitating an additional aspect toward a stronger alliance of convenience between the US and friendly Arab governments. Those Arab governments are riding an American wave of opposition against the Iranian regime. Again, this is a government-to-government alliance, but more importantly, it offers an opening to establish a deeper partnership. If Arab governments are unable to find ways to seize on this opportunity to forge a political friendship with the American people, they will continue to be at the mercy of the morphing marriage of convenience; energy and security. Now is the time to work on a partnership with the America people and not only with their Republican Party representatives or just with a specific president.
The upcoming midterm elections should serve as a reality check realizing that the party of president historically loses in midterm elections; playing a political roulette whenever US elections come around is never a reassuring political strategy.
Saudi Arabia seems to understand this dynamic. The three-week-long visit by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and his TV interviews were a good start. Now that a door has been opened, it's time to cross that threshold and commit to the hard and long work that is required; connecting with the American people on a personal/human level and with congress on a functional level to advance shared values and mutually beneficial outcomes.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.