Friedman on How to Deal with the Middle East

Unfortunately, in domestic elections it is all about “us”–but here is a look at what we should understand from the big picture:

How does the U.S. impact a region with so many cross-cutting conflicts and agendas? We start by making clear that the new Arab governments are free to choose any path they desire, but we will only support those who agree that the countries that thrive today: 1) educate their people up to the most modern standards; 2) empower their women; 3) embrace religious pluralism; 4) have multiple parties, regular elections and a free press; 5) maintain their treaty commitments; and 6) control their violent extremists with security forces governed by the rule of law. That’s what we think is “the answer,” and our race to the top will fund schools and programs that advance those principles. (To their credit, Romney wants to move in this direction and Obama’s Agency for International Development is already doing so.)

via It’s Not Just About Us – NYTimes.com.

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11 thoughts on “Friedman on How to Deal with the Middle East

  1. It is true that the United States and many of its allies have left unclear and bad impressions when they have backed up Middle Eastern dictators who have committed mass violations of human rights, yet the U.S. and its allies have advocated for the fall of such dictators in other regions of the world such as South America. It is true that the United States is highly invested in Middle Eastern oil, and that this is a major cause for U.S. interests in Middle Eastern security. Perhaps if the United States was more invested in the interests of the Middle Eastern people, it would have already more strongly advocated the six points spoken of in Friedman’s argument.

    The link I attached below is a summary of Friedman explaining that the United States should have already used the uprising the Arab uprisings in the Middle East to change and rearrange its foreign policy in this conflicted area.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/22/thomas-friedman-us-middle-east-oil_n_1821802.html

  2. AsaClements says:

    The quote from this article about a shift in Arab-Muslim thinking —This is going to be a long struggle on many fronts. And it requires a big shift in thinking in the Arab-Muslim world, argues Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., from “us versus them to us versus our own problems.” And from “we are weak and poor because we were colonized” to “we were colonized because we were weak and poor.” — has caused me to consider the shift our own thinking of the situation needs.
    I would describe myself as an idealist… most of the time. However, when it comes to the Middle East and its politics I fall much more on the side of reality. And the reality is this; The complex mix of religion, politics, history, land, natural resources, and all too frequent extremism, results in a mess too big for us to fix. And us believing that we have some responsibility to fix it is, simply misguided. This issue is so complex and messy that even trying to give a diagnostic is likely to end how performing open heart surgery on an unwilling patient 100 years ago would have: in death. The time, talent and technology are simply not in place to make any efforts in the Middle East successful. If any good does come from it, chalk it up as luck.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2012/09/14/dont-be-fooled-the-middle-eastern-riots-arent-what-you-think-they-are/

  3. Jordan White says:

    The biggest critique I have of our nation is our foreign policy. We have lived for the past 70 years with a foreign policy of believing half the world is evil and we are the only ones noble enough to stand up to the encroaching evil. Not to mention that this is extremely arrogant and prideful (the thought that any country is evil shows a gap in one’s thinking) but also it caused us to do many horrible things to “combat evil”. Many times resorting to evil ourselves. We do not base our foreign policy out of respect for others, or some higher moral code, but out of what we can get at the time. We condemn Al-Qaeda for it’s Jihad against the west, yet we funded and supplied these men, even Osama Bin Laden, in their Jihad against the Russian and praised what they were doing. We speak of freedom, but continually to support a regime in Saudi Arabia which denies freedom to most of their people.

    I know the Romney campaign is trying to make all the troubles in the Middle East to sound like it is Obama’s fault. Though, aren’t these troubles to be expected? Did our nation get freedom over night? No, it was after a lot of blood was lost, even among American killing American. Also, it was a good while before we even had a Constitution. Also, it was until Jackson that we had popular vote, then a long time before slavery was gone and only the last hundred years that we allowed half our nation the right to vote. Basically, we need to let people get through their problems. We shed a lot of blood and took a long time to get our nation to the point where all men were actually created equal. The idea that others can do it quicker without these upsets is mistake in my view. I will say I believe the President has done well to put of policy on a better path. However, I am not convinced Romney is quite in line with the Neo-conservative view of foreign policy. I think he is closer to Obama’s strategy than he is letting on.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-romney-foreign-policy-20121015,0,2683558.story

  4. zoyakrup says:

    The shift in Arab-Muslim thinking is too broad to say. What I mean is that this statement cant simply be said because not all Muslims and Arabs are exactly the same. That is like saying someone should come into the United States and say that everyone in America should practice Sharia Law because it is better than the “trashy” america that we have today.
    The United States feels it must impose their own government and democracy on the Middle Eastern countries because doing this will make those countries more peaceful and functional. I do not think this, the American view of policies, is the way to help the Middle East. The Arab culture thinks differently and views topics differently than the average american would. Their ideas of, for example, empowering women is different than it is in the United States.

    I do not believe as was commented above that these problems in the Middle East are “too big for us to fix”. The reason the Untied States is getting involved in the Middle East is because of, one, who our allies are, and two, to think that we have enough “control” so they can protect America/ns. How would you know what the average Arab person in one of these countries would want? Have you lived in their culture and understood how they think? The idea that this is impossible is a pessimistic and frankly close minded view.

    • troytessem says:

      Let’s all just remember that we must lead my example. I got a thrill when the author said, “let us stick to our principles”. That made a lot of sense to me. But then I realized that America is not sticking to its principles. We still take a “do what we want attitude” and we break the rules when it is convenient for us. We are supposed to lead the Middle East in educating their people, and yet our k-12 education comparatively is dropping. We do not fund schools, we do not give incentives to teachers. Our money does not going to education. Have multiple parties? The American system is a biparty system. Religious pluralism? Religious freedom in America is decreasing. How can we possible say that we will only help Egypt with x,y,z if they follow our standards, when we do not follow our standards?

      http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/04/opinion/barnett-human-rights/index.html

  5. cheholmes5 says:

    I agree with what has been stated before abut the complexity of the issue. But i disagree with many comments that we should try to minimize damage being done because of this complexity. The reality is that the US cannot sit around and do nothing while the Middle East tries to figure itself out. This is because this conflict is costing American lives, and while this fact remains true, so does the fact that the American government and military must be involved. This is one of the main purposes of government (to protect its citizens). That is what good government does. And because this conflict involves us, we do have a reason to try to make things happen as peaceable as possible. And because there is a correlation between those principles stated in the article make for a more peaceful country, we can at least try to help them see this correlation. However, as zoyakrup stated, this will take time because of the big gap in the thinking of the average person in the Arab countries. However, it doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t try. This poll sheds some light on how some middle eastern countries view us, which can show what might happen if we interact with this countries. The statistics not taken in the poll, but stated in the article, are particularly interesting.

    http://www.information-international.com/pdf/iipolls/2008/Foreign%20Countries%20_SEP08.pdf

  6. mitchmender says:

    Ive always wondered why foreign policy was so important, why couldnt we just stay involved in our own business. One of the best parts of this class was learning how foreign policy is so crucial for us as a nation and a people. And learning how it works in the real world. As ive been reading the New York Times I have realized the world is a lot more complicated then i have thought. I wholeheartedly agree with the six points given by Freidman. I feel the most important is education up to modern standards. Can you imagine a middle east in which education teaches about democracy and endless opportunities? It is a world like this that i have hope for and that i think gives our world the best chance at a peaceful future.

    this is a post by friendman on his idea for education.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/opinion/sunday/friedman-a-festival-of-lies.html

  7. One of the reasons American policies in the Middle East aren’t working is we keep switching back and forth from a focus on helping these countries develop to a focus on playing these countries against each other. This may have worked for a long time but it didn’t build any of the long-term institutions that Friedman talks about. A discussion of our involvement with the Middle East needs to involve oil. For better or worse, that is one of our primary reasons for being there. It seems we have such big problems relating to these countries because we aren’t straightforward with them when we go there. We tell them we will give them aid and support because we care but we really want to just create stability. Friedman is saying that stability should be a long-term goal of our policies but that short-term we need to understand that it takes a lot to make that work. Our desire to have calm immediately is what got America into the business of supporting regimes in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In order to start on the right path we should start pressuring those we can, our allies, into building democratic institutions. That way we don’t having to keep crossing our figures hoping strong democracies simply appear in places like Egypt and Libya. This article talks about Egypt’s new constitution, which is a result of there not being democratic institutions to build a democratic government.
    http://www.thenation.com/article/170447/will-egypts-new-constitution-take-country-backwards

  8. The further of the middle east lies in the younger generations. If America can begin to work with the youth, our reputation among those that live in the middle east will improve. Not only will our reputation in improve but also our overall relations. In problems of world crisis it isn’t so much what you know, but who you know that can make a difference in history.
    There is much work that can be done in the education systems in the middle eastern area. In a BBC report we get some of the specific detail on what can be done for schools.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7227610.stm
    If aid the youth to grow with a better education we will see the benefit in the long run. This is definitely a long terms plan. It seems as though both Presidential candidates a headed in this direction. This is what we need to do if we accept stronger relations with the middle east in the future.

  9. ctrmathias says:

    I agree completely with Friedman’s points. If we make it clear that the Middle Eastern countries are free to go whatever path they want, but we will only aid them if they follow those six points, I feel like the reputation of the United States will benefit. It is important that we try to get countries to follow the ideas that we deem correct, but forcing them into our ways will only lead to disaster.

    While I do not agree with the statements in this article, it presents a very different way of looking at things: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/readersrespond/bs-ed-obama-ehrlich-letter-20121016,0,6469624.story
    Too often people are quick to assume things are just for oil. I think that is an incorrect feeling, but that we are actually trying to make the Middle East a more stable region.

  10. I agree with Friedman’s points, but my view on the matter is that it looks great on paper(or i guess computer screen). The points are well thought out, but is it a viable option? I think only testing it out and time will tell. In my opinion I think it will be difficult for a lot of the countries in that area to swallow. Especially in states where there are already a lot of anti-U.S sentiment. I think one of the biggest things we have to keep in mind in foreign policy is that not everyone thinks like us. They don’t have the same thought processes that Americans do and we cannot project that we have the only “right” way of doing things.

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