Beyond Iraq: Haass and Indyk on a New Mideast Strategy for the Obama Administration

December 5, 2008

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U.S. policy toward the Middle East has been dominated by Iraq for the last six years, but this is no longer necessary. Instead, the United States should focus on curtailing Iran’s nuclear program and "promoting peace agreements between Israel and its Arab allies, in particular Syria," argue Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, in a new article from the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs, "Beyond Iraq." The potential for Syria’s strategic realignment would benefit the effort to contain Iran’s growing power in the region, "reduce external support for both Hezbollah and Hamas, and improve prospects for stability in Lebanon. On the Israeli-Palestinian front, there is an urgent need for a diplomatic effort to achieve a two-state solution while it is still feasible."

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"What all these initiatives have in common is a renewed emphasis on diplomacy as a tool of U.S. national security policy, since the United States can no longer achieve its objectives without the backing of its regional allies as well as China, Europe, and Russia. Some might argue that these efforts are not worth it...but such arguments underestimate the Middle East’s ability to force itself onto the U.S. president’s agenda regardless of other plans. Put simply, what happens in the Middle East will not stay in the Middle East. From terrorism to nuclear proliferation to energy security, managing contemporary global challenges requires managing the Middle East."

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"The Bush administration succeeded in ousting the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, but in the process it removed Tehran’s most threatening enemies and inadvertently opened the door to an Iranian bid for regional primacy. Arab governments feel they are seeing a historical replay of Persian efforts to dominate their region and fear that newly empowered Shiite communities in Iraq and Lebanon, backed by Iran, will inspire long-suppressed Shiite communities in other countries in the region, such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Israel, Turkey, and Arab regional powers see Iran embarking on an aggressive effort to acquire a nuclear capability that the international community seems powerless to stop."

"To allow more time for diplomatic engagement to work, therefore, the Obama administration will have to persuade Israel not to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities while U.S.-led diplomatic efforts are unfolding. That will require enhancing Israel’s deterrent and defensive capabilities by providing it with a nuclear guarantee as well as additional ballistic missile defenses and early warning systems."

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Published by the Council on Foreign Relations since 1922, Foreign Affairs is the leading publication on international affairs and U.S. foreign policy. The total paid circulation of Foreign Affairs has reached an all-time high of 160,000 per issue, a 42 percent rise since 2001. The premier business-to-business research firm Erdos & Morgan also ranks the magazine #1 in influence by U.S. opinion leaders in a national study of publications. Inevitably, articles published in Foreign Affairs shape the political dialogue for months and years to come.

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