The Necessity for Partnership:
The United States and the Middle East in a New Era
President of the Republic of Lebanon, 1982-1988
* * *
Address Delivered at
The Kennedy School of Government
July 7, 2003
The Iraq Intervention as a Diplomatic Revolution
Arab Perceptions: Occupation or Partnership
The Requirements of a New Partnership
The Centrality of Peace
Lebanon as the Crucible of the Middle East
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,
I would like to thank sincerely my old friend, Dean Joseph Nye, for inviting me to deliver this address.
It is always a special pleasure to return to Harvard because it gives me a chance to visit with old friends and to meet new colleagues. And of course, it is a great honor for me to have this opportunity to speak under the auspices of the Kennedy School, one of the world’s leading centers of research, learning, and debate.
Today, I would like to share with this distinguished audience my thoughts on the role of the United States in the Middle East. The importance of this subject cannot be over-stated.
The success or failure of U.S. policies in the Middle East will help determine the destiny of an entire region and will strongly influence prospects for achieving global peace in the twenty-first century. If the international community hopes to move beyond the violence and strife of the war on terror, then the many troubles that beset the Middle East must be addressed. Clearly, the Bush administration understands this reality.
I have titled my remarks “The Necessity for Partnership” because I believe that this theme—partnership—must be adopted by all sides as the organizing principle of relations between the United States and the countries of the Middle East.
When I use the word “partnership,” I am not referring to the strategic and economic bonds that have connected the United States with various Middle Eastern governments for more than half a century. Although I recognize that strategic and economic links are permanent features of international relations, the New Partnership that I am calling for is much more comprehensive in scope; it incorporates conflict resolution and peace-building, governance and democracy, dialogue among cultures, and even reconciliation based on religious and spiritual values.
The Iraq Intervention as a Diplomatic Revolution
I would like to offer a few observations on the nature of the diplomatic revolution that the United States initiated by intervening in Iraq. This revolution has been manifested on two levels: the global and the regional.
On the global level, in the wake of the recent Iraq war the international community has definitely entered the “era of preemption.” Preemption, of course, refers to the policy of dealing with threats by militarily action instead of by diplomacy.
Neither the idea nor the policy of preemption is new. What is new that is that preemption has been elevated to the level of official doctrine by the world’s only superpower; it was authoritatively articulated in President Bush’s national security strategy paper of 2002, and it has now been applied in Iraq for the whole world to see.
From a regional perspective, the Iraq intervention has created a diplomatic revolution because for the first time in the history of its relations with the Middle East the United States has intervened militarily, removed an existing regime, and occupied an entire country. With the fall of Baghdad and the takeover of Iraq, the United States became more than a superpower with vital national interests in the Middle East. In effect, the United States is now itself a Middle Eastern Power.
The possibility or peril that may arise as a consequence of the U.S. intervention in Iraq finds a certain parallel in America’s dealings with Europe during the last century.
In contrast to its retreat into isolationism after the First World War, following World War II the United States remained firmly anchored in Europe. Through declarations and policies such as the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, the United States helped construct a new European system that has become a pillar of world order.
And so today the peoples of the Middle East have a right to ask: “What is the nature and purpose of the U.S. intervention in our region? Will this policy follow the pattern of war followed by withdrawal and chaos, or will this intervention lead to the creation of something new and better?”
In an area of the world where power is still the primary currency among states, overwhelming victory in Afghanistan followed in close order by successful regime-change in Iraq has made America the dominant force in the Middle East. Now, the key question is: “Where will this dominance lead?”
I would like to offer some reflections on that question from an Arab perspective.
Arab Perceptions: Occupation or Partnership
From a purely power perspective, the United States is clearly preeminent in the Middle East today, just as it is globally. Therefore, in terms of its control of Iraq the United States can proceed with whatever agenda it chooses.
Washington could, for example, decide to view Iraq through the prism of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, deal with those specific threats, declare victory, and then move on. Such a policy would, in a way, parallel America’s post-World War I retreat from Europe. And so in the short-term and perhaps even in the medium-term, America can unilaterally determine its own criteria of success in the Middle East.
However, I respectfully submit that despite America’s unchallenged power, over the long-term it is the Arabs—and the Arabs alone—who will decide whether the American intervention in the Middle East is a success or a failure. The definition of success or failure from the Arab perspective is simple: namely, is America seeking to establish an occupation or a partnership? The answer to this question will determine the legitimacy of America’s role in the Middle East.
If the Arabs judge the American role as that of an occupier, then their inevitable reaction will be to offer resistance, which in some cases will be violent and extremist. If history serves as a reliable guide, this resistance will be driven by two impulses: nationalism and religious fundamentalism.
In thinking about the Middle East, Americans must be aware of a stark and troubling fact of life. In that region, American policies are supported by few, opposed passionately by some, and viewed skeptically by virtually all. Therefore, in the Arab world many people—whether they are government officials, intellectuals, journalists, or members of the general public—are convinced that America wishes to occupy Arab lands to serve its own narrow national interests.
Despite the fact that most Arabs are wary of American intentions, I believe that the United States enjoys a real opportunity to help spur the emergence of a new Middle East. As I noted at the beginning of my talk, the fundamental requirement to exploit this opportunity is a declared and proven willingness to pursue a genuine partnership. Through its statements and actions, America must convince the Arabs that it does not seek domination and occupation, but rather wants to help the Arabs define their own solutions for the reform of their societies.
At the moment, the Arab world is watching developments in Iraq and Palestine closely. These two situations are, in fact, the primary test cases by which the Arabs will judge American intentions.
One way to begin building a New Partnership between America and the Arab world would be to include Arabs in the rebuilding of Iraq in a more substantive and visible fashion. Internally, what is needed is some form of representative council selected by the Iraqis themselves that can speak for the people during the period before a new government is elected.
In addition, contingents of Arab peacekeepers should be deployed within the country to help improve the security situation in Iraqi cities and towns. To date, some Arab governments have indicated their willingness to send such units, but only under a U.N. mandate.
Creative formulas must be found that will allow for an Arab presence on the ground in Iraq. If not, the Arab world will have a great deal of trouble understanding why the United States is helping to deploy Polish forces in Iraq, but not the troops of its trusted Arab allies such as Jordan and Egypt.
In seeking to forge a partnership with the Arabs, it is essential for Americans to understand that much of the Arab experience in the twentieth century was defined by defeat and humiliation. Today, an alternative vision of rebirth and success must replace the false promises of extremism that have done so much to destabilize both the Middle East and the global order.
If America does not offer a vision rooted in a vocabulary of partnership and manifested in the practical advancement of Arab societies, its intervention in the Middle East will reap extremism and terrorism.
The Requirements of a New Partnership
Successful, evolutionary reform in the Middle East can only be implemented if the Arab peoples themselves decide to follow such a course. If a New Partnership is to arise, the Arabs no less than the United States and Europe must supply a cadre of interlocutors. Only such a comprehensive partnership can articulate a vision, draft creative policies to address major problems, and supply the needed resources.
In thinking about the requirements of a New Partnership, all parties must understand the dynamics of the cultural struggle now raging within the Arab world. This struggle is a contest between the forces of tradition and the imperatives of modernity. It affects political reform and socio-economic development throughout the region. Therefore, an activist American posture in the Middle East needs to find ways and means of introducing new elements while at the same time accommodating the region’s unique traditions and sensitivities.
The countries of the Middle East must learn to master their ancient diversity in order to attain harmony and direction. The process of achieving meaningful regional coordination can begin in the world of ideas, namely education and media.
America, one of the world’s most diverse societies, can offer the Arab wold many lessons on how to attain harmony amidst diversity. In addition, the history of pre-civil war Lebanon is an excellent example of how accord can be maintained among diverse communities within an Arab context.
If the Middle East is to participate as a major player in the process of globalization, the region must adapt and join the global trend toward democracy. As the experience of the European Union demonstrates, liberal democracy is the form of government that best safeguards freedom, pluralism, and respect for religious and ethnic minorities.
I said a moment ago that if a New Partnership is to succeed, the Arabs themselves must supply participants. In this regard, Americans should be reassured that there are many Arab elites in politics, business, and education who are ready to join a genuine reform effort. In earlier periods, such modernist elements flourished in Arab societies. But in a recurring pattern, they were persecuted and oppressed by their own governments, often with the tacit backing of the Western powers, including the United States.
Today, the United States can help bring about a new era by vigorously defending pro-democracy forces, even when they oppose narrowly based regimes that are U.S. allies. In backing democratic forces in the Middle East, the US will inevitably grapple with the essential question: “Can democracy flourish in an Islamic context?”
I believe that the answer to that question is an emphatic “yes.” There is no inherent tension or incompatibility between Islam and democracy. During the founding of modern Turkey, mosque and state were separated as part of the process of modernization, but this did not mean that Turkey shed its fundamentally Islamic character.
The recent elections in Turkey have empowered a government with Islamist tendencies, but this has not led to the collapse of Turkey’s alliance with the United States or hindered that country’s aspirations for full membership in the European Union. In Turkey we are witnessing the emergence of what could be a new form of Islamic democracy, and as such it may be a hopeful model for the whole Middle East.
Proponents of the theory that democracy and Islam cannot coexist must explain the case of Iran, where a young, rising generation is demanding greater levels of personal freedom and democratic institutional reform. The students now protesting on the streets of Iran are not rejecting their Muslim religion; rather, they are demanding the right to order their own affairs as they see fit, including the role of religion in their lives.
Furthermore, the government of President Khatami of Iran is itself the product of semi-democratic elections. To be sure, democracy in Iran is of a limited variety, but at least the forms if not the substance of a truly open electoral system have been established.
The trend toward democracy in the Muslim world has been felt in places like Kuwait, Jordan, and Morocco, where substantial democratic reforms have been implemented. And other governments have instituted certain timid moves towards greater democracy.
U.S. efforts to assist hesitantly democratizing regimes could be decisive, but only if they are conducted through a partnership with reform-minded Arabs. Such a campaign by the United States to encourage democracy must be pursued vigorously and consistently and should not be suspended according to the dictates of short-term expediency and Realpolitik.
The Centrality of Peace
Perhaps the most important immediate requirement for the emergence of a New Partnership is achieving real progress in the Arab-Israeli peace process. The conflict between Israel and the Arabs has been a destabilizing factor in the Middle East for more than half a century. The instability caused by the conflict remains significant, even though the struggle is now centered on its last active front, Israel-Palestine.
On the Arab side, the Arab-Israeli conflict has consumed vast resources and has allowed governments to divert attention away from needed domestic reforms, including democracy-building. Furthermore, the struggle has caused waves of popular anger and resentment against Israel and its superpower sponsor, the United States. In this way, it has helped fuel extremism and terrorism in the region, a phenomenon that has now become global.
The peaceful evolution of the Middle East in partnership with the Untied States can only be envisioned in the context of a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For this reason, the United States must broker an agreement between the parties that finally brings to a close the long cycle of Arab-Israeli wars.
In this regard, we must note the recent progress that has been made on implementing the “Road Map” drafted by the “Quartet” of the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union. To be sure, the Road Map is fraught with potential roadblocks, but now at least the promise of hope exists, and that is an achievement.
Lebanon as the Crucible of the Middle East
I wish to talk for a moment about Lebanon, not only because it is my beloved homeland, and not only because I proudly served as President of the Republic from 1982 to 1988, but also for two larger reasons.
First, Lebanon has a long tradition of peace, democracy, and tolerance. If those values are to prevail in the Middle East, they must be restored in Lebanon so that Lebanon can again serve as an example of how these principles can flourish in that troubled region. Of course, Lebanese society has sometimes exploded in violent episodes of communal and religious conflict; however, most of those instances were the direct result of the Arab-Israeli conflict or foreign interference.
Second, Lebanon is the crucible of the Middle East in which the region’s diverse political dogmas, religious tenets, and cultural trends interact in a dynamic fashion. Therefore, any Middle East peace that aspires to be comprehensive and lasting must also guarantee a genuine peace for Lebanon, a peace that is just and restores the very sovereignty, territorial integrity, and uniqueness of the country.
Those three principles—sovereignty, territorial integrity, and unique domestic systems—are prerequisites for the maintenance of close ties between Lebanon and Syria. Therefore, Syria should withdraw its army from Lebanon in conformity with the Taif Accord of 1989 and cease interfering in Lebanese internal affairs.
Lebanon must again be permitted to play its role as a bridge between the East and West; it should also serve as a bridge between the different religions and cultures of the Middle East. This role as a link between cultures could very well be Lebanon’s new national “mission” in the age of globalization.
With respect to terrorism, no society is more painfully familiar with its corrosive effects than is Lebanon. Having felt its sting, Lebanese officials tried to warn the world what would happen if the problem were not dealt with on a multilateral basis. For example, during a state visit to Britain in December 1983, I spoke about the threat of terrorism in these terms:
The fire of the ordeal that has touched the people of Lebanon will very soon, if unchecked, spread throughout the Arab world and the Middle East…. The livelihood and the existence of the European nations will in turn become threatened, resulting in a wider conflict, unless something is done now to avert the danger. Taking small risks today obviates the need for greater risks to be taken tomorrow.
Lebanon, in its relatively brief modern history, has gone through all that the Arab world and the United States as a Middle East Power are now confronting: a struggle with terror, the challenge of reconciling diversity and national unity, and the urgent need for regional peace.
I believe that the time has arrived for us to examine the better aspects of Lebanon’s history so that we can tap into those qualities that helped produce democracy and techniques of conflict resolution. Certainly, the lessons of the Lebanese experience, both positive and negative, offer many clues to how the affairs of the twenty-first century Middle East should be arranged.
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for allowing me this hearing.
I would like to leave you with this thought: the destiny of the United States and the destiny of the Middle East are inextricably linked, and have been for quite some time. That is why every American President since Harry Truman has, at some point during his tenure, become personally and deeply involved in Middle East affairs.
But now a new dimension has been added to the relationship. With its intervention in Iraq, the United States has itself become a Middle Eastern Power. But the world’s only superpower, having entered the region by force of arms, cannot possibly navigate across its risky terrain alone. The United States, like the Arab world, is confronted with the necessity for partnership.
The Arabs today are closely watching the United States; they are eager and anxious to learn about the nature and meaning of U.S. power in their region. The Arabs are asking: “Does America want reform or does it want occupation?” To bring about an historic turn towards democracy in the Middle East, both vision and partnership are essential.
As a former Arab Head of State, I have a great deal of experience dealing with the kind of challenges that exist in the Middle East; and I also understand the tragedy of lost opportunity. But I am optimistic that a New Partnership can and will emerge.
Acting under the doctrine of preemption, the United States has intervened in Iraq and ended a regime. But now the peoples of the Middle East need what the British diplomat Paddy Ashdown calls “a doctrine of international community,” meaning multilateral efforts to transform a troubled region.
In this the age of globalization, the doctrine of international community—or partnership—is the only concept that can sustain a just and lasting order for the Middle East and for the world.