POMED Asks: “As President, What Should Obama Say to the Middle East?”

POMED Asks: “As President, What Should Obama Say to the Middle East?”

In this period of transition, as we all look toward the Middle East policy of the new Obama administration, we here at POMED have asked a variety of respected voices from the community of Middle East policy experts, democracy promotion practitioners, pollsters, academics, and human rights advocates to answer the following question in 300 words or less:

At the outset of the new American administration, what should President Obama say to the people of the Middle East?

Over the next month, we will post various answers to this question each Tuesday and Thursday. Today we begin with a pair of responses from James Traub, contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, and Neil Hicks, International Policy Advisor at Human Rights First.

James Traub:

“The United States wants for the people of the Arab world what they want for themselves—a life of freedom, justice and prosperity. We know very well that too few people in the Middle East enjoy such a life. And we recognize that in recent decades the United States has done as much to frustrate those hopes as to assist them. The Bush Administration was admirably blunt about this failure, conceding that we had long sought stability at the expense of democracy, and found neither. That was right—but the prescription was wrong. The war in Iraq discredited the policy of democracy promotion. But so did our disengagement from the peace process between Israel and Palestine. And so did the glaring discrepancy between our sweeping vows and our hesitant and often timid policies.

We will promise less, and deliver more. We now know what others long understood—that we cannot impose, or even deliver, democracy or social justice. But there is much that we can do.

We will work steadily with the progressive forces of the Middle East—with moderate Islamist parties which accept democratic principles; with media outlets seeking to expand freedom of speech; with groups working to raise the status of women, to increase access to education, to teach citizens about their rights. We will not only help support such groups, but we will stand with them when they are embattled. We will press regimes, sometimes publicly and sometime quietly, to expand the space available for public and political expression. And we will push both Israel and Palestine to make painful concessions, offering to each the support which will, we hope, make those choices less perilous.

This is a program of incremental change, not overnight transformation. And that, my friends, is the kind of change you can believe in.”

Neil Hicks:

“My hope for you during the years of my presidency is the same as my hope for the people of the United States: I will do all in my power to secure a future of peace, prosperity and freedom for you and your children.

The primary responsibility for creating a better future for the people of the region rests with you, but I have three promises to make to you:

First, the government of the United States will be an active partner in finding a peaceful resolution to armed conflicts throughout the region. As the war in Iraq is brought to its end, the United States will not neglect its responsibility for Iraq’s reconstruction, which will include finding durable solutions for the millions of refugees and others displaced by the conflict. Finding a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be priority of my administration from the outset.

Secondly, in our relations with governments throughout the region we will promote mutually beneficial trade, assistance for economic and social development where it is needed, and economic justice leading to sustainable growth. The current global financial crisis reminds us again of our interconnectedness and interdependency, and the people of the Middle East must share in the benefits of global economic recovery.

Finally, my administration will press for greater freedom, greater respect for human rights and more democratic governance. President Bush was right to call for the “non-negotiable demands of human dignity” to be respected throughout the region. Repression is no longer an acceptable form of governance and the imperative of democratic reform cannot be ducked for any pretext. Our emphasis will be on building the institutions that will enable the people of the region to secure their own rights and freedoms. These institutions need to grow at the local, national and regional levels and we will foster their development both through our bilateral relations and multilaterally with our allies.”