The Problem with the Arab Spring
The news was recently released that several European countries have been holding secret talks with the militant group Hamas. Though no official response has yet come from the White House, we can be fairly certain that the response will be one of displeasure. However, the United States has yet to determine its Middle Eastern policy since the Arab Spring last year, in which several Mideastern countries overthrew their governments in favor of more hard-line Islamist regimes.
The failure of our government to develop a concrete policy towards the Middle East is a result of our own short-sightedness in our foreign policy. There are two major problems with the United States’ attitude toward the Mideast.
Firstly, we are trying in vain to instill a Western style democracy in the area, when our objective should be to spread economic liberalization instead, using China as a model. With China’s increased economic freedoms has come, out of necessity, a certain degree of political and social reform.
No matter how much we wish for it, the Middle Eastern countries are, and will remain, a theocracy. This is most apparent in Egypt, which most in the United States thought would immediately embrace liberal democracy in the wake of their political coup. However, Egyptians instead went the other direction, choosing to put their support behind the Muslim Brotherhood or the Egyptian military, which is equally fundamentalist. The other Arab Spring countries have followed suit.
It is becoming clear that citizens of most Middle Eastern countries do not want a Western style democracy, but they do want some of the benefits that the West enjoys. This leads in to the second major problem in US foreign policy.
Historically the United States has attempted to reward those countries who embrace democratic reforms while sanctioning those who do not. This has led to many of the problems we face today. We are in essence flying by the seat of our pants, rewarding countries who take advantage of this short sighted policy. The countries of the Middle East have no interest in embracing liberal Western democracy, but it is easy enough for them to throw us a bone once in a while in order to get money or some other sort of reward that they want. Afterwards, they revert to their old ways.
The United States should stop attempting to provide incentives for these countries to liberalize. We should recognize that because of the theocratic nature of their governments, it will never happen. Instead, we should end the system of handouts, rewards, and sanctions and adhere to a simpler guideline. Engage in trade and commerce with those countries who do not abuse human rights or attempt to illegally develop nuclear weapons, and do not do so with those that do.
This policy allows for consistency while ending the on-again off-again nature of our relationship with the region. By encouraging trade and free markets, we would, much like China, see a gradual degree of liberalization emerge out of necessity. We should stop sending humanitarian aid to corrupt governments who do not allow that aid to reach their citizens anyway.
In order to completely disengage from countries that do not meet these simple requirements for a trade relationship with the United States, it is imperative that we curb our dependence on Middle Eastern oil by developing our own resources, investing in renewable energy sources, and increasing trade with Latin America and Canada. Renewable energy sources hold great promise, but only if we can develop them to the point where they are effective and cost efficient.
A sensible and consistent Middle Eastern policy is essential to our own safety and economic security. It is important that we end our practice of begging for the Middle East to democratize and dishing out billions in aid to what amounts to nothing more than a half hearted attempt to string us along.