The Middle East According to Madeline Albright

by ANDREW E. HARROD May 4, 2017

Does the Middle East need to take responsibility for charting its own future? According to a recently released report from the Atlantic Council's Middle East Strategy Task Force, the answer is yes. But critical analysis of that report reveals serious flaws that must be addressed.

MEST co-chairs former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley presented the report to a standing-room-only audience in Washington, D.C. Albright acknowledged that people around the world are all affected by the "toxic brew" of challenges centered in the Middle East - such as terrorism and refugee flows. In response, Hadley pointed out the report's theme of a "different, smarter way of engaging with the Middle East that does not require a Marshall Plan or a 2003 Iraq invasion."

Under the report's Compact for the Middle East, nations that adopt reforms will gain greater diplomatic, economic and technical support from outside countries like the United States, according to Albright, who referenced the report's extoling of "green shoots of citizen-based entrepreneurial and civic activity occurring throughout the region.

She added,

Across the region, civic activists are working to make their local communities stronger and more resilient. Entrepreneurs are building small and medium-sized businesses rather than relying on the government to be the employer of first resort. And some leaders are beginning to recognize that the region's greatest resource is not its oil, but its people.

 

Hadley said that he believes future foreign assistance should encourage "governments acting more effectively, inclusively and justly in empowering their citizens to realize their full potential and to win their loyalty. Fundamentally, it is a bet on the people of the region and a strategy to empower them," he said, analyzing the report's strategy, which included proposals for a regional development fund for reconstruction and reform. It also features a regional framework for dialogue and cooperation akin to regional organizations like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Although it cites certain advances to living in the Middle East (e.g., the Arab world's literacy rate, which surged from 58 percent to 80 percent between 1990 and 2010), the report does highlight the enormous hurdles hindering a peaceful and prosperous Middle East. "The Middle East crisis is the most difficult global challenge since the end of the Cold War," Albright and Hadley wrote. "The world will be wrestling with this set of problems for a long time."

Despite the senior-level offices held by the two authors, they admitted that the issues facing the Middle Eastern region today "are some of the most challenging and difficult that we have ever seen in our respective careers."

But the report is often overoptimistic, exemplified by its statement that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action "contributes to greater regional stability by reducing the likelihood that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon in the near term." Although the report advised the United States and its international partners to "seek to deter and contain Iran," Albright's remarks reflected an oft-touted hope for Iran's progressive reformation. "The Iran nuclear deal is a very big deal," she said. "It's based on shared national interests with America, while the Iranian population is very oriented towards change and education and being part of the world and is forward-looking."

Touching on Syria, the report advocates military aid for ever-elusive "vetted moderate opposition forces" in order to force the country's embattled dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad to reach an inclusive political settlement. Such aid "will also require a redoubling of the commitment of American catalytic capabilities, including close air support, operations planning assistance, and the presence of special operations forces." Yet detailed studies of the jihadist domination of Syria's rebels make Hadley's remarks that moderate opposition groups "will form the backbone of Syria's future" sound like a pious hope.

The report consistently dismisses any fundamental incompatibility between the doctrines of the region's prevailing Islamic faith and stable, free societies, declaring with a secularist certainty that "political causes underlie all civil wars." The report adds that the "thesis of intractable ancient conflicts rooted in religion and ethnicity is as faulty in the Middle East as it was in Europe," as if Islam were societally equivalent to Christianity. The report unconvincingly asserts that "while sectarianism and religious conflicts are exacerbating factors, they are not themselves at the core of the Middle East's conflicts, and would dissipate over time if the civil wars that fuel them were wound down."

The report ultimately demonstrates a benign understanding of "mainstream Islamic traditions," the radicalism of leading Islamic institutions like Al-Azhar notwithstanding. Accordingly, one of the most powerful solutions for combatting Islamic extremism may be more religious education in schools, not less. In contrast, it said that jihadist "terrorists, with their self-serving religious interpretations, prey on individuals with little religious knowledge, feeding them a twisted reading of the faith."

The rosy views depicted in the report extend beyond the Middle East to the region's refugee population that is currently inhabiting European nations like Germany. The report declared that refugees are "net contributors to public finance," a hotly debated claim opposed by recent studies suggesting that refugees - mostly low skilled - will cost Germany 1.5 trillion Euros long-term. The report also sought to prove that refugees "are no more likely to commit crimes than native-born Germans," a contention belied by recent German crime statistics and European government concerns about jihadist terrorism.

While the report praised the Middle East for its "tech-savvy, youthful population hungering for a better life," recent developments have told another story. The report admitted that although a "decade ago, many in the Arab world looked to Turkey as a model - a country that had reconciled Islam and modernity," Islamist political turmoil there has made such views obsolete.

Albright and Hadley concluded that the "building the institutions of a future Palestinian state should continue and be accelerated," even though Palestinian authorities have received the foreign aid equivalent of multiple Marshall Plans with little appreciable effect. The Middle East certainly offers "green shoots" of progress worthy of support, yet they are sparser than Albright and Hadley may realize.

A version of this piece also appeared on  https://philosproject.org/

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Andrew E. Harrod is a freelance researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School.  He is admitted to the Virginia State Bar.  He has published over 400 articles concerning various political and religious topics at the American Thinker, the Blaze, Breitbart, Capital Research Center, Daily Caller, FrontPage Magazine, Institute on Religion and Democracy, Independent Journal Review, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Jihad Watch, Mercatornet, Philos Project, Religious Freedom Coalition, Washington Times, and World, among others. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project, an organization combating the misuse of human rights law against Western societies.  He can be followed on twitter @AEHarrod.


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