With upheaval in the Middle East spreading from Tunisia to the Persian Gulf, the shortcomings of traditional US development assistance in Arab countries to effectively address its shared values - desire for good governance, security, and social and economic well-being— has become all too evident.
The American relationship with the Arab world has been in place since the Jefferson era, forged at a time when uncompromised access to Mediterranean shipping lanes was pivotal to the young nation’s trade capacity. Since then, the landscape of the Middle East has been continuously shifting as various forces - from Marx to Aramco, from Allenby to the Internet - have played out across the region. For over 100 years, there has been a fundamental anomaly which has plagued the Middle East with unmet expectations for political stability and economic progress. Earlier, language, religion, geographical proximity and Empire (Caliphate) had provided a modicum of unity of culture and control which had allowed for the trade in ideas as well as for goods and services. The Allied victory in 1917 and the subsequent implementation of Sykes-Picot, within the context of the explosive growth of the “nation-state,” created externally imposed boundaries around geographical entities which often owed their sustenance and direction to Western influence - whether colonial, cold-war or the current situation, often identified as Pax Americana.
Today, while geography and natural resources now underline the economic importance of the Middle East, the region also presents some of the most pressing security issues for the United States. In 2003, America’s intervention in Iraq empowered a Shia majority that had long been repressed under the Sunni-led Baath party. Its inability to constrain Israel in July 2006 in Lebanon or in December 2008 in Gaza added to the growing disaffection in the Arab world for America just at the same time as radical Islam was often filling the vacuum of discredited Arab heads of State. Now in 2011, amidst citizen-led revolutions that are bringing long-held authoritarian regimes to an end, the US Government has bolstered its commitment to the region, hoping to increase prosperity, promote freedom, and counter extremist ideology.
Copyright © 2011 | Bridging the Divide