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A former ambassador to Syria and Israel analyzes political, cultural, and military factors that are shaping today's Arab and Muslim worlds, in a report that features his recommendations to the U.S.'s next president and suggestions for addressing current world challenges.
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Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian began his lifelong career in Foreign Service in the Kennedy administration as the assistant to the Under Secretary of State George W. Ball, and then as executive assistant to Under Secretary of State Joseph Sisco when Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State. Among his celebrated list of credentials are serving as the Assistant Secretary of State for Near East affairs in both the Bush 41 and Clinton administrations, helping to bring the Madrid Conference framework forward from a Republican to Democratic administration; participating in the 1985 Geneva Summit meeting between President Bush and Syrian President Asas, the White House signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993; and serving in Moscow (1979-1981) as political couselor in charge of the political section of the US Embassy during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Djerejian expanded his State Department service and went on to be a White House special assistant to president Reagan and the deputy press secretary for foreign affairs.
After retiring from the Foreign Service in 1994, he became the founding director of the James Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, where he is continuously involved in both foreign and domestic policy for bothe the Republican and Democratic administrations. He also chairs a congressionally mandated advisory group on United States public diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim worlds as well as serving as chairman of the Baker Institute's Conflict Resolution Program on Israeli-Palestinian and Syrian issues.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
A Letter To The Incoming President
Dear Mr. President:
I have had the privilege of serving eight United States presidents, from John F. Kennedy to William Jefferson Clinton, in times of peace and war, in both the United States military and the Foreign Service. One of the positions I held at the White House and the National Security Council was special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and deputy press secretary for foreign affairs. There I caught firsthand a glimpse of the power and heavy responsibility of the presidency and, also, of the loneliness of the occupant of the Oval Office at times of critical decision-making.
During President Ronald Reagan's second term, tensions in South Asia over Afghanistan and between India and Pakistan over nuclear weapons were on the rise. We scheduled an interview for the president with a prominent journalist of the Times of India, to give the president an opportunity to underscore United States policy goals in the region. There were some key points the president's advisors thought he should make, and I was assigned the task of ensuring that this was done. Whenever I entered the Oval Office, I would always have a sense of awe at the power and responsibility the incumbent held. This time was no different. As I proceeded to brief the president just before the interview, I stood dutifully in front of his desk, referred to the talking points we had prepared for him, and reiterated the key statements he should make.
I wasn't sure the president had focused on them, so I did something I should not have done. I walked behind the desk and, leaning over the president's shoulder, pointed to the key phrases. I thought we were alone in the Oval Office, but a White House photographer was in the room and caught the scene. Several weeks later I found on my desk a signed photo of this moment, with the following annotation, "To Ed Djerejian. Who says we don't take our work seriously? Very best wishes and regards, Ronald Reagan."
"The Gipper" had seen right through my excess of zeal and made his point in a most gracious manner. So it is with this sense of humility that I, as an American diplomat who has pursued our nation's interests in this part of the world for over thirty years and who has served on both sides of the Arab-Israeli divide as United States ambassador to Syria and Israel, would like to share with you, the next president of the United States, some thoughts on the key challenges in the broader Middle East and the Muslim world at this time of danger and opportunity.
In a speech at Meridian House in Washington, D.C., in 1992, when I was assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, I said, "The United States government does not view Islam as the next 'ism' confronting the West or threatening world peace.... Americans recognize Islam as one of the world's great faiths.... Our quarrel is with extremism, and the violence, denial, coercion, and terror which too often accompany it." It was clear to me then, some nine years before 9/11, that with the end of the Cold War and the defeat of communism the next "ism" the United States and the international community would confront would be extremism and terrorism. The critical struggle of ideas between the forces of extremism and moderation in the Muslim world is a generational challenge, one the United States can influence but not decide. That task is in the hands of the Muslim people themselves.
It is important to avoid politically rhetorical flourishes that cannot produce the anticipated results. As with the "War on Drugs" and the "War on Poverty," the misnamed "War on Terror" will not end with a dramatic raising of the flag in a clear moment of victory. These are worthy causes, but they are long-term struggles that need to be addressed boldly and intelligently; sloganeering should not distort good public policy. Terrorism is a lethal subset of the larger struggle of ideas between the forces of extremism and moderation, and we must combat it with all the means available to us. The option of military action is always available to you and the Congress when the national security of the United States is threatened, but guns alone cannot achieve success in the overall campaign against terrorism. That task requires a more broad-based and comprehensive strategy.
United States policy should therefore be aimed at what we can do to strengthen the moderates and marginalize the extremists and radicals, be they secular or religious. This will require all the tools of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy available to you for conflict resolution, public diplomacy, focused intelligence assessments, military assistance and training, special operations, helping countries build representative institutions, and facilitating political, economic, and social reforms and development. Overall, the wiser course will be to avoid imposing solutions from the outside. Instead, you should adopt effective policies and actions that promote solutions that are mainly the outcome of the efforts of the people and countries of the region themselves. Our helping to alleviate the causes of frustration, humiliation, and deep-rooted grievances in the region, which extremists and terrorists exploit for their own political ends, can do much to marginalize the radicals and terrorists and strengthen the moderates.
I was brought up in the school of diplomacy that advocates negotiating differences and, when possible, seeking peace with one's enemies and adversaries. That is the ultimate task of diplomacy, bolstered by our military credibility. Unilaterally isolating adversaries and breaking off communications deprives us of essential tools to pursue our national security interests. Talking with a clear purpose in mind is neither a concession nor a sign of weakness, especially for a global power such as the United States. At the same time, our diplomacy should never be carried out in a way that indicates a lack of United States resolve. While Ronald Reagan stigmatized the Soviet Union as the "Evil Empire," his administration negotiated in a determined manner with the communist regime and achieved positive results.
I had the opportunity in 1969, early in my career, to have a conversation with Ambassador Raymond Hare, a veteran Foreign Service officer. In diplomacy, he told me, it is essential to master your opponent's argument and position as completely as possible. You should then explain your opponent's position to him as completely as possible in terms better than he himself could express. Ipso facto, you have disarmed him to an important extent. Then, you explain, as comprehensively as possible, what areas of agreement may exist. The seed of compromise is planted. This method is much better than a mere statement of position, under instructions that may serve only to antagonize your interlocutors. Never put your opponent in a corner. Never force him to strike back -- unless, of course, that is your purpose. Always allow him a way out, Hare concluded, preferably in the direction of your point of view and position. This is not a bad formula for any United States administration to follow in the conduct of its diplomacy.
The absence of dialogue and engagement with adversarial regimes and groups serves only to polarize situations and promote miscalculations, even conflict, especially in the broader Middle East. You should therefore have your secretary of state carefully prepare to engage Iran and Syria in a major strategic dialogue on all the issues between us, in a serious effort to determine what middle ground there may be to build on. Through such comprehensive engagement, with all the key issues on the table, the prospects for getting these countries to change their behavior and accommodate United States interests on such crucial issues as nuclear nonproliferation and Arab-Israeli peace could be greatly enhanced.
As I will contend in this book, the road to Arab-Israeli peace goes through Jerusalem, not through Baghdad or Tehran. Direct face-to-face negotiations between Israel and its immediate Arab neighbors -- the Palestinians, Syria, and Lebanon -- are the key to peacemaking. While the other countries in the region have an important role to play in bolstering peace efforts, the focus must be on the parties to the negotiations themselves. The core political issue in the Middle East remains the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially the Palestinian issue, which has strong resonance throughout the Muslim world. For too long this conflict has been exploited as a pretext for regimes in the region not to carry out major political and economic reforms and to secure their positions of power. Any United States administration that doesn't grasp these realities and the urgency of resolving this conflict will face recurrent crises that it will be forced to address on a case-by-case basis, often distracting the government from other priorities at times not of its choosing.
The most effective approach is to steer United States policy from conflict management to conflict resolution. Putting out intermittent fires between Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinians is a short-term and insufficient strategy. Instead, the United States must take the lead within the international community and act in its traditional but tarnished role as an "honest broker" between the Israelis and the Arabs, seeking to bring the parties to the negotiating table under the principled framework of the Madrid Peace Conference and the "land for peace" formula embodied in United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
Mr. President, to succeed in this major effort, you must take the lead and invest the power of the presidency in peacemaking through whatever modalities you choose. When United States presidents have displayed the political will and courage and have engaged their administrations in serious peacemaking, there has been progress, as evidenced, for example, by President Nixon in the disengagement agreements in 1974 after the Yom Kippur War, by President Jimmy Carter and the Camp David Accords of 1978 and the Egyptian-Isr...
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