“Memo to the Next President: Avoid the ‘Vision Thing’ in the Mideast,” two former senior State Department officials whose work centered on Middle Eastern issues, Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky, wrote in Politico this week. Based on their more than half a century’s worth of combined experience working on Middle Eastern issues in the Department of State, the two offered both their former boss, Hillary Clinton, and her opponent, Donald Trump, a list of ten things they should not do or say, if they wish to survive the “landmines, traps, hopeless causes, and impossible missions” this region has to offer in ample portions.
Eighth on their list of commandments is: Thou shall not “chase after Israeli-Palestinian peace without clear indications that the locals themselves and the Arabs, too, are prepared to act.”
“It should be evident by now,” they point out, that the gaps on the core issues “between Prime Minister Netanyahu and [Chairman] Abbas are just too wide to be bridged.” True enough. They also point out that even if they support the two-state solution (which they don’t disclose), it does not stand a chance unless the leaders of both sides “are willing and able to make decisions” — and it’s highly unlikely that whomever is chosen to succeed Abbas would be able to make them.
What’s left to be done, then, without the hope for peace any time soon? Plenty, apparently: “help keep Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation afloat; promote development of the Palestinian economy and issues relating to movement through checkpoints and border crossings; try to identify smaller issues such as the greater development of areas in parts of the West Bank under Israeli control; and increase cooperation on issues such as water, electricity, and infrastructure.”
Until there’s a change in the current stalemate, the two ex-officials, who are now working for Washington think tanks, recommend that the next Administration “stay away from high-profile US-initiated efforts to take on the big peace process issues. The advice Bill Clinton gave to one of us before the July 2000 Camp David summit is inspirational but not always right: trying and failing isn’t better than not trying at all. Failure undermines US prestige and power in war and peacemaking. It already has.”
Still, Miller and Sokolsky advise, don’t hang a closed-for-the-season sign on US involvement in the Middle East. The stakes – terrorism, energy security for much of the world, and nuclear proliferation – are as high as they’ve ever been. The US may not be able to transform the region (no Arab Spring 2.0, please), but it “cannot easily leave it either.”
And so, for a sane and pragmatic Mid-East policy, “avoid the vision thing, in particular major involvement in nation building and conflict resolution where locals have an insufficient stake, will or capacity to take on the lion’s share of the responsibility. Instead, drill down on protecting core vital interests that involve American security and prosperity, work with partners who, while not sharing US values, may share some key US security interests, and look for opportunities to use tools such as economic and technical assistance and support for civil society to build capacity and help governments deliver economic and social justice to their public.”