<WC1>Mitt Romney gave a foreign policy speech on Monday that could be boiled down to one argument: Everything wrong with the Middle East today can be traced to a lack of leadership by President Barack Obama. If this speech is any indication of the quality of Romney's thinking on foreign policy, then we should worry.
It was not sophisticated in describing the complex aspirations of the people of the Middle East. It was not accurate in describing what Obama has done or honest about the prior positions Romney has articulated. And it was not compelling or imaginative in terms of the strategic alternatives it offered. The worst message we can send right now to Middle Easterners is that their future is all bound up in what <CF102>we <CF101>do. It is not. The Arab-Muslim world has rarely been more complicated and more in need of radical new approaches by us — and <CF102>them.
<CF101>Ever since the onset of the Arab awakening, the U<WC>nited States<WC1> has been looking for ways to connect with the Arab youths who spearheaded the revolutions; 60 percent of the Arab world is under age 25. If it were up to me, I'd put Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, in charge of U.S. policy in the Arab/Muslim world. Because we need to phase out of the Cold War business of selling arms there to keep "strongmen" on our side and in power, and we need to get into the business of sponsoring a "Race to the Top" in the Arab-Muslim world that, instead, can help empower institutions and strong people, who would voluntarily want to be on our side.
Look at the real trends in the region. In Iraq and Afghanistan, sadly, autocracy has not been replaced with democracy, but with "elective kleptocracy." Elective kleptocracy is what you get when you replace an autocracy with an elected government before there are accountable institutions and transparency while huge piles of money beckon — in Iraq thanks to oil exports, and in Afghanistan thanks to foreign aid.
Meanwhile, in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq and Libya, we have seen the collapse of the "Mukhabarat states" <WC>—<WC1> mukhabarat is Arabic for internal security services <WC>—<WC1> but not yet the rise of effective democracies, with their own security organs governed by the rule of law. As we saw in Libya, this gap is creating openings for jihadists.
As the former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel put it in a recent essay in The Daily Beast, "The old police states, called mukhabarat states in Arabic, were authoritarian dictatorships that ruled their people arbitrarily and poorly. But they were good at fighting terror. <WC>.<TH>.<TH>.<WC1> These new governments are trying to do something the Arab world has never done before <WC>— <WC1>create structures where the rule of law applies and the secret police are held accountable to elected officials. That is a tall order, especially when terrorists are trying to create chaos."
At the same time, the civil war between Sunni Muslims, led by the Saudis, and Shiite Muslims, led by Iran, is blazing as hot as ever and lies at the heart of the civil war in Syria. In addition, we also have a struggle within Sunni Islam between puritanical Salafists and more traditional Muslim Brotherhood activists. And then there is the struggle between all of these Islamist parties <WC>—<WC1> which argue that "Islam is the answer" for development <WC>—<WC1> and the more secular mainstream forces, which may constitute the majority in most Mideast societies but are disorganized and divided.