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Middle East, Three Mistakes and One Collective Solution

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Foreign policy is now at the center of the presidential debate. How could it not be so, when the TV screens flare up with shells exploding in the Ummeyade Mosque of Aleppo, with oil spilling threats in the Ormuz Strait, with grieving about the death of an exemplary civil servant, who gave his life for his country and his ideas of a new peaceful democratic Middle East.

It's time for the United States to face the legacy of a half century of policies in the Middle East, the legacies of the Cold War as well as of the last decade's neoconservatism. Yes, mistakes have been made. Changes are needed, now. And they can be.

The first error is to have legitimated regime change. "El sueno de la razon produce monstruos," illustrated Goya through one of his fantastic drawings. "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters." Yes, neoconservatism has been one of the latest "sleeps of reason."

Has democracy arisen in the countries where the United States endeavored to establish them once and for all? No, neither Iraq, nor Afghanistan, nor Somalia are democracies by now.

The Arab Awakening took place in countries where the United States, like other western countries, supported regimes that seemed to guarantee status quo. Let's mention only the billion dollars a year the United States pay for military aid to Egypt. Eleven years after, the balance sheet is negative. The United States have less influence, less legitimacy, less perspectives.

The second error was the choice to embody the West. In fact that's not the original spirit of America. That's not the image this country had in Africa and North Africa sixty years ago. When Europe struggled with the aftermath of colonialism, America was the symbol of emancipation and freedom because of its own history.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, America sees itself less and less as the image of the New World and more and more as the cutting edge of the West. That's the negation of your past as a melting pot and a refuge of the world. It's also a negation of your future as a country where the world is at home, where the diversity of cultures can live in peace.

The third error was the demonization of enemies. I have no sympathy whatsoever for the Iranian regime. But look at the situation today. The international is losing its grip on the case. It's wrong because it misinterprets the dynamics of the region. The case about Iran is not only the question of a nation. It's also about the regional balance between Shi'ite powers and Sunni powers. A weak Iran is not a chance for the Middle East. Today Shi'ites have the feeling they are becoming outcasts, in Syria, in Lebanon, in the Arabic Peninsula, where their fate doesn't seem to weigh as much on the world opinion as that of the Sunni upheavals in the region.

Demonizing Iran also misses its point concerning the Iranian people, because the attitude has created a humiliation in a proud and tough people. It has allowed a dangerous radicalization and has put Iranian democrats or moderates in difficult situations.

So where are we headed in the Middle East? The joint historical forces of neoconservatism and of Sunni fundamentalism create today several very immediate threats.

The balkanization of the Middle East with ever more split states where people can't imagine to live together anymore, like Iraq is breaking up in three autonomous parts for years now. Like Libya is divided in three between Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan. Like Sudan divided in two, like Mali, with an independent Tuareg-dominated north.

The radical islamization of the Middle-eastern societies is the other threat. Salafist movements are gaining ground, they are growing in the midst of the social frustrations and discontents, from Egypt where they already won a quarter of the seats in parliament. When the state is weakening, they are the first at hand, holding popular justice on the streets, controlling the access to hospitals, distributing the alms to the poor. These powers need enemies, they need the West as a figure of evil, they need the Shi'ites as targets of their daily preaches.

Yes, the future of the region may be dark. And the stakes for the world are high. But democracy hasn't lost yet. Now is the time to show our solidarity with the people of the Middle East.

There must not be a fourth error on the list, the error of inaction. America has long dreamed of a Middle East it could reshape alone. But, an America that would do nothing instead would do no better. And no one would be better off. There's a role for America, there's a place for its commitment. This role is collective action, the role of driving force for all diplomatic initiatives in this region.

It's a commitment to action. Because diplomatic deeds must be put in tune with the words. On Syria, today, nobody can accept to remain passive or indifferent. What happens there concerns us all. But there's no simple solution. That's why we must have the courage to advance step by step, little by little. There are possibilities open on the table, like recognizing a new government of the united opposition that must be as inclusive as possible, like creating humanitarian corridors at the borders of Turkey or Jordan, like creating the conditions of the future unity of the country.

It's also a commitment to realism. It will be a great step forward to get rid of false images and caricatures of Islam or Arab cultures. There's no such thing as a nature of Islam that would drive it towards violence and fanaticism. There are only social and historical forces that are weighing heavily on a region with complex issues.

It's a commitment to peace in Israel and Palestine. There will be no lasting peace in the Middle East without finding a peace for Israel and Palestine. Israel's claim for security is legitimate, as is the Palestinians aspiration to their own state. Let's be conscious that soon, the two-state solution will have been washed away by missed opportunities and lost time. The next president will have to face his responsibility on this issue and to explain now what needs be done. The Peace Process must be brought back to life after the next parliamentary election in Israel in next January.

It's also a commitment to solutions, not to the demonization of enemies. This means, about Iran, defining a realistic option. We still can prevent, through negotiations and sanctions, that Iran develops a nuclear bombs arsenal. But as it seems, Iran already has large quantities of enriched uranium. There's no point in defining red lines that are crossed every day. To act efficiently, we must give more weight to the 3+3 discussions. America and Europe must advance hand in hand and open up to the propositions of emerging diplomacies like Brazil or Turkey.

Today we hear only accusations, clichés, oversimplifications. On both sides, these are false excuses for passivity. A real debate is needed. A debate about realities, about options, about steps forward. The inspiring speech President Obama held in Cairo three years ago still is in the limbos. The next mandate will be the time to help the Middle East define a new era of peace, prosperity and democracy. With the United States, and with Europe.