The panel discussion "Moving Forward: Restoring American Credibility in the Region" took place at the 62nd Annual Conference in November, 2008.
Ibrahim Helal, Max Rodenbeck, and Ron Suskind
Ibrahim Helal, Max Rodenbeck, and Ron Suskind addressed the issue of re-establishing American credibility in a panel discussion held at the Middle East Institute’s 62nd Annual Conference. The speakers engaged in a timely conversation about the reasons behind the decline of American credibility in the Middle East and potential strategies to regain the United States’ reputation and integrity in Arab and Islamic countries. Overall, the panelists offered reasons for America’s decline in credibility and strategic solutions for its restoration in the Middle East, illustrating that prospects for the United States look bright, but only if the nation takes an outward look at world crises and attempts to solve them through collaboration with others.
The first speaker, Ibrahim Helal, Deputy Managing Director of Al Jazeera English began with the question: why talk about restoring the credibility of the US? Helal said that once the image of America had elicited an admiration for American values such as the freedom to pursue one’s dreams. Citing an experience in which he felt that was ethnically profiled at an American airport, Helal raised the question of whether America was neglecting its values. Helal argued that restoring the dignity of Arabs is essential to restoring American credibility in the region. Central to this goal, he explained, is to establish a dialogue with the common people and with leaders in the Middle East, and with allies as well as enemies, to establish relations grounded in mutual respect.
The second panelist, Max Rodenbeck, Chief Middle East Correspondent for The Economist, relayed several striking statistics on international attitudes towards the US, highlighting that in 1994, 49% of the UN voted in line with the US in the General Assembly, while only 18% agreed with the US in UN votes in 2007. Exploring the question of why approval of America had declined, Rodenbeck pointed to three attributes that had increased America’s credibility in 1994, but were neglected by the US in 2007 — truth-telling, sticking to principles, and demonstrating good judgment. In the 1990s, he explained, the US exhibited the virtue of truth-telling when, as it predicted, the Cold War ended in the US’s favor, and, he added, the US also upheld its core values when it acted as an honest broker in the Arab-Israeli peace process after the first Gulf War, in which it displayed both military and diplomatic strength. Rodenbeck further added that America also showed good judgment when at the end of the Cold War, the US was not overly triumphant, but took a steady and reasoned approach towards cooperation and assisted with the early ‘90s transitions in Europe. However, Rodenbeck explained that that by 2007, the aforementioned three values and America’s overall credibility were compromised by the unilateral invasion of Iraq, and its decision to not support the results of a democratic election in Palestine, a stance which contradicted the US’s democracy agenda. The remedy, said Rodenbeck, was for the US to invest more resources into becoming an arbiter of peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict, to respect democratic processes even if the results are not perceived as desirable, and to show good judgment by promoting a broadly appealing world vision through diplomacy and negotiations, rather than coercion.
The final speaker, Ron Suskind pointed to several anecdotes to illustrate what he felt the past trajectories of US policies were and what he felt the future direction of US policy should be. He began with a story about President George W. Bush’s first National Security Council meeting in which, in Suskind's view, he introduced the Bush Doctrine, which gave preference to the use of forceful measures to solve international crises. Suskind argued that the only way to repair US credibility was to do the same thing that would be necessary in a relationship between people — apologize with humility, despite the difficulty. Citing the words and experience of a UN Special Representative and a US general in Afghanistan, Suskind argued that traditional military force no longer works in an increasingly globalized society in which borders are weakening, communication among individuals is unlimited, and non-state access to more destructive weapons is now possible. Suskind advised that the US should engage in efforts that better the lives of others around the world through financial and humanitarian aid, without expecting anything in return, and that these should be coupled with efforts to build consensus around common solutions and receptiveness to diverse input.
About this Event
This event was one of four panels that took place during the Middle East Institute’s 62nd Annual Conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on November 21, 2008.
This event summary was written by Rema-Therese Beydoun, a senior at Arizona State University and an intern in MEI’s Publications Department, and was edited by Shannon Rosenberg, also a Publications intern and graduate of the University of California, at San Diego
Disclaimer: Assertions and opinions in this Summary are solely those of the above-mentioned author(s) and do not reflect necessarily the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.