Essay: Conflict Prevention Theory

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Foreign Policy

United States Foreign Policy:

The Situation in the Middle East

The United States has been deeply entrenched politically in the Middle East since the discovery of oil in the 1930s. Before this time, France and Britain held loosely controlled colonies in the region, chiefly to benefit through their own shipping routes through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. Since the discovery of surplus oil in 1930, however, the Middle East has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policymakers. Rather than try to occupy or control the various states in the region, the United States has opted to support existing regime leaders through financial benefits, weapons technology, and worldwide political support. This paper will aim to examine four countries, namely Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, in a unique policy study that aims to apply conflict prevention theory to current U.S. foreign policy based on the events of the Arab Spring and analyze the roles that the U.S. had played and can play in the future in the region.

United States Foreign Policy and Conflict Prevention Theory

Conflict prevention theory as looked at through the lens of U.S. foreign policy, will approach the conditions and recent events of these four separate Arab nations, all of which have different historical ties and understandings of the U.S. And the West. The theories presented here seek to resolve long-standing misunderstandings in the region by approaching three separate but equally important aspects of any healthy state in a triumvirate of analysis. These aspects are, thus, the socio-historical, the political and the economic spheres. The United States is in a very strong position to influence several of these countries, if not all, due to its own strengths as a liberal democracy and in economic matters.

Tunisia

Tunisia is the country that started the phenomenon we have now termed the Arab Spring, and had the smoothest overthrow of its dictator. As a result of these facets and the fact that Tunisia was attempting this change first, the principles of democracy and election-holding have taken a grip quite quickly in the country. Democratic elections to create a constitution for Tunisia, or a written law of the land, are thus underway and it seems that the citizen has triumphed over the dictator, miraculously, in this particular case.

U.S. foreign policy in Tunisia has, as a result of Tunisia's lack of natural resources, influence in the region, and importance to Washington, been very "hands-off." However, Tunisia is closer to Europe politically, culturally, and geographically, when compared to other Middle Eastern states, factors which, one can say, have contributed to its success in establishing a more Western, democratic outlook.

Socio-historically, Tunisia has been a weak state in the region. In fact, in his younger days, former leader Qaddafi of Libya tried to annex the country into his own in his Arab nationalist conquests. Therefore, Tunisia has a very strong sense of independence and exceptionalism in the region, which can be extremely welcoming to the policies of conflict prevention theory. The country's history from a socio-cultural perspective is therefore one that offers itself easily to the ideas of democracy, as Tunisia is defined not by the might of one strongman, but rather by the voice and will of its people.

Politically, this country falls into line with the ideal state in transition to democracy due to the fact that it has had the above-described, unique history, in the region. France and Italy may be the breadwinners in the battle for Tunisia's future; therefore, the U.S. will most likely ultimately have to focus itself on its greater ally, Egypt. However, this does not mean that Tunisia is to be left out of U.S. foreign policy in the region. On the contrary, Tunisia now has a special providence toward the goals of the U.S. State Department, as well as due to a lack of animosity between these two countries, and it is for this reason that one can feel that the future of Tunisia will be closely linked to the future of the United States and the West as a whole. In addition, Tunisia will benefit economically from the trade opportunities offered to it through the Mediterranean Sea and the newly liberated and friendly Libya.

Egypt

Egypt is the most populous Arab country, with Cairo being the most populous city, as well as the heart of Arab culture. This country does not have oil wealth, but it does have two important things that attract the U.S., namely, access to the Suez Canal and a friendly relationship with Israel. The Mubarak regime, which had just been ousted, was certainly brutal to its people at times, but overall could be described as inefficient, slow and unrepresentative of the nation's youth. Epidemic problems of unemployment and lack of access to improvements in education and employment rendered the country simmering and finally exploding into a revolution. These forces also contributed to the general decline of the state and the feeling that if things did not change, hopelessness would increase exponentially, and this eventually led to the ousting of the Mubarak regime.

Like Tunisia, the primary concerns of the citizens' overthrow of the government was not the personality of its leader per se, but rather his inability to effectively manage the state. What Egyptian citizens sought was not quite the freedoms of expression and what is seen as secular activities of the West, but rather the ability to find meaningful purpose and employment. One can see very well here that something as simple as being able to feed one's family becomes a powerful motivator. This is an important distinction from both Syria and Libya, which will be analyzed below, and where the regime has far more of a repressing, police-like tendency. For the reasons mentioned above, however, the United States has been quite involved in Egyptian policies and will most likely remain very interested in the future of Egypt.

United States foreign policy has been 30 years in the making in Egypt. It is not doubted in political circles in this country that the U.S. has aided Mubarak, at time, due to policy interests. However, the U.S. has not always taken the best approach to Egyptian problem on the ground; rather it has only been concerned with the political/regional attributes of Egyptian foreign policy, as it mostly concerned neighboring Israel. Since the Arab Spring and the fall of Mubarak, the U.S. will have to utilize the lessons of conflict prevention theory to create a more stable and ultimately healthier country in the ashes of the dictatorship.

Socio-historically speaking, Egypt has been a country led by strong men since its independence. It has created a network of the "haves" and the "have nots," or those who are willing to abide by the rules of the dictatorship and get ahead in an old-world cronyist-like fashion, and those who play by the rules and fall behind. Conflict prevention theory is based on the principle that easing traditional hostilities first comes from representation in political arenas. Democracy is still the only form of government that can ease historical burdens and this is the political attitude that must be encouraged in the country.

Despite the ability of anti-American Islamic parties to rise to power in Egypt as they did in Iran in the revolution of 1979, it is preferential to have bottled up voices be heard in some form rather than decades of stagnation driving Egyptian people to hopelessness and despair. Cairo, despite being the largest Arab city and at the symbolic heart of the Arab world, has severely lagged behind other cities as far as business practice goes. Cities like Dubai, Riyadh, and Beirut have surpassed Cairo, simply because of their leaders' ability to look into the future and see where their nation needs to direct itself.

Conflict prevention theory states that strong economic foundations within a nation tend to create a happier environment, a wealthier people, and more opportunity for those in the middle class. The United States has previously offered Egypt some of the largest sums of aid toward its political infrastructure in the world; however, the average Egyptian has still failed to see any of these benefits. U.S. foreign policy going forward needs to encourage the Egyptians' embrace of liberal market economic policies so that the average Egyptian has access to high quality goods, which will improve the daily lives, and make the nation richer.

Libya

Libya has been in the midst of civil war for the past six months and has been quite a unique country on this list. Situated between Tunisia and Egypt, Libya has developed its own culture based on the eccentricities of the late Colonel Qaddafi. The country is based on far more tribal links than any other country on its list, because of its large size and sparse population. This also means that the strategies that may work in a densely populated metropolis such as Cairo simply do not withstand the same weight in a country full of small city-states, such as Libya.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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