When politicians are in election mode, they can see nothing but victory. All decisions, all considerations, are subservient to one question: how they can convince voters to check their name at the ballot box. As someone who ran for office nine times, I know what I am talking about. But for the candidate who wins the election, and for the voters, there is always the day after.
The rise of anti-Western Islamist movements — exemplified this week by the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi in Egypt’s presidential election — represents a grave threat to U.S. interests and values in the Middle East. The next president of the United States, on the day after the election in November, will have to cope with this new reality. If he is to be successful, he must develop a strategy that takes into account the new state of affairs in this region and develop a long-term strategy to unite America’s friends and confront its enemies.
Unfortunately, the new reality in the greater Middle East is bad for the United States and its allies, including my country. Most importantly, the president should recognize that Islamist forces are on the move: They have seized control from Waziristan to the Atlantic Ocean in almost uninterrupted territorial contiguity. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Libya are at the midst of a brutal and destructive battle for their identity. Their future territorial integrity is in doubt. In these five countries, and now in Egypt, the Islamist and extremist forces have the upper hand. The media has already replaced the term “Arab Spring” with “Arab Awakening.” Sooner rather than later, it will be replaced again by “Islamist takeover.”
In no country are these Islamist forces friends of the United States. The extremists among them despise its culture and way of life. They deplore its status as a global superpower. The pragmatists are ready to receive U.S. financial and military aid, but will not heed U.S. advice on foreign and domestic policy.
As Islamist movements gain strength, America’s traditional allies are wavering about how to confront this new threat. They doubt the loyalty of the United States, and wonder if they will enjoy American backing and support when they need it most. They are exploring other options to protect their interests.
Nor are there any glimmers of progress when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The Israeli government continues to expand and foster settlements in the West Bank. The Palestinians — to whom everybody, including their Arab brothers, have given a cold shoulder — are swept into a dangerous despair and growing radicalization. The lack of a serious Israeli-Palestinian dialogue is leading to a binational state, which would signal the end of the Jewish national dream and the Palestinian one.
The complete international illegitimacy of the settlement project and of the occupation aimed to protect it — combined with the combustibility of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — is a liability for U.S. foreign policy. It will remain so even if other parts of the world become a higher priority to the United States than the Middle East.
Both U.S. presidential candidates and their advisors need to begin thinking about the day after the election, and how the next American president will deal with this complex reality. As one who lives in the midst of it, here is my advice.