Rebuilding Relations Between the Middle East and the United States: the U.S.’s Current Model Must Shift

Photo via Eurasia Review


The United Nations defines democracy by boiling it down to promoting fundamental human rights, greater citizen participation, and equal rights. The UN’s straightforward explanation of democracy is a crucial reminder when striving to foster global connections. The focus on humanitarianism rather than governmental structures or political ideology speaks volumes for how our world powers should go about foreign affairs. 

Though the focus on democracy in foreign affairs has ebbed and flowed throughout presidencies, it is safe to say that the United States has always championed democracy as a core value. Our government structure works to honor democratic values to create our liberal democracy. A piece of that uniqueness is that these democratic principles are challenged by our history, biases, national values, and culture, which makes our system a work in progress.  For example, police threatening or using force and voter suppression disproportionately affect people of color. Our country has a history of unapologetic colonization, and slavery has plagued us with ingrained biases that enable the violation of democracy that the UN outlines. The United States, or any other world power, can not be used as a gold standard of what democracy should look like because all states, even the highly powerful, are challenged in trying to appease democratic values. Each state’s individuality makes it apparent that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach that will suffice. The United States must understand the role of a state’s individuality by taking notes from its domestic challenges; realizing a genuine attempt at encouraging democratic sentiments would mean empathizing with diverse cultural backgrounds and considering other nations’ perspectives.

The U.S. approach to spreading a Western version of democracy hinders their relationship with the Middle East in an international sphere. There is a sentiment of insincerity in promoting democracy in the Middle East because no proposed solutions adhere to their culture and society. History has shown that the Westernized version of democracy that the U.S. promotes complicates relations with the Middle East. 

The Iraq War stands relevant because a prominent factor leading to this was the supposed commitment to encouraging democracy, leading to the removal of Saddam Hussein’s command. The spread of democratic values did not stick as the United States intended for them to, which can be showcased by the post-war political corruption and instability in Iraq that still lingers today. Not only could the war be critiqued for the overall lack of success in democratization, but honing in on De-Ba’athification and its ramifications allows a more refined perspective. De-Ba’athification was the process led by the U.S. to remove people from the Ba’ath Party from government following Hussein’s rule. This led to chaos nationwide; jobs were lost, and violence persisted. Though the U.S. promotes democracy, under the Kantian assumption that more democracies will promote a more peaceful world order, the reality is that they were unsuccessful in this endeavor and worsened the state of the nation and the overall perception of the U.S. Since they left the state in such horror, it is logical for citizens to perceive their claims as disingenuous. If they were genuine about their care for democratic principles, it would be expected that they would have wanted to leave Iraqi citizens in a stable condition, not a state of turmoil. In the future, the U.S. must learn from this and facilitate authentic connections; this perpetual mistrust must shift to promote true democratic ideals. 

Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the United States is constantly in flux with the United States and provides a current exploration of democracy promotion in the Middle East. In an attempt to keep the peace between these two countries, the U.S. has been complicit and overlooked issues like human rights or state-sponsored terrorism for their business-oriented intentions, like oil or national security. The Jeddah Communique is a prime example of this. Saudi Arabia has begun to implement social changes like cinema, music, theater, and women driving, which seem to be moving in the direction of the West, handing the U.S. an opportunity to justify their connectivity in a country not practicing fundamental human rights. While these seemingly Western implementations are making cultural headway, political repression is also at a high. The assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a former journalist for the Washington Post, was an enormous wake-up call that highlighted the reality of the state. President Joseph Biden promised that “human rights will be at the center of [U.S.] foreign policy,” yet he did not follow through in rethinking relations. The US faced another test, and the historical pattern remains: claiming to prioritize human rights but falling short of implementing practical and realistic solutions. The false sense of “wokeness” that Saudi Arabia introduces socially is a new way to keep foreign relations at bay. They seek to mask human rights abuses and the failure to establish a state based on democratic values as the UN desires, using new social policies that align with what seems to be the underlying objective of the U.S., spreading Western influence. 

The United States must take accountability for the hypocrisy of its actions. Learning from past mistakes that shape today’s political landscape would allow us to make real connections with the Middle East. By understanding the historical context and more surface-level reasons for tensions between these two states, we can start delving into the roles of U.S.-Israeli relations or the historical role of pedigrees and fundamentalism, for instance, which can guide us toward a more profound understanding of these relationships. Not only would this bridge a more peaceful world order, but hopefully, we can put aside egoism and learn from each other in ways that would not have come about if we continued to balance on this precarious foundation.