The Subtlety of Influence: America’s Soft Power Strategy in the Middle East
Recent developments in Gaza are drawing the United States back into the complex tapestry of Middle Eastern politics. It is imperative that the United States’ reengagement in the region be characterized by a strategic shift towards soft power rather than a reliance on hard power, in order to cultivate more robust relationships. It is through soft power that we can lay a foundation for the promotion of democratic values, forge enduring alliances, and solidify the U.S. presence in the Middle East.
The use of force has not brought resolution to the Palestinian issue, nor has it halted Iran’s nuclear pursuits. The folly of relying solely on hard power can also help explain America’s failed effort to bring democracy to the people of Afghanistan. These hard power approaches have propelled regional allies to seek alternatives, notably China, which has positioned itself as an intermediary in normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. To counteract China’s growing influence, the United States must reinforce its own influence through diplomatic means, humanitarian assistance, and economic involvement, thereby achieving its strategic objectives of peace and regional stability. Soft power, thus, must be the guiding principle.
The cornerstone of U.S. diplomatic efforts in the Middle East should be the prioritization of diplomats over military personnel to lead dialogues. Diplomacy opens the door to private investment and partnerships based on reciprocal trust. Direct, genuine interactions inspire trust. Arab nations are in search of support in essential sectors such as education, renewable energy, and agriculture. By fostering relationships within civil societies, we ensure ongoing dialogues and connections with future regional leaders, including political, business, and community figures. Diplomacy is the conduit for nurturing lasting relationships, which is vital for maintaining America’s role as a Middle Eastern ally and promoter of peace.
Diplomacy should be complemented by humanitarian assistance that actively fosters democracy and civil liberties. This should be a central focus in places like Gaza and across the Middle East. Assistance aimed at civil development empowers populations, in contrast to security assistance, which can perpetuate cycles of conflict.
In areas like Yemen, a shift towards peace-building and de-escalation should replace the continuation of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Emphasizing the provision of basic necessities such as food, water, and healthcare, along with the enforcement of international humanitarian laws, helps to stabilize a nation by meeting the fundamental needs of its citizens. To truly reflect American values, it is crucial that the United States’ actions consistently echo its articulated commitments. Providing humanitarian aid is not only a compassionate gesture towards the people but also a merciful approach towards the state itself.
The Middle East is a key economic player, acting as a bridge between continents, and is especially critical in the global energy market for America’s allies in Asia and Europe. Countries like Israel and the UAE lead in attracting foreign direct investments in the region, with the United States standing as a principal investor. Strategic diversification of business investments, especially in nations where partnerships are already strong — such as Jordan, Oman, and Kuwait — is a strategic maneuver that enhances U.S. influence and supports democratic efforts. American companies, like Avertra Corp in Amman, have demonstrated the potential for corporate influence to foster social progress; Avertra’s recognition with the 2023 Award for Corporate Excellence is a testament to its contributions to gender equality in the workplace. Continued support for such companies is not merely profitable but is also instrumental in advancing broader societal freedoms and equality.
The essence of soft power lies in its subtlety and the difficulty in measuring its impact, which can often lead to it being undervalued. The Shared Values Initiative (SVI) of 2002 was an early attempt to create a dialogue between American and Islamic cultures, but it was met with mixed reactions and demonstrated the challenges inherent in such cultural engagements. The Middle East, with its rich history, is not likely to rapidly change its cultural mindset or policies. It is important to acknowledge that a steady diplomatic presence maintains relevance, consistent humanitarian aid builds a positive reputation, and economic engagement shows belief in the region’s potential. In the United States’ approach to Middle Eastern policy, it is the careful and consistent efforts that are most likely to yield success.
As the Middle East continues to evolve and grow in strategic importance, it is the long-term investment in soft power that will shape the future. The United States has a profound stake in the region’s stability and peace. This vision is still attainable, but it requires a concerted and cooperative effort with Middle Eastern partners. Diplomacy, humanitarian aid, and economic cooperation are the keys to reinforcing alliances and advancing the shared objectives of peace and stability. Soft power is, unequivocally, the path to tread.