x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A 'smart' US foreign policy opportunity

In part, the United States has been hampered in conflict areas because of its mammoth bureaucracy and conflicting policy goals. If the foreign policy review is successful, it should at least provide more clarity where the US stands.

What is Hillary Clinton's top priority? If her first speech as US secretary of state in 2009 is any guide, it is "smart power" that drives her agenda - otherwise known as the 3D approach that aligns defence, development and diplomacy.

Almost two years later, Mrs Clinton is still struggling to shift the inertia of the massive US foreign policy bureaucracy. One of the clearest signs that she is making progress emerged last week with the launch of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. It's a clumsy name for an even more unwieldy process to coordinate more than 50 US offices that handle foreign affairs. Focused on US foreign relations, staff and changing spending priorities, the review could have an enormous effect on the Gulf and the region.

The US review puts Gulf security among its top priorities. What does that mean for the UAE? Key areas of diplomatic and development coordination with the international community at large include Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan. A more nuanced approach to security and diplomacy has obvious implications for stability in the region.

In part, the United States has been hampered in conflict areas because of its mammoth bureaucracy and conflicting policy goals. If the foreign policy review is successful, it should at least provide more clarity where the US stands. That would improve the UAE's ability to step in when its own interests are at stake.

But the UAE has been thinking in these three dimensions for some time. One of the chief proponents of smart power, Joseph Nye, has been a frequent visitor to these shores. In the past two years, a team at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has worked to align aid and foreign policy aims into a coherent framework.

It is certainly still a work in progress, particularly to bring the different emirates in step with a top-down smart power approach. A national 3D strategy that asserts UAE priorities also needs to be more transparent to encourage engagement.

It remains to be seen whether Mrs Clinton will have the ability - and the will - to fundamentally restructure America's conflicting, often competing bureaucracies. There is no doubt that the US has made its mistakes, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Given that it classifies more than half of the Middle East as "fragile", its ability to cope with conflict areas has serious spillover effects for the entire region.