Donald Trump’s first priority on his maiden voyage as president must be to restore trust between the United States and its longstanding partners in the Middle East. America’s friends and allies in the region are eager for calm after years of turmoil and mutual suspicions under Presidents Bush and Obama. But it would be a mistake for Trump to ignore the Middle East’s deep dysfunction in his search for a feel-good narrative. Maybe not now—but soon—he will need to deliver some tough messages to regional leaders about the demands of citizens for justice, basic human rights and good governance. Most importantly, he will have to understand that relying on the U.S. military and cutting arms deals are hardly sustainable solutions to the region’s permanent crisis.
The two of us come from different perspectives. Michael is a scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, and Brian at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. Last year, our two think tanks came together for a unique project in this age of partisan polarization in Washington—a bipartisan, on-the-ground study of the drivers of instability across the Middle East, based on a series of visits and dialogues in and about the region.This article was originally published in Politico Magazine.