What will it take to improve America’s standing in the Muslim world over the next four years? With conservatives and liberals calling each other Islamophobes and apologists, it often seems like there’s nothing but disagreement about how to answer this question.
But last September in Washington, D.C., a bipartisan, interfaith, and interdisciplinary group of 34 American leaders—including people as different as Madeleine Albright, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the Cordoba Initiative, and former GOP State Department official Richard Armitage—came together and proved otherwise. This diverse group was convened by the nonprofits Search for Common Ground and the Consensus Building Institute. They had some advice for the next administration:
First, President Obama must start early with peace efforts in Israel-Palestine, listening to both sides in the first year of his administration, rather than putting it off until the last year, as Presidents Bush and Clinton did.
Second, the administration should start talking to America’s adversaries. The new president should commit to diplomatic engagement with Iran as part of a broader movement that emphasizes diplomacy over military action. The current U.S. military budget is more than $600 billion, which is more than 40 times the budget of the State Department. More money would give American diplomats—the public face of our society on the ground—a greater presence in Muslim-majority countries.