Rethinking U.S. Engagement with Global Muslim Communities

December 11, 2020

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People standing outside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Rethinking U.S. engagement with global Muslim communities will be a key priority as the Biden administration charts its foreign policy objectives. Under the Trump administration, decisions like the travel ban on a number of Muslim-majority countries often complicated the work of career diplomats worldwide and especially in the Islamic world. The administration took a rather unprecedented approach to American diplomacy in the Middle East, recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and inciting global concern over war between the United States and Iran. The Trump administration also presided over peace accords between Bahrain, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates in September 2020, although the long-term significance of the move remains to be seen. Trump-era changes to U.S. outreach in the Middle East and beyond provide the Biden administration with a host of challenges in shaping the future of American diplomacy.

The president-elect has promised to overhaul American foreign policy, providing a sense of relief to many world leaders. Initial reactions to a Biden presidency have been more mixed in the Middle East, owing at least in part to his complicated record on Iraq. Gulf monarchies close to Trump will be wary given the Obama administration’s openness to dialogue with Iran and its support for the 2010-11 Arab Spring. And while engagement with Muslims around the world was a priority for Obama—recall his famous June 2009 speech in Cairo—some have argued that those efforts reinforced the idea that Muslims need to be handled differently from other religious groups around the world. As the country prepares for a new administration, the Berkley Forum invites scholars and policymakers to provide priority guidance for the Biden administration on rethinking U.S. engagement with Muslim communities abroad. 

This week the Berkley Forum asks: How should the Biden administration approach U.S. engagement with Muslims worldwide, especially in the context of Trump-era policies? What can the president-elect learn from the mistakes of the Trump and Obama administrations on this issue? Where is priority action needed by the Biden administration when it comes to American outreach to Muslim-majority states around the world? How can the new administration work to repair mistrust of the United States in the Middle East and beyond?

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