(CNSNews.com) - A former national security advisor to the Bush administration said Tuesday that the White House has made poor policy choices in the Middle East and the United States needs to return to a "carrots and sticks" model of diplomacy before America loses all influence in the region.
"America's standing is declining in the region," said Flynt Leverett, who was the senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council during President Bush's first term.
Leverett, who is now a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, said at a news conference in Washington, D.C., that the United States is losing "effective influence" and the ability to protect its interests because of this lack of standing, not due to external factors.
"It is of our making, and in particular, I think this decline is a result of policy choices made by the Bush administration and its pursuit of the war on terror," Leverett said. "The administration decided as a matter of policy that diplomacy was a reward for bad behavior, and we weren't going to do it."
Leverett left the Bush administration in spring 2003 over disagreements with then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. He continues to encourage the White House to lay out incentives and disincentives for nations such as Iran and Syria, following the Libya model.
Leverett believes this would bring stability to the region, which he described as "more unstable than at any point in the post-Cold War period."
"There is no reason to believe this instability will give rise to a more secure and prosperous region in the future," Leverett added. "It's only going to get harder, the longer we wait. The price is only going to get higher."
But Ilan Berman, vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council, disagrees with Leverett's analysis.
"It's becoming a fairly popular sport in town to snipe at the Bush administration for what it's doing," Berman said.
"You can't say that there is no carrot and sticks," Berman told Cybercast News Service. "What Flynt [Leverett] talks about when he talks about 'carrots and sticks' is really mostly carrots, and much less sticks."
Though Berman believes the administration is currently pursuing "a mostly carrot approach," he argues it is not seeing significant dividends, "at least on the Iranian front."
"Particularly on Iran," Berman concluded, "I think the Bush administration has done a 180 degree reversal on the type of policy it has been pursuing since late May, when we decided we were going to talk with them directly."
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