IRI Board Member Tami Longaberger Recounts Experience Observing Jordanian Elections in The Hill

This Election Day, some lessons from the Middle East 

The Hill 

By Tami Longaberger 

As the presidential campaign comes to an end, many voters are discouraged by the replacement of substantive debate with personal attacks, a lack of detailed solutions to this country’s problems and entrenched partisanship.

Raising the stakes further, America’s status as a global power means the results of Election Day extends far beyond our borders.

America’s now-polarized two-party system may never again function as it did throughout much of the 20th century, back when congressional leaders from both parties frequently worked across the aisle, and, with the White House and executive agencies, they were able to shape policy for the greater good.

However, as our nation currently faces enormous domestic and international challenges, a recent U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded election observation mission in Jordan carried out a few weeks ago provides proof that bipartisanship lives on. This mission was jointly carried out by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI).

Upon arriving in Amman, I was struck by the difficulty of Jordan’s position, and thus how important the parliamentary elections would be. Jordan is bordered by Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel. While Jordan has itself remained a bedrock of stability, it has struggled with the security and economic challenges brought about by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and continuing refugee inflows.

As I walked the streets of the eastern part of the city, I was impressed by the scores of people lining up to vote. It occurred to me that that international engagement, whether direct foreign aid or the mission I participated in, is essential to building peace in the Middle East.

Participating in conversations around the dinner table on the first night of the mission, the diversity of the delegates’ backgrounds stood out to me. I am a registered Republican who sits on the board of directors at IRI, and I was seated alongside high-ranking Democratic officials and staff.

While our perspectives on politics and policy — including how to quell conflict in nearby Iraq and Syria — are extraordinarily divergent, we stood together in the critical task of showing American support for Jordan.

We were brought together by IRI and its sister organization, NDI, which were established by a bipartisan act of Congress as part of the National Endowment for Democracy following President Reagan’s seminal address to Westminster Parliament in 1983, in which he articulated America’s commitment to the advancement and defense of democracy throughout the world.

While both IRI and NDI are nonpartisan in their common mission, they each draw heavily in board membership, leadership and recruitment upon the collective expertise of the two major American political parties. The quest to support and sustain liberal democracies around the world is enriched when representation from both parties participates, building together what neither can do alone.

IRI and NDI’s close cooperation all over the world, including the observation mission in Jordan, is an ongoing testament to what passionate individuals from diverse backgrounds can achieve when they set aside differences in pursuit of a common goal: a safer and more prosperous world for all.

Bringing stability to the Middle East is one of the main foreign policy challenges that our country faces. While many newspapers and media outlets will continue to write stories of both parties fighting bitterly until this election’s end, it is incumbent upon all Americans to turn a new page on Nov. 9, to write a story that incorporates more of the bipartisan teamwork we experienced in Jordan.

All Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, will benefit from putting aside individual differences to find joint solutions to pressing issues. We must work together and demand that our elected officials do the same.

Longaberger is a member of International Republican Institute’s (IRI) board of directors and chair of IRI’s Arab Women’s Leadership Institute. She is the former chair of the Longaberger Company.

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