The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Friday, March 06, 2009

America, the Middle East and 'Respect'

In response to Charles Krauthammer's January 30th piece. I meant to send this to the Washington Post but at 500 words, it is way above their limit for letters-to-the-editor. I am thinking of sending it anyway or using it as the basis for my own Op Ed.


I can’t say that I was impressed by Charles Krauthammer’s January 30th piece in which he claims that President Obama is ‘defensive’ and ‘apologetic’ on account of his saying to Muslims that ‘we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect’. Was this really the best example of Carteresque repentance and self-pity Krauthammer could find? More gravely, he presents an extremely selective and distorted picture of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The Muslims of the region have plenty of reasons to feel ambivalent towards the U.S.A. Our policies have been chiefly determined by the needs for stable supplies of oil, a commodity of so much importance to the world economy, and the fact that Israel, which Americans have a strong sentimental attachment to, happens to be there. U.S. policy in the Middle East, whatever its merits, has always put these two priorities ahead of the will of the region’s inhabitants or, indeed, their well-being.

U.S. actions in the Middle East have repeatedly been conducted in flagrant disregard of the will of its inhabitants. One thinks of the Anglo-U.S. coup against the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953 or Franco-U.S. support for the military takeover of Algeria in 1992 following the electoral victories of the Islamic Salvation Front. (Can one void a democratic election in the name of democracy?) Muslims were appalled at the excessive use of force during the Gulf War (recall the ‘Highway of Death’), the no-fly-zones established over Iraq in disregard for its sovereignty, and the sanctions regime that killed thousands of Iraqis. And, needless to say, Muslims were overwhelmingly opposed to the invasion of Iraq.

On big issues affecting the Middle East as a whole – whether it is Iraq, the Palestinian Question or the role of religion in their own countries – the U.S. has no regard for the opinion of the region’s people. Who can blame Middle Eastern Muslims if they come to the conclusion that the U.S., or rather its government, does not respect them?

This is not to say that the U.S. has never helped Muslims or is driven by prejudice against Islam. One need only cite America’s noble opposition to the Anglo-French operation at Suez in 1956, support for Bosnian Muslims or America’s record of integrating Muslim immigrants more successfully than the Europeans. However, it remains no less true that the American Empire, so uniquely democratic and consensual in Western Europe and Northeast Asia, has a deeply troubling character in the Middle East. I frankly doubt Obama can change this state of affairs any time soon, but one can only praise his declared intention to move in a new direction.


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