As the year 2014 begins, the Arab world finds itself in a worrisome situation.
The Syrian crisis, which in less than three months will enter its third year, has exposed many international agendas, a fact only the obstinate, prejudiced or stupid would deny. The Mashreq in particular is facing a future where anything can happen.
In both the Levant and the Arab Gulf, fear and anger, along with deep-seated resentments and a growing sense of injustice, are now being fed by regional aspirations. Furthermore, the lack of a sense of responsibility and moral scruples in the international community has allowed the popular uprising in Syria to turn into a “global war on terror,” as was the desire of the new Russian “Tsar” and his Chinese partner, with Beijing sharing Moscow’s relentless bid to end the unipolar world the United States has enjoyed since it emerged victorious from the Cold War.
The US, in turn, appears to have grown tired of the burdens of its unipolar status, convincing itself that it is no longer qualified to shoulder this task. Thus it has chosen to resign its duties and abandon its spheres of influence for others to fill.
Is it possible to change this stance? Well, only American voters, through the ballot box, can do that. If and when they realize that the US is being weak or negligent, they could withdraw their confidence from the administration of President Barack Obama in the forthcoming midterm elections.
This, in fact, is what they did at the height of the Cold War, when the American voters perceived President Jimmy Carter as a weak leader, dismissing his idealism as mere naiveté. Despite Carter being, in my opinion, a far better and nobler human being and politician than Ronald Reagan was, his misreading of the status quo led to his bitter defeat by the Republican Party’s hawks. Subsequently, as we all know, the Republican Party managed within a short time to end the Soviet Union, having forced Moscow to exceed its capabilities in the nuclear arms race. The Reagan administration restrained and exhausted the Soviet Union with several regional wars, until an unwise Mikhail Gorbachev emerged as the General Secretary of the then-aging Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev unconditionally surrendered to Reagan’s coercive policies, thus overseeing the collapse of the Soviet state he had claimed to be striving to revive.
In Washington today, there is a new version of Carter. His name is Barack Obama.
Two factors helped Obama win a second presidential term. First was the Americans’ fear that the severe economic and financial crisis might do away with the social and medical care “safety net.” Second was that the Republican Party pursued an extremist ideological line after the far-right Tea Party managed to impose its agenda on a large sector within the party.
Add to these factors Americans’ weariness of former president George W. Bush’s aggressive foreign policy, and Obama became convinced of the necessity to turn to domestic politics and abandon any active role abroad. As a result, the Arab Mashreq is now paying a high price for Obama’s much-trumpeted “principled” and “humanitarian” policies, which, as the regional events unfolded, have proven to be neither of these things.
In his famous speech in Cairo in early 2009, Obama adopted the highly promising “new beginning” slogan. Those who were listening delusively believed that his idealism and rich political culture would enable the newly elected president to adopt an approach that would deal with the roots and causes of the problems afflicting the Arab and Muslim worlds. However, Obama failed at the first obstacle when he was confronted—and indeed humiliated—by the uncompromising Israeli position on the settlements in the West Bank.
From then on, Obama’s foreign policy began to flounder until it completely collapsed with the deal the US struck with Iran, without the knowledge of Washington’s Arab allies. The deal, which followed months of secret negotiations, most likely included colluding with Moscow on the Syrian crisis. According to reliable figures, more than 220,000 Syrians are now dead or missing and ten million have become internal or external refugees. In 2013 alone, the agreed death toll in Syria hit the 60,000 mark.
With the countdown to the “Geneva II” peace talks on Syria under way, Washington has ignored the scorched-earth policy increasingly pursued by the Syrian government. The White House has also remained silent about Moscow’s frequent calls to shift the focus of Geneva II from implementing a peaceful power transfer in Syria to “fighting terrorism.”
What is more sinister still is that Washington has turned a blind eye to Iran’s direct involvement in the war in Syria via 25 Shi’ite militias from around the world, the most prominent of which are the Lebanese Hezbollah and 15 Iraqi militias, such as the Abu Fadl Al-Abbas Brigade and Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, not to mention other Yemeni, Afghan and Pakistani factions.
Last but not least, there have been several reports of former and current US and Israeli officials saying publicly that they would rather see President Bashar Al-Assad remain in power than allow fundamentalist and jihadist groups to take over Syria.
Personally, I do not think any Syrian, Arab or Muslim will accept Assad being allowed to stay in power amid the dead bodies of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, as well as the rubble of the country. And I presume such a decision will sooner or later lead to the emergence of a disparate and extremist environment that will only serve as an “incubator” of terrorism, and eventually lead to the partition and fragmentation of the region.
What is happening in Syria, coinciding with the return of the criminal spate of political assassinations in Lebanon and the overt sectarian practices of Iraq’s rulers—who were helped into power by Washington—proves that the borders of the Mashreq, drawn in 1920, are now shaking and rapidly fading away.
A redrawing of the borders would mean that the region would be either divided under a joint Iranian–Israeli mandate or subdivided along sectarian and ethnic lines amid much pain and suffering.
All this because the Obama administration cannot or does not want to differentiate between being an aggressive world-leading power and a responsible one.