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Opinion: Is America’s decline material or moral? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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US President Barack Obama responds to a question during a press conference at the White House in Washington, DC, USA, March 01 2013. Source: EPA/SHAWN THEW

Over the past few years, television channels and publications affiliated to the March 8 Alliance in Lebanon—the principal ally of the Tehran-Damascus axis—raced to host political “pundits” to lecture the poor Lebanese people on two major issues:

First, the threat represented by the grand western conspiracy targeting the Syrian “steadfastness” and Iranian “resistance” in order to serve Israeli interests and America’s “New Middle East” project.

Second, the rapid decline of the US on the stage of world politics; in what appears to contradict the above.

Many of these pundits had not read a single book on political philosophy and international relations, not to mention the US economy or the American political system. Despite this, they appeared in the media to attack this “terrible conspiracy”, which they believed was based on the old scheme of dividing the Middle East into sectarian states, calling for this to be confronted. They did this, of course, without forgetting to cite the “Sykes-Picot Agreement” and “Balfour Declaration” as the West’s means to legitimize Israel’s creation in the very heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds.

The fact of the matter is that this general popular trend towards citing “conspiracies” has been part of a broader move towards accusing “conspirators” of treason and calling for their blood to be shed. This is something that happened on more than one occasion in Lebanon post-2005, with charges of treason accompanying the series of political assassinations that commenced with the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

We also saw this phenomenon on the “resistance” television channels, and the newspapers affiliated to this political camp. We have seen this media citing the “end of the American era,” sometimes at the hands of the BRIC states, and at other times thanks to Iran’s long arm and nuclear capabilities, “which would lead to wiping out Israel.”

Indeed, the manner in which the international community has dealt with the Syrian people’s uprising against the Damascus regime has placed these two opposing camps to the test. However, if there are real question marks over Washington’s ability to preserve its international unilateralism, the talk about the presence of a Western—particularly American—conspiracy against the “resistance” axis is proving to be pure nonsense.

Initially, Obama’ Washington dealt with the Syrian uprising in a very positive manner, similar to that adopted by George W. Bush’s Washington toward the Lebanese uprising that followed Hariri’s assassination in 2005.

At the time, Washington was enthusiastic, and its former ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, practically appointed himself “guardian” of the population revolution that the media dubbed—with typical American flair—“the Cedar Revolution”. In fact, Feltman’s over-the-top media appearances ultimately became a burden to that uprising, placing it in Hezbollah’s cross-hairs. Hezbollah, of course, is the local bulwark of the Tehran-Damascus axis and is the ever-ready heir to the Iranian-Syrian guardianship of Lebanon.

At that time, any and every honest Lebanese citizen became vulnerable to accusations of being a Feltman “creation”. Every popular movement, spontaneous or not, was accused of being inspired by Awkar. Akwar, being the suburb of Beirut where the US embassy is located.

However this US fervor ultimately dissipated day-by-day in the face of Hezbollah’s material gains on the ground, including its hegemony over a number of state security agencies.

Feltman left his post in Beirut after he was appointed US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (2009-12) under then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while today he holds the post of UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. Feltman is today an active part of the UN’s mechanism of collusion and conspiracy against the Syrian uprising, which has now been scaled down to become just a single case cocooned in the Ghouta chemical massacre.

With regard to Syria, Washington’s rhetoric was initially loud, talking of “red-lines” and so forth; however, neither Bashar Al-Assad nor the Russian President Vladimir Putin and his counterpart in Beijing cared much about this.

Consequently, Washington’s policy of drawing up “red lines” failed, and became more like “yellow autumn leaves” blown away by the Russian-Chinese vetoes, and the urgency of Assad and his backers to invite symbols of extremism and “takfirism” into the country, turning them into tools to blackmail the West with. The last delusional “red line” was, unceremoniously, crossed with the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta.

Obama, who has always been well aware of the mood in the US Congress, abandoned his moral obligations and surrendered his political responsibilities, to the legislative authority, using this as a fig leaf to cover his lack of leadership and strategic vision as well as the collapse of the value system that American politics has long lauded.

Obama, as it is now quite clear, has no vision for the future of Syria except the need to control its chemical weapons arsenal, fearing that this could fall into the hands of irresponsible and untrustworthy parties. This, of course, alludes to the “responsible” Damascus regime which has made sure that calm is the order of the day along the Golan Heights armistice line since 1973.

However, to return to the point raised at the beginning:

Yes, it is true that Barack Obama’s America is today acting from a position of weakness.

Yes, it may be true that the US economy is in decline, and the Americans are trying to secure victories through diplomacy.

It is also true, however, that America is deceiving and failing its regional allies who gambled on long-term US friendship largely because their understanding of friendship differs from that of Washington’s.

Still, one might argue that reports of America’s death “have been greatly exaggerated”, as Mark Twain famously said about his own premature obituary.

America remains present on the scene.

America remains strong, despite the narrow-mindedness of its politicians, the decline of their high ideals to the point where they are solely concerned with promoting their own selfish and partisan interests, and making superficial claims and pledges of cutting taxes while mercilessly reducing public spending.

America remains strong despite the rise of trivial-minded groups like the Tea Party, which is characterized by fanaticism and intellectual backwardness.

America remains present and capable of wrongdoing even when it shrinks away from doing what is right; more so, after democracy plays its role and Obama retires to fill an academic chair.

As for our misery-ridden region, its real problem is not with the decline of America’s military prowess and the loosening of its security grip, but rather with the retreat of American ethics and its fundamental vision of helping the oppressed, punishing the wicked, upholding human rights, and promoting the ideals of citizenship and coexistence.

Obama has failed, despite all the slogans he has proclaimed. He has failed the Palestinians, and then the Syrians, and is now demonstrating to the entire Arab world that he has no strategy towards the region consistent with America’s role as a superpower.

Obama is haggling in the regional bazaar as if he were a petty retail trader, not the head of a massive international conglomerate.