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A View From Within | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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“This is America. That’s how it has always been and how it will always be. It’s a demonic invention to some and a divine creation to others.”

(Hadaeq Allah (God’s Gardens) by al Safi Saeed).

I cannot think of a phrase as profound and concise to describe the attitudes towards the US, especially in what are known as Third World countries. Whether this ideological stance towards the United States stems from religious matters or other worldly affairs, the result remains unchanged: The US is either a compassionate god that can only do pure good to some, or the devil incarnate that is only capable of pure evil.

For countries like Iran, Cuba or North Korea, the United States is the demon embodied in a state that does not see or care about anything except itself, while it is a friend, ally and protector to countries like Britain, South Korea and Israel. Those are the two ideological stances to which there is no third option or midpoint, and in-between those two positions the truth is lost and visions get blurred and it becomes impossible to know how to deal with this superpower.

However, away from these ideological positions the US is like all other countries on which the logic of the state is applicable in terms of its actions and behavior. It is not a devil but neither is it a deity, rather it is a country to which you cannot apply good and evil in much the same way that they cannot be applied to other countries. Both good and evil are relative terms that are determined in accordance with the way they are utilized by their speaker. What is good for one can be evil for another, and as the Arab proverb goes: “The misfortunes of some are the fortunes of others.” From another perspective, the terms ‘good’ and ‘evil’ denote moral standards that may be applied to individual behavior but which are not applicable to certain entities such as countries which follow different criteria for behavioral conduct that differs from the standards for individual behavior – even when a given behavior is deemed good or evil from an individualistic ideological view.

There are three fundamental pillars on which a state is established in terms of its domestic and external code of conduct: interest, security and stability. In any country and all countries, whether we refer to past empires or the monarchies and republics of the present, these three constants are the compass that defines the behavior of the state. It designates its behavior towards similar foreign entities, or on the level of internal domestic components.

The difference between states and governments, however, lies on the perception of what can bring security and stability and what is in the nation’s best interest. There is no contradiction between Iran during the rule of the Shahs and the republican Iran in terms of the country’s ultimate aims, as there is no difference between the Republicans and Democrats in the United States – the only discrepancy exists on the method of achieving the objectives. Also there is no difference between South Korea and North Korea in the same manner, inasmuch as it is a difference in views. For example, North Korea believes that the state is the rule and that what is good for the latter is also good for the former, which in turn is what determines its policy and its general code of conduct. Most totalitarian states do not distinguish between the state and the regime, viewing them as one thing, which becomes the point through which we can understand these regimes and the policies they follow which would then enable us to deal with them.

Bearing that it mind, it thus becomes possible to understand America’s policy through an understanding of what this administration, or others, employ as methods to achieve security and stability and what is of the state’s best interest. It is essential to take into account the unique factor that differentiates the US from the rest of the world and plays a key role in determining its foreign policy, namely, the fact that it is the only remaining superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

Not understanding this position or the fact that different administrations use different means to realize the aforementioned three points creates an obstacle in dealing with a given American administration. The ideological stance, more than anything else, is what is responsible for blinding most. Dealing with the United States in ‘absolutely good’ or ‘absolutely evil’ terms blinkers the vision from particular details that when taken into consideration would reveal a more pragmatic and thereby more useful policy that the country in questions adopts towards the US.

The obvious example is that the overriding Arab position towards the United States is based on a learned political ideology, more so than a political stance that emerges from the reality of interest, security and stability. In this light, we have no real understanding of the American policy as we should, while American reaction in return is tainted with suspicion, mistrust and a general lack of confidence. It goes without saying that the weaker party is the one to lose, such as is the case in Palestine or Iraq. It’s true that the Bush administration is responsible for adding an extremist element to the US’s ideological position, especially following the September 11 attacks, however it is but a temporary policy that will change with the change of administration. We have witnessed the heralds of this during the recent legislative elections, which rid the US of an extremist right-wing ideology.

The question that remains is one that is related to us: When will we rid ourselves of ideologies and return to the land of reality?