The Region: The real Arab stuff

What are the most realistic and moderate Arabic-speaking rulers thinking?

By BARRY RUBIN
February 28, 2010 21:52
US President Barack Obama speaks at the University

obama pointing 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Hussain Abdul Hussain gets it. He’s one of the most interesting Arab journalists who also write in English. In his latest article “Lonely Obama vs. popular Iran”, published in the Huffington Post,  he points out what the most realistic people and more moderate rulers in the Arabic-speaking world are thinking.

Theme one: Popularity isn’t so important in the Middle East. “A common perception is that under President Barack Obama, America’s image has improved, and perhaps its friends have increased. But such claims are unfounded, as the opposite proves to be true. International relations, however, are about interests, not sweet talk. As [George W.] Bush went out recruiting allies, and making enemies, Obama lost America’s friends while failing to win over enemies.”

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Theme two: What is important is that allies believe you will support and protect them. Obama isn’t doing that. Example A, Iraq. “After losing more than 4,300 troops in battle and spending [a huge amount of money] since 2003, America today cannot find a single politician or group that would express gratitude to Americans for ridding Iraq of its ruthless tyrant Saddam Hussein, and allowing these politicians to speak out freely. On the contrary, shy of making their excellent backdoor ties with Washington known since they fear Obama will depart Iraq and never look back, Iraqi politicians started expressing dissatisfaction with the United States in public.”

Example B, Lebanon. Before Obama took office, more than one-third of the entire population – most of them Sunni Muslims – demonstrated against Hizbullah and Syrian occupation. And the Druse leader Walid Jumblatt said on televisionthat  he was proud to be part of America’s plan to spread democracy in the Middle East. But “by the time Obama had made it to the White House, support of America’s allies in Lebanon waned since Obama was determined to appease their foes in Syria and Iran. [Said] Hariri [leader of the moderate forces] and Jumblatt [his former close ally] were forced to abandon their fight for Lebanon’s democracy and freedom” and seek to make a deal with Syria and Hizbullah instead.

Example C, Iran. The people revolted against the autocratic regime and staged mass demonstrations, “but Obama’s Washington was busy sending one letter of appeasement after another to Iran’s tyrants, and accordingly failed to side with the Green Revolution for democracy and freedom. When Obama did show support for the Green movement, it was too little and too late.”


AMONG THOSE worried about a similar lack of US support are Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the small Gulf states, the three North African states, most of Lebanon and those Turks who don’t want to live under an Islamist regime.

Theme three: Iran helps its allies. Hence, Iran has more allies, while the US has fewer. Iran is going up; the US is going down. “Now compare America’s friends around the Middle East to Iran’s cronies, and you can immediately understand why Washington is in trouble, both diplomatically and on a popular level, while Iran is confident as it marches toward producing a nuclear weapon and expanding its influence across the Middle East.”



Iranian ally A, Hizbullah: “Since 1981, Iran has been funding its Lebanese ally Hizbullah, never defaulting on any of its pledged payments. Hizbullah went from an embryonic group into a state within a state, boasting a membership of several thousands and maintaining a private army, schools, hospitals, orphanages, satellite TV and a number of other facilities that have won it the hearts of Lebanon’s Shi’ites, and have given Hizbullah an absolute command over them.”

Iranian ally B, Syria: “Iran has maintained a flow of cash and political support toward Syria for a similar amount of time. Obama has been begging Syria to switch sides and abandon Iran. Judging by the mishaps that always seem to befall America’s friends with time, Syria does not seem likely to change, but is rather playing an Obama administration desperate for whatever it can claim as success in its foreign policy.”

As if to prove the point, immediately after a big American delegation visited Damascus to restore full relations and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress that US policy is seeking to detach Syria from its alliance with Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Syria and the two leaders made strong anti-American statements while pledging eternal partnership.

Here’s the headline in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat: “Syria and Iran defy Clinton in show of unity.”

And in the Syrian government’s newspaper Tishrin a column explained that if the US wanted a deal with Iran and Syria to achieve peace in the region that would have to include Israel’s elimination.

Iranian ally C, Iraqi insurgents: “In Iraq, Iran does not only fund and train militias and violent groups, but it also funds electoral campaigns of Iraqi politicians, loyal media groups and political parties, thus expanding its influence over Iraq exponentially. Spending billions more than Iran in Iraq, America has seen its money spent to no or little effect.”

And here’s the bottom line: “The comparison between Iran and Obama’s America is simple. While Teheran never let down an ally, offering them consistent financial and political support, Washington’s support of its allies around the world has always been intermittent, due to changes with administrations and an ever swinging mood among American voters, pundits and analysts.

“So while Iran has created a mini-Islamic republic in Lebanon, and is on its way to doing the same in Iraq, America has failed in keeping friends or maintaining influence both in Lebanon and in Iraq.

“And while Teheran brutally suppressed a growing peaceful revolution for change inside Iran, Washington’s pacifism did not win any favors with the Iranian regime, or with its opponents in the Green Revolution.

“While Iran knows how to make friends, Obama’s America has become an expert in losing them.”

Yes! That’s what it’s all about. You know, it’s an interesting point. Obama and company says we should listen to Muslim and Arab voices.

Okay, but which ones? Not, as they are doing, to the apologists for radicalism and the purveyors of conventional nonsense (all that matters is the Arab-Israeli conflict, America should just make concessions, you need to understand how Islamism isn’t a threat, etc.). If you want to know what a dozen Arab governments think and fear – and Israelis, too – this is the real stuff.


The writer is Director at the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA) (http://www.gloria-center.org) and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal (MERIA). He blogs at The Rubin Report (http://rubinreports.blogspot.com)

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