Voices from the Arab press: Has the US changed, or just its president?

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

SEIZED UKRAINIAN naval ships are guarded by Russian Coast Guard vessels in the port in Kerch, near the bridge connecting the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula, in November 2019 (photo credit: ALLA DMITRIEVA/REUTERS)
SEIZED UKRAINIAN naval ships are guarded by Russian Coast Guard vessels in the port in Kerch, near the bridge connecting the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula, in November 2019
Al-Etihad, UAE, July 17
Europe emerged from World War II in a deplorable state. The winter of 1947 was a tragedy unlike any other witnessed before. The continent was totally destroyed and famine was widespread. The European economies collapsed. In France, inflation reached 49%. In Italy, it exceeded 62%. In Germany, the Allies did not leave a single city intact. Almost every major factory around the country was destroyed.
Across the ocean, the US was concerned with returning its soldiers from the battlefield in an effort to begin healing the wounds of those families that lost loved ones in the war. However, geopolitical developments soon imposed other priorities. Chief among them was rebuilding and rehabilitating Europe in an effort to curb the westward Communist advance coming from the Soviet Union.
Thus the famous Marshall Plan, named after the US secretary of state at the time, was born. Under the plan, the US provided $14.3 billion in direct aid to rebuild European economies between 1948 and 1952. The value of this amount in 2018 dollars is some $130 billion. The Soviet Union interpreted Marshall’s plan as an attempt to resurrect Germany. That is why Joseph Stalin hastened the acceleration of the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe, including the eastern part of Germany.
The US responded with the creation of NATO. The goal of this alliance was to push the Soviet Union back east, to maintain an American presence on the continent and to ensure a continuation of the German defeat. This helped rebuild a new Europe, which evolved into today’s European Union.
Compare this experience with what we’re witnessing today. Unlike the winter of 1947, US President Donald Trump, in the winter of 2017, announced a new policy based on the principle of “America First.” Under this principle, to which Trump adheres despite European and American opposition, the US has been seeking to reduce its financial commitments to NATO while imposing unprecedented taxes on European exports to America (for example, steel).
Today, Trump is trying to reduce his country’s obligations to others while turning a blind eye to what is happening in Europe. But unlike his predecessors who saw the Soviet incursion into Czechoslovakia as a reason for grave concern, Trump views the Russian takeover of Crimea as a non-issue. He refuses to be drawn into any form of confrontation with the Russian Federation because that would come at the expense of America First.
In the winter of 1947, when the US approved the Marshall Plan, president Harry Truman was surrounded by legendary figures like George Marshall, George Kennan, Will Clayton and Adlai Stevenson, who were not only great advisers but also shrewd thinkers. They were academics, policymakers and seasoned diplomats.
Conversely, today’s White House is filled with staffers who have an insanely limited experience in international affairs. In order to fulfill his commitment to the Marshall Plan to restore life to Europe after the war, Truman had to pursue a policy of economic openness. As for Trump, his commitment to America First has led him to pursue a policy of isolation and seclusion, even with his closest neighbors, Mexico and Canada. Hence, the question is: Has the US changed or is it only the president?
– Muhammad Al-Sammak
Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, July 16
The Iraqi judiciary is currently concerned with investigating the assassination of noted researcher Hisham Al-Hashemi, who was brutally killed outside his home a few weeks ago. Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi vowed that he would bring the perpetrators to justice.
The murder of Hashemi is not an ordinary event. Indeed, some describe it is as the most dangerous political assassination in post-2003 Iraq. Dr. Harith Hassan, who has closely studied the history of Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein and witnessed dangerous assassinations – including the killing of Sheikh Abdul-Majid al-Khoei and Sheikh Sayyid Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, two events that carried grave social and political implications – suggests that Hashemi’s killing is even more monumental. In his view, the assassination will have a greater impact on the political process in Iraq and the fate of the Kadhimi government, since the seriousness with which Iraq’s security services approach the investigation will reveal the future of the country.
Is it moving toward the establishment of an orderly and lawful state or will it become one dominated by violence, fear and chaos? Hashemi’s many opponents include al-Qaida, Islamic State, Hizbullah and other armed militias associated with political Islam, both Sunni and Shi’ite. These are groups that benefit from a state of chaos in Iraq and want to continue existing as non-state actors challenging the central regime politically, economically and socially. It was Hashemi’s continuous criticism of these groups that made him the subject of their anger and eventually led to his killing. [The Iraqi] Kata’ib Hizbullah was the group with the most radical stance toward Hashemi alongside Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Harakat Hizbullah al-Nujaba, all of which are supported by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Kadhimi and his government cannot alone confront Iraq’s armed factions without Tehran’s agreement. Unless the Iranian mullahs exert pressure on these groups, lift their political sponsorship and stop their financing and training, these groups will endure. The chances of the mullahs doing so are currently unlikely, since Iraq remains an arena for conflict and score-settling between the US and Iran.
– Hassan Al-Mustafa 
Al-Arab, London, July 17
The Lebanese people look back at their bloody civil war and think of it as a walk in the park compared to the dark ages they are currently experiencing under Hezbollah’s rule. Hezbollah transformed Lebanon into a booby-trapped country that can be detonated on command in case its people refuse to comply with the group’s dictates.
The inconvenient truth is that Lebanon has lost the world’s empathy. What a tragic ending for a country that was once a tourism hotspot, a country with unparalleled natural beauty, a country of hardworking, law-abiding citizens who demonstrated nothing but tolerance and respect for each other. Even under the sectarian system and during the many years of heightened sectarian tensions, the Lebanese people managed to lead normal lives and conduct their affairs insulated from all the political turmoil. They didn’t have to sacrifice their civic rights. To some extent, they felt the possibility of “taming” the sectarian system and preventing it from separating them from the rest of the world. They hoped to transform that system into a distant memory. They hoped to turn sectarianism into diversity and bring an end to the discrimination in their society.
But what happened, unfortunately, is that Hezbollah took advantage of the sectarian system and made it a mantle for its malicious operations. It defrauded the Lebanese people in order to divide and conquer them. It resorted to scare tactics and intimidation to ensure a majority in parliament. It created a system of political patronage wherein all those not loyal to the movement are weakened and ousted.
Sadly, all of this has been only a prelude to declaring hegemony over the Lebanese state so that even the Christian president of the republic became the candidate of Hezbollah alongside the Sunni prime minister, who was also chosen by Hezbollah. Given Hezbollah’s ultimate loyalty to the Islamic Republic of Iran and its supreme leader, its takeover of Lebanese politics means that Lebanon has become nothing more than a subsidiary of Iran.
The Lebanese situation has become confusing to the world in terms of how to look at it and deal with its crisis. Is Lebanon simply a victim of its sectarian system? Or is it a malicious actor implementing Iran’s agenda in the region? Lebanon has lost the flexibility to be a country that embraces its diversity and at the same time has lost its ability to convince the world that it is a democratic country open for global and regional dialogue.
This is the primary reason for the world’s indifference to Lebanon’s current political and financial crises. The world no longer trusts Lebanon. Lebanon and Hezbollah have become one and the same. Thus, it can no longer claim to be a victim and beg for the mercy of world powers. Lebanon, the country whose beauty for years managed to conceal the ugliness of Hezbollah, will have to face its ultimate dark fate alone.
– Farouk Youssef
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.