America-Bashing Has Gone Far Enough

by Khalaf Al Habtoor

You can’t tune-in to an Arabic channel nowadays without coming across analysts, former politicians and ex-generals moaning and groaning about America and the West. Their views almost always paint the Middle East as a terminal victim of neo-imperialism, corporate greed and raw aggression.

In the world of the professional pundit we are always the innocent bystanders. The conflicts besetting this region are not of our making, they say. Everything is America’s fault. Few ever come up with viable solutions.

To be fair the US government deserves much of the anger directed towards it for its ill-thought out Mid-East policy.

A recent BBC poll that sought the opinions of 26,000 people in 25 countries indicates 49 per cent feel the US plays a mainly negative role in today’s world. Surprisingly attitudes in Germany, France and Indonesia were least favorable.

But here’s an interesting snippet. Some 57 per cent of Americans disapprove of the way their government handled the Iraq war.

Okay. So we know that Washington has blundered over Iraq but this shouldn’t mean that everything America and its allies propose is automatically perceived as negative.

This trend has become so bad there is now a situation of them and us, which has led some Arab nations to cool relations with the West and cast around for new friends.

A January 25 Reuter’s report was headlined “Gulf states seen shifting away from US assets”. The fact is we must be careful what we wish for because it just might happen.

Let’s ask ourselves these questions. Do we really want to sever or water down our alliances with the world’s superpower? And if we were to do something that foolish what might be the economic, political and strategic consequences?

With regards to the GCC states it would be nice if we could emulate stand-alone, neutral Switzerland. The problem is we can’t. Our countries are blessed – some might say cursed – with the world’s most coveted resource oil. Everyone wants a stake in it and we need to protect it. In truth, we cannot do this alone.

So, like it or not, we need to cooperate with a friendly foreign power at least until such time as we are set-up militarily and technologically to stand on our own feet.

Imperfect as it is, the US is the only superpower in town. There are pretenders, countries that aim to muscle out the West and which are currently out to woo us. But their challenges are fragile and, in any case, their world view, ideologies and agendas are not ours.

To be painfully frank, if America and the West were to dump us we would soon be saying ‘Come back, all is forgiven’.

If we no longer had the benefit of US satellites, for instance, our communications would be cut. If the West stopped supplying spare parts, our planes would be grounded; our hospital equipment left to rust.

Moreover if we work towards harming the US economy, in the end we will only be harming ourselves since our own economies are inter-related and inter-dependent and especially since our currencies are pegged with the dollar.

I believe the time has come to stop the anti-Western rhetoric, and work with the West instead of against it.

With a sincere will, together we can strive towards a peaceful Iraq, which does not discriminate on sectarian lines. Together we can help Lebanon heal its war wounds and divisions. And together we can concentrate on bringing a Palestinian state to fruition.

This requires a massive change of heart on our side. We are hurt, rightly so, and it won’t be easy but it’s worth remembering this. In January 2009, the White House is due to receive new tenants. Whether these will be Republican or Democrat there will be a change in policy.

The US public proved their eagerness for a new direction in the November 2006 Mid-term elections and presidential candidates are reflecting this new mood in their pre-campaign speeches. One after the other they speak of the need for diplomacy and a new hearts and minds approach vis-ŕ-vis this part of the world. In this case, we mustn’t burn our boats.

In the meantime it’s worth reflecting on the good things the US has done in the world and put the last few years in perspective as an out-of-character aberration.

Realistically speaking we need each other, so let’s be courageous enough to offer Washington the hand of friendship. We need to transparently and professionally convey our concerns and requirements while emphasizing that any new way of dealing with each another cannot be a one way street.

With our region imperiled and the future of our children at stake the road ahead demands an adult and sensible approach not one based on revenge and grievance.

The nub of the issue is this. How do you envision the future of your country? Do you want to live in a free economy that offers you the freedom to choose your own lifestyle?

If so, then the West is indispensable. And that’s the bottom line. We’re at a crossroads. There are hard choices to be made. The responsibility lies with all of us to choose wisely and well.


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