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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

America’s muddled priorities and double standards

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Shutterstock
© Shutterstock

I’m stunned at the banquet Washington’s political establishment and the US media have made out of the personal indiscretions of a couple of four-star generals past their prime. Gen. David Petraeus was leaned on to resign due to his suspect relationship with his biographer Paula Broadwell. Gen. John Allen, the commander of NATO in Afghanistan, has been treated less harshly for sending flirtatious emails to Jill Kelley, a Florida woman whom Broadwell suspected of getting her hooks into ‘her man’. Allen’s appointment as NATO’s commander in Europe has been put on hold. This maybe the kind of titillating scandal that feeds reality show viewers but, in the great scheme of things, it’s inconsequential. It’s incomprehensible that the White House and the Pentagon have hyped what should have been personal matters into a national issue dominating headlines. It should have been buried as soon as it was leaked by the media with a simple “no comment”.

Conversely, the real news barely gets a front page mention primarily because the American readership is disinterested in what their military has perpetrated in Afghanistan and Iraq in their name. How many bother to look behind the propaganda? How many care that hardly a week passes without car bombs exploding in Iraqi cities? Or that the lives of thousands of their troops were sacrificed under democracy’s standard when, in reality, Iraq has fallen into the open arms of America’s arch enemy Iran? Where is the anger within the US over more up to one million lost Iraqi lives and the waste of more than one trillion of their tax dollars squandered to rid Iraq of a toothless dictator on a pack of lies?

Let’s not kid ourselves that the Americans and their allies have achieved anything positive in Afghanistan either. They ostensibly went there to get Osama bin Laden but as it turned out he had fled early on to Pakistan. They destroyed the country’s Al Qaeda training camps, true. But Al Qaeda is alive and well throughout the Middle East, the Subcontinent and Africa; Al Qaeda fighters are actively engaged in the Sinai Peninsula and Yemen. For eleven years, the US and NATO have been battling to destroy the Taliban who ironically are now being courted by the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Just days ago, Pakistan released eight Taliban commanders from its custody, including one who enjoyed close links with Osama bin Laden, at the behest of the Afghan government that’s seeking reconciliation. According to Pakistani newspapers, the Taliban are gleeful over the public disgrace of Petraeus, the man who engineered “the surge”. No doubt Taliban leaders are rubbing their hands in anticipation of 2014 when the Americans are scheduled to leave; they are looking forward to business as usual. If the American people expect gratitude from the Afghans they are in for disappointment. Anti-Americanism is rife partly because of indiscriminate drone attacks that have destroyed entire villages.

Isn’t there something seriously wrong with America’s priorities? Gen. Petraeus has been severely punished over his love life yet those American military personnel known to have tortured detainees in Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo were characterized as ‘a few bad apples’ and were let off with little more than a ticking off or demotion or short jail terms. They and their commanders were the ones that blackened America’s name, not Petraeus or Allen who are guilty of foolishness. Moreover, if any Arab country had acted even remotely like the US, kidnapping individuals from the streets of European capitals to be rendered to third countries for torture or had incarcerated Western citizens in gulags for years without charge or trial, they would have been labelled terrorist states; they would have been sanctioned, bombed, perhaps even invaded.

It’s puzzling how so many Americans are bewildered how far respect for their country has dwindled throughout the Arab and Muslim world. I have dozens of fine upstanding American friends and I used to look up to the ‘Land of the Free and the Brave’ as being the most wealthy and powerful nation on earth, a dynamic repository of knowledge, science and invention – and a bastion of human rights. I usually avoid stereotypes but, in my experience, Americans are some of the most friendly and likeable people anywhere. I believed they had a right to be proud of their achievements. They do have much to be proud of but, at the same time, they should be ashamed of their governments’ bullying foreign policy that treats non-Americans as inferior and other country’s leaders as pawns to be pushed around in game of global hegemony. How do they sleep at night when so many of their fellow citizens live in virtual shanty towns, homes made of cardboard, sleep with their children in cars, rely on food stamps or have to mortgage their homes to get medical treatment? There is a wretched underclass in America as exposed by Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, people for whom the American Dream is unattainable. I know that Americans and Europeans tend to look down on us Arabs. In many disciplines they are, indeed, light years ahead of us. Yet, even their finest minds haven’t succeeded in combating economic crises or rocketing rates of unemployment engendering violent civil unrest.

We, who are privileged to live in GCC States, don’t claim to know more than our Western counterparts, quite the opposite. Our children study in their schools and our sick are tended to in their hospitals. We have benefitted from their experience and skills that we have used to boost our economies. It’s notable that GCC member countries recovered from the global downturn much faster than others. The difference between them and us rests in our unity and the fact that we always shun anything that threatens our security, stability and prosperity. We don’t permit corporations or individuals to negatively impact our countries which is common in the West.

Our leaders will not tolerate troublemakers bent on hurling the GCC into turmoil, for which they’ve been wrongly criticized by human rights groups. I thank God that they are protecting the status quo and prioritizing the safety and well being of their citizens, providing them with homes, education and medical treatment. Caring for those less fortunate at home and abroad isn’t something we learned from the West. That is a staple of our religion, Islam.

You, who chastise us for neglecting human rights when our people enjoy enviable lifestyles and high per capita incomes should take a long hard look at your own countries, places where prisons are full to bursting, drug addicts and criminals make the streets unsafe and there are long queues for welfare handouts. Why don’t you visit one of your own tent cities and speak about human rights. Or if you dare, go to Afghanistan or Iraq and ask the people there, the millions of widowed, orphaned and maimed, about their human rights. Unless the US and its Western allies admit their mistakes, sadly, the days when they deserve our admiration are numbered. The silly Petraeus affair that’s been blown out of proportion is just another nail in that coffin.

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