One cannot find a single American politician or political analyst who did not talk about abandoning Afghanistan after the defeat of Soviet forces there, and their retreat to Moscow. That abandonment led to the creation of the Taliban movement, and its success in ousting the al-Mujahedeen warlords. The Taliban then ruled Kabul and hosted al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, after which there was the tragedy of the Sept. 11 attacks on American soil, and everybody knows the rest of the story.
We can easily add another abandonment after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. We can see today, in particular, the meaning and extent of this step, as Iraqis live at the edge of dangerous developments that might become an open-ended civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. Sabotage and corruption are putting the whole country in idle mode, including 'political action,' in addition to the growing Iranian role.
There is a third type of abandonment - preventive abandon - which is what Syria is going through. The 60,000 victims, the high possibility of an open-ended civil war, the expansion of terrorist and hardline groups, and its repercussions on the fragile structure of the whole Levant region, did not seem to motivate the United States to get seriously involved, directly or indirectly, to put an end to the ailing, murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Regardless of whether there is an 'agreement' with Russia, it is certain that Russian and Iranian elements are a crucial factor behind American hesitation or abstention. We could also add the Israeli factor, and Tel Aviv's fear of the aftermath in Syria. Some would also factor in the future of the minorities, which is repeated relentlessly by Christians, who 'warn' the West about it. All these calculations add to the weight of the bad economic situation in the United States and the West, as well as to the previous painful and costly experiences of war.
These elements, and many others, can be looked at from another perspective, as part of a wider picture, which might be considered a deep, historical lack of understanding.
Whenever movements are simplified into 'democracy' or 'human rights,' as the simplistic American approach does, one cannot see things clearly, and can easily get one shock after another. We saw, for example, what happened in Iraq, when freedom in 2003 was described as the essence of democracy. The same has happened in Egypt with the regime of Mohamed Mursi.
On the other hand, our own actions and positions cannot help much in the understanding process. An example is our embarrassment from our ties with the West - and the United States in particular - and our opposite embarrassment in distancing oursleves from our 'brothers' and 'cousins' in al-Qaeda and others, which is only an obstacle regarding the support of the West, and a bigger burden on our own future. This is the real reason behind the success of the tribal, religious and sectarian approaches over our political action, and the subsequent civil defragmentation.
One thing for sure is that it is in the best interests of both sides, our people and the West - especially the United States - to find common ground for dialogue and mutual understanding, if not for today, then at least for the sake of the future.
(Lebanese journalist Hazem Saghieh is a senior columnist and editor at al-Hayat daily. He grew up in Lebanon during the golden age of pan-Arabism. Saghieh’s vision of a united Arab world was shattered when the Israelis emerged victorious from the 1967 war.)
*This article was first published Jan. 5, 2012. Link: http://alhayat.com/OpinionsDetails/469246