Over the past five decades, intellectuals in the Arab world have grown used to either believing conspiracy theories or refuting and trivializing them. What we are witnessing these days reminds me of a scene in the famous Hollywood movie Some Like it Hot.
In the movie, Florida crime lord Little Bonaparte is toasting one of his men, mafia boss “Spats” Colombo, played by George Raft, on his birthday—only to end up listing his mistakes, castigating him for his “careless” and “sloppy” behaviour, and killing him after a gunman pops out of the birthday cake.
This tragi-comic scene comes to mind every time I hear someone talking about the “carelessness” and “sloppiness” of U.S. foreign towards the Arab region. Of course, Washington’s mistakes are great and numerous.
However, given the accumulation of these so-called mistakes without America ever learning the right lessons -- rather, it repeats the same mistakes again and again -- indicates that the mistakes may not be unintentional.
A series of U.S. missteps
Regardless of whether his regime deserved to remain in power or not, associating former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with the Sept. 11th attacks was a fabricated claim on the part of an ideologically driven U.S. administration that had a radical vision of the world, borrowed from the Israeli right-wing Likud party, particularly regarding the future of the Middle East.
After Saddam invaded Kuwait, the decision to topple his regime became almost guaranteed, given that the former Iraqi president had reached a point of no return in terms of his relationship with some of his neighbors.
But superpowers interested in regime change in Baghdad should have considered the geopolitical realities of the region, especially given that Iran managed to fill the political vacuum in Iraq created by the U.S. invasion. Had the enmity between the U.S. and Iran been real, the new Tehran-dominated status quo in Iraq should have prompted Washington to formulate a more balanced and prudent regional policy.
Alas, this was not the case.
Even when Lebanon was shaken by the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, Washington verbally encouraged the so-called “Cedar Revolution” but avoided taking any serious decisions that might reflect a more comprehensive and deeper understanding of the polarizing regional struggle extending from Iraq to Lebanon through Syria.
Syria, for its part, was and is a country ruled by a regime that is completely subservient to Iran’s regional project. What is worse, Israel itself has not genuinely viewed Iran’s growing regional influence as a threat to its borders and national security.
One may say that this point alone is enough for rational observers to realize why Washington’s and Tel Aviv’s approach to Tehran and its stooge, the Damascus regime, has amounted to nothing more than empty words.
This fact could not be lost on those who remember that only a few years ago both the U.S. and Iran were enthusiastic about the use of force in Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein.
Of course, the White House changed hands in 2008, from conservative right-wing Republicans to moderate liberal Democrats, and thus priorities also must have changed in the process.
A change in ideology?
But in major countries where power is based on transparent democratic systems and constitutional institutions, differences over issues of national security and major international issues remain somewhat restricted.
Even when the Democrats were in power before, Washington used Ted Roosevelt’s policy of “speak softly and carry a big stick”—and they used it for everything from the Cuban missile crisis to Vietnam to the resolution of the Bosnian conflict.
Actually, despite his peaceful and passive approach, even President Jimmy Carter tried to launch an operation to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran. Eventually, the peace-loving Carter suffered a bitter defeat at the hands of the “aggressive” Republican presidential candidate Ronald Regan, the price of his perceived passivity. Regan repeated his electoral victory and resolved his war against the bloated Soviet administration.
Earlier this week U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hinted, and not for the first time, that Washington may alter its approach to the Syrian crisis given the international community’s failure to stop the Damascus regime (and its Iranian and Russian backers) from systematically destroying the popular uprising and displacing Syrians and driving them into despair.
One could have believed Kerry’s remarks or accepted that U.S. President Barack Obama has decided to protect his country’s reputation after realizing the dangers of Tehran’s regional project. However, as usual, this was not the case.
Mishandling the Syria issue
Washington’s comprehensive passivity has given the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and its Russian and Iranian backers confidence in their ability to resolve the crisis both militarily and politically.
Allowing the regime to get away with using chemical weapons was perhaps the most dangerous step taken by the United States. Thus, it was quite natural that the Syrian regime took full advantage of this passivity, adopting a scorched-earth policy across the country.
The regime has also allowed its “fifth column” activists and ‘takfirist’ organizations to commit violations against innocent people and the Free Syrian Army, which has ceased to be an effective power on the ground since Washington refused to provide it with the required advanced defensive weapons.
The situation facing the Free Syrian Army on the ground has worsened recently as the regime stepped up its attacks on the remaining rebel-controlled areas in the Qalamoun Mountains and in the northern and southern parts of the country. This is not to mention the surrender of rebels in the besieged suburbs of Damascus under the polite language of “truces” between local rebel commanders and Assad’s forces.
We are now confronted with a “surreal” situation where we see the international community blatantly and intransigently colluding with the Syrian regime in destroying the popular uprising. This bitter reality may explain how the formation of the new government in Lebanon suddenly became possible after ten months and ten days of bickering, trading accusations, security tensions and the return of the language of assassination.
This may also explains why Washington has provided Nuri Al-Maliki’s government in Iraq— which is accused even by Shiites of being an Iranian stooge—with advanced weapons to confront the suspicious ‘takfirist’ organizations. This is despite the fact that over the past three years Washington has refrained from backing the Syrian rebels, who have been confronting Assad’s arsenal with their bare hands.
Isn’t this a true conspiracy?
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 20, 2014.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.SHOW MORE