Confusion is a common feeling among many observers of US politics, even those who are not necessarily against US policy. During the Donald Trump administration, America’s friends were more hurt than its enemies by its ill-considered policies. Now that Joe Biden is in the White House, damages are split equally on both enemies and friends, as in the era of his Democrat predecessor Barack Obama.
The scenes of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan were humiliating, but what was more humiliating was the extreme shortsightedness that caused this withdrawal. For two decades, no clear mechanisms or plans were put in place for the complex country, which was eventually handed over to a faction with backward thoughts and outdated practices. Despite the abundance of research and political institutions in the US that supposedly look at global issues with a strategic lens, not a temporary viewpoint that seeks profit, the worsening domestic political ailments have burdened the US foreign policy, which consequently became not only shortsighted, but also sabotaging for the future of peoples on the long term.
US reactions on the international scene have been irregular, unjustified, and often mysterious. Washington withdraws from Iraq, then returns, only to pull out again. It talks about the Houthis’ attacks on the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as if it doesn’t know that all the Houthis’ weapons and decisions come from Iran. It blacklists them as a terrorist group only to remove them from the list after a while. It clashes with Russia in Ukraine then threatens to pull out some of its troops from the Russian neighborhood.
Washington is losing so much credibility that it boasted about killing the leader of a backward group all on its own as a proof of its abilities. However, the murder of that leader, who had been in hiding and away from people for years, also proves the modesty of these achievements in which Washington takes great pride.
Previously, the Barack Obama administration had supported Political Islam groups in their quest for power in many Arab states, going as far as defending their project, despite it being as far as can be from modernity and popular demands. These endeavors were faced with large-scale popular movements in Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, and even Iran against poverty and famine, but more importantly, against oppressive policies, which Washington supposedly denounce.
In the same vein, leaks about the negotiations with Iran’s regime indicate the likelihood of reaching a deal that provides Tehran with a lifeline that could extract it from its mire. This would enable Iran’s expansionist sabotaging project in the region, which is based on the illusion of an empire on the one hand, and myths and legends that have no reasonable explanations on the other. At the same time, the US is waging a fierce diplomatic and media war with China for the latter’s mistreatment of a Chinese minority, all while extending its hand, albeit indirectly, to organizations that do far more damage to human rights than the damage it accuses China of doing. It stirs up an uproar over human rights in one place but turns a blind eye elsewhere to the expansionist projects that seek to destroy peoples around them and the relentless crimes and human rights violations that drag societies back to the Middle Ages through wars and oppression.
Washington’s rivals are aware of this institutional weakness and the hesitation that marks its foreign policy due to domestic political clashes. As a result, they move forward with their projects. All the fuss about Ukraine is only part of that game. The US claims it will respond with tight economic sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine, but these sanctions have time and time again proven futile, or even counterproductive in the cases where they contribute to the growth of the local economy! Even America’s allies in the West have their doubts on Washington’s intent and resolution to adopt unwavering policies, and this doubt is becoming increasingly common among its other allies across the world.
What does all this mean for Arabs?
Bias to this or that global project is not the solution. The West and the US are still a source of many benefits, including science, institutionalization, and freedoms. Therefore, no divorce or rivalry with them is needed. Instead, a serious dialogue free of any courtesy or compliments is required. Arabs also need to build a modern, autonomous Arab project to prepare for all possibilities. This autonomy should stem from real domestic reforms at the economic, administrative, and governance levels, and genuine togetherness between states in the region to protect their national interests. Although there are several indicators pointing in that direction, these are mostly individual and short-termed efforts. To prevent the region falling into the trap of religious extremism or political bias once again, collective medium- or long-term efforts are required.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Lebanese news outlet Annahar al-Arabi.