It seems that things are going in favor of launching an American strike against the Bashar al-Assad's regime. But in these difficult times, unless you see it yourself, little can be guaranteed. The West is going through a state of “democratic awareness.” No western leader wants to make the sole decision on military action in the Middle East, where struggles do not end, without the participation of parliament or Congress. Perhaps this is a state of “post modernism” in Western democratic development. Researchers like Francis Fukuyama may be categorized in it as authors. But, while this happens and while the West lives its democratic mindset, more Syrians die every day.
As much as it is a historical moment for the West as it abandons its ancient colonial characteristics and its feeling as the “white man” responsible for “the local people,” it is a historical moment for us Arabs too. It's a moment in which we attain the complete independence that we struggled for and demanded chanting “either full independency or immediate death.” Therefore, we bear the responsibility to resolve our problems and struggles, but then again, maybe not just yet. Indeed, we are on our way towards taking full responsibility after 100 years or more of an overlapping relation with the West. During this partnership with the West, we established our states, borders, regimes and political elites. Now, we see the rebirth of a new Middle East, so we feel confusion. We eye the West warily, on one hand we want it to intervene and on the other we want to refrain from encouraging Western intervention. Then we say the American administration is confused. In reality, we are all confused.
Yes or no
Some Arabs see what Bashar al-Assad is doing as okay.Jamal Khashoggi
No one can wager a bet over the results of the upcoming discussions and voting at Congress. No one can bet whether President Obama will grant the required mandate to launch a strike against the Syrian regime which committed the U.N. crime of using chemical weapons. Therefore, Arab leaders must feel very worried.
The Saudi foreign affairs minister, during the last Arab League meeting dedicated to provide Arab political cover for the hesitant western intervention in Syria, expressed his worry when he complained of the “ lack of Arab capability to resolve crises.“ What if Obama apologizes and abandons the idea of punishing Bashar al-Assad if Congress votes against the strike?
What if Obama says that despite the fact that he has all the constitutional jurisdictions to order his military forces to launch the expected attack, he will not do so without a popular authorization? In this case, the possibility of international intervention to end the suffering of the Syrian people will collapse and Arabs will find themselves in front of a new reality. This new reality will be like nothing they have witnessed since 1918, when a new Arab world was born.
Do it yourself
This means that the West, having had enough of interfering in Arab affairs and after being accused of interfering out of greed, is finally telling the Arab world to “solve your problems on your own.” Are we even capable of doing so?
Let's take the Syrian case as an example. The case is bigger than the mere “lack of Arab capability to resolve crises,” discussed by Prince Saud al-Faisal. It's way more. Even if capability is available, consensus will not be. Some Arabs see what Bashar al-Assad is doing as okay. Values of freedom and human rights are not yet deeply-rooted in Arab minds. To some Arabs, what's happening in Syria is an “internal affair.” They say so because they want to maintain their right to deal with their people any way they want, without an Arab intervention shall they one day suffer from a similar “internal affair.” Of course, these leaders have an army of media figures willing to justify that what is happening in their country is nothing more than a “foreign conspiracy that aims to topple out great patriotic army.”
Therefore, establishing a united Arab stance will be impossible. Let's take the Syrian situation as an example once more. Gulf Cooperation Council countries Tunisia, Libya and Morocco unhesitatingly support a strict stance against Assad, even if the stance is international intervention. Iraq and Lebanon completely reject this. Egypt and Algeria timidly reject this. Therefore, the Arab League meeting's final statement spoke of “taking the necessary deterring measures against those committing the crimes which the Syrian regime is responsible for.” The statement did not point out that these measures are an “American military strike” which would subsequently involve a complicated process to alter the balance of power in favor of the opposition that wants to build a new and democratic Syria.
What if Congress rejects launching a strike? Can the Arabs launch this strike on their own? I doubt it. This would be a recipe for a long term Arab-Arab war that would flare up the region. Such a war would also increase Iran's appetite to intervene in countries other than Syria. Especially since Iran may realize that the West chose to remain outside of the region's chronic problems, including deep, sectarian struggles that terrify Obama and the Senate.
So Western powers, this is your great democratic moment. But hold on, we're not ready yet.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on September 7, 2013.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.