The West isn’t duty-bound to solve Arab problems

Heaping blame on the West for directly or indirectly triggering our woes has become an unproductive mindset throughout the Arab World

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

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While it’s true that Western powers can’t claim to have clean hands in the Middle East, Arabs don’t either. Most of the Arab leaderships have consistently shrugged off their responsibility to defend their own people. For decades, Arabs have looked to “Baba America” and its allies for protection, knowing full well that U.S. foreign policy is geared solely towards its own security and geopolitical interests.

During my latest visit to the U.S. to join President Jimmy Carter in announcing a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative at Illinois College, I had the opportunity of meeting-up with old friends as well as several high-ranking officials and executives. I have a fondness for the American people. Many have been unfailingly kind to me. But U.S. policy is another matter entirely; it knows no friends, only interests. Former CIA Chief and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta spelled that out clearly in his book “Worthy Fights.” I don’t object to that; it’s beyond time that we took a leaf out of America’s book.

For the sake of argument

Moreover, even if, for the sake of argument, the U.S. was committed to having our back, it’s hardly result-oriented. As Ambassador Chas W. Freeman writes, “We [the U.S.] are trying to cope with the cumulative consequences of multiple failures. Just about every American project in the Middle East has now come a cropper.” The ambassador rightly points out that U.S. “policies have nowhere produced democracy. They have instead contrived the destabilisation of societies, the kindling of religious warfare, and the installation of dictatorships contemptuous of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.”

Heaping blame on the West for directly or indirectly triggering our woes has become an unproductive mindset throughout the Arab World

Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor

Washington is a good friend when its interests happen to coincide with ours or when there are coveted natural resources at stake. Heaping blame on the West for directly or indirectly triggering our woes has become an unproductive mindset throughout the Arab World. We are wrong to blame the U.S. for hesitating to come to our aid. America has its own economic and security priorities.

We should respect that reality, appreciate all the goodness that’s come our way from the West and refrain from condemning any country that looks out for its own interests. Our region would be well-served if Arab governments and peoples spent less time bashing America and more time learning how best to depend on ourselves.

Proactive dealings

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been writing articles appealing to Arab governments to deal proactively in ending regional conflicts and to become more diplomatically assertive. We have well-trained armies, sophisticated intelligence apparatus and advanced weaponry; all it takes is enough will and determination to shake-off our victim mentality inherited from the Ottoman era, Western imperialism and security treaties with European powers. What will it take for Arabs to wake up to the fact that those days are long gone, and now we stand alone?

In truth, this column is in response to readers who’ve expressed their opinions on this topic, which accord with my own. A post appended to my column recently published on Al Arabiya News titled “World leaders should hang their heads in shame as ISIS Marches on” reads in part: “Stop crying to the U.S. to save you; stop crying that the U.S. is to blame…Save yourselves.” Another read: “Why don’t the Arabs…send in their armies to sort out Assad and ISIS?” There are several in a similar vein including a few that are unprintable. It’s extraordinary that readers get it when Arabs don’t, can’t – or purposefully won’t.

It is not the duty of the U.S. or the UK to clean-up our neighbourhood and in light of regional conflicts, terrorism and a growing menace from Iran that openly boasts that its proxies now control four Arab capitals – Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana’a – my argument is far from being merely academic. We have enemies without and within plotting to invade our homes. We must protect our own borders. We cannot sit back relying on empty pledges from western leaderships currently attempting to enter into some kind of grand bargain with Iran’s ayatollahs.

Sensitive to Iranian domination

GCC states are particularly sensitive to Iranian domination and sick ideologies distorting the pure message of Islam, which is why I’ve called upon GCC member countries to take fast action over and over again, not only via my articles but also during face-to-face discussions with high officials. Do we still imagine Uncle Sam will send in the cavalry? If so, we should think again.

From the perspective of U.S. policy-makers, oil rich Arab nations may have outlived their usefulness. President Obama’s decision to pivot foreign policy away from the Middle East is well known and is evidenced by his reluctance to remove the Assad regime and his token gestures towards eradicating Daesh in Syria and Iraq. This sway away is partly due to the fact that the U.S. is now not only energy self-sufficient but has a surplus. American production of shale oil has surpassed the outputs of Saudi Arabia and Russia’s crude. Today, America is the world’s number one producer of gas and, next year, is set to take the top oil producer’s slot.

The West’s thirst for Arab oil is already diminishing along with our global influence. However, extracting shale oil is expensive, so several oil-exporting Arab countries have been driven to reduce their prices hoping to hang-on to remaining bargaining chips. Ambassador Freeman correctly reminds Washington that even though oil and gas production is booming in the U.S. what’s happening in the Middle East should still matter. This, he explains, is because the Gulf “is where international oil prices are set” and “without stability in West Asia, the global economy is also unstable.”

Losing its luster

However short-sighted it may be for the West to turn its back on its traditional allies, we can no longer live like ostriches pretending Washington, London and Paris are concerned with the safety of our peoples or working to further secure and stable societies. Their efforts at enforced democratisation failed when Islamist parties grabbed the reins, sectarianism opened the doors of hell and terrorists were only too happy to step in. And now that our oil has lost its shine amid rivers of their own, the underlying message from Western capitals is basically, “Thanks a lot; it was nice knowing you.” I would not be surprised to wake up one day to find the Iranian Supreme Leader has been tapped to be our de facto governor, just as the Shah was until he became too big for his boots.

I’m no longer interested in Western promises. My concerns rest with what we plan to do when Daesh is on the rampage against Sunnis. What steps are we going to take to thwart the takeover of Yemen by Shiite Houthis knocking on the gates of Saudi Arabia and Oman? How much longer will we give the Assad regime a free pass to continue its cancerous rule which, a few years ago, could have been cured with a dose of chemotherapy before its metastasis?

That said what’s past cannot be undone. We can apportion blame from here to eternity to no result. We can lay out our concerns before the U.N. General Assembly; again to no result. Only our future trajectory is alterable. We can shape tomorrow, and we must, else the tears of our children and grandchildren will be our legacy of shame.

Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and the has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad.
Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books.Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.

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