No Obama, the conflict does not date back millennia
This sentence distorts reality and reduces it to mere sectarian polarization
In his State of the Union address to the American people, U.S. President Barack Obama did not elaborate on the situation in the Middle East. After all, there are no accomplishments for him to be proud of except for the nuclear deal with Iran, which he has been promoting as a peace project to the world even though it is actually a war project. From the few words spoken by Obama on this topic, we must reflect on a particularly dangerous sentence and even build policies around it.
We must know if this is his personal opinion or that of many others, making it U.S. policy. In his speech, Obama described the latest dangerous developments in the region as “rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.” The underlying threat here is that he is the head of a superpower responsible for past and future disasters in the Middle East.
This sentence distorts reality and reduces it to mere sectarian polarizationJamal Khashoggi
This sentence distorts reality and reduces it to mere sectarian polarization existing only in the minds of Shiite and Sunni extremists. In fact, this is a fight for the freedom of peoples longing for a better Arab world. Many Western scholars have pointed out the error in his statement. Obama has described the conflict as sectarian in many speeches and interviews, but does this justify his reluctance to intervene, letting the region seethe until it collapses?
Is this why he has turned a blind eye to daily human rights violations that have escalated to the point of using starvation as a weapon of war, not only in Syrian cities and villages but also in the Yemeni city of Taiz? Is this why Obama did not honor his own “red line” regarding the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own people in clear violation of international law? Being familiar with the region’s history, his use of the sectarianism argument is unexpected.
Is it to justify the inaction that he will be held accountable for in the future? If Saudi Arabia had not intervened in Yemen, the situation there today would be as bad as in Syria. What is needed is a diplomatic and intellectual movement formed by future powers in the region to stop the kind of thinking expressed by Obama from becoming U.S. policy and equating Saudi Arabia’s futuristic system with Iran’s reactionary regime.
Tehran only supports Shiites who are ready to serve its project. It does not care if they are dictators such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, or a sectarian and separatist party such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Ansar Allah in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is leading the region today against Iranian ambitions, but without adopting a sectarian viewpoint.
In fact, this is a fight for the freedom of peoples longing for a better Arab worldJamal Khashoggi
No Saudi official will ever say his country has leadership over Sunnis in the region, or accept the popular but incorrect belief that what is happening is a proxy war between Sunnis led by Saudi Arabia and Shiites led by Iran. Riyadh believes in the sovereignty of states, and refuses to interfere in their affairs. It does not export rebellion or support armed militias.
Ignorant are those who say Saudi Arabia backs Sunni extremists - they are considered criminals in the kingdom, whereas Shiite extremists are celebrated as heroes in Iran. No one cares for Sunni extremists once they get killed, while Shiite extremists are considered martyrs.
This conflict started when the West, represented by Obama, ignored the weapons and training provided to Hezbollah - as long as they were not directed at Israel - and Iran’s transfer of weapons and militias to Damascus for the past five years. They were neither exposed nor intercepted by Washington.
This conflict began with the world’s silence over Shiite militias turning against Iraqi civilians after U.S. aircraft made it easier for them to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as if all Iraqi Sunnis are affiliated to the group. This conflict started when Washington doubted Saudi intelligence that Iran is not only sending weapons to Yemen, but to countries as far as Nigeria.
In the Middle East, there are powers foreseeing the future, seeking to rebuild countries that Obama has described as failing. This transformation will play out for a generation. These powers are part of the Islamic nation, extending from Indonesia to Morocco, moving toward modernism and democracy. They refuse to leave their future in the hands of an Iranian supreme leader or an ISIS caliph, both of whom claim to govern in the name of Allah.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on Jan. 23, 2016.
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. Twitter: @JKhashoggi
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