America’s gifts should not be understated

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

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Setting aside Washington’s woeful Middle East policies, it is worth reminding ourselves that the United States is one of the greatest nations on the planet. A world in which it did not exist would be poorer in terms of technology, space exploration, medical advances, entertainment and life-changing inventions.

Moreover, the fact that the United States is such a stable country - given its mix of religions and ethnicities - is miraculous. With the exception of Native Americans, Americans are all of us. This potpourri of 320 million individuals, whose ancestors escaped poverty and persecution to follow their dreams, has succeeded in uniting all with fierce pride and patriotism under one flag.

During my recent visit to the United States, I was privileged to be asked to deliver the keynote speech at the 24th annual Arab-U.S. policymakers conference in Washington DC before a huge audience. I spoke on many topics, but focused primarily on the relationship between the United States and the Arab world, our joint security and our historical friendship.

No nation or person is without fault. Just as we are quick to fault America, we should also celebrate its blessings.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

I was critical of President Barack Obama’s embrace of Iran, his lack of commitment to a Palestinian state, and his failure to intervene in order to save the Syrian people sandwiched between regime bombs and terrorists. That I was able to speak my mind on a country’s mistakes on its own soil means America is confident enough to hear constructive criticism, unlike many other countries that pay lip service to free expression.

America-bashing has become popular in much of the world, not least my own. We have come to the point where if anything does not work, we conclude it is all Washington’s doing. We relish in anti-American conspiracy theories and accept them as unvarnished truth, no matter how ridiculous and embellished they seem. No nation or person is without fault. Just as we are quick to fault America, we should also celebrate its blessings.

U.S. administrations have blundered through the Middle East for the past 14 years. Few would deny that their interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have been costly failures, or that American mediation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has not worked. However, we should accept that like every world power - Russia, China and the European Union (EU) - the United States acts according to its interests.

Whether they like us, are with us or against us, that is their prerogative as a sovereign nation whose sole responsibility is to its own citizens. We who have been affected by U.S. actions also have the right to be transparent when airing our views of its wrongdoings in our region.

Presidential election

Because America’s global reach is so vast - as is often said: “When Washington sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold” - part of my keynote speech was devoted to next year’s presidential election. Unfortunately, former President George W Bush and his neoconservative advisers were a disaster for my region. Obama, who began his presidency with warm outreach to Muslims, turned out to be as bad if not worse.

“Some might say the presidential election is an American matter, and as an Arab I shouldn’t interfere,” I told conference attendees. “Allow me to correct them. The choice of a president and his policies will affect the whole world.”

During my speech and in a column published on Aug. 5, I endorsed property magnate Donald Trump as the best presidential candidate, on the grounds that career politicians are likely to repeat the same mistakes as their predecessors because they share similar mindsets. A businessman might not.

Obama is a great intellectual able to see all sides of the argument and view issues in shades of grey rather than black and white. Those can be assets in daily life, or in the legal profession from which he is drawn, but in a leader they make for paralysis and indecision. Obama has proven the old adage: “He who hesitates is lost.”

Thankfully, there is a new page for the United States in the offing. Polls indicate that voters seek a fresh face with fresh ideas, which is why Trump is still surging ahead despite his straight-talking that some consider offensive. Too rich to need campaign donors, he will not be under the heel of wealthy individuals, corporations or lobbying organizations.

He says what he thinks and goes with his gut, no matter what anyone else thinks. He may not have a complete grasp of all the issues yet, but he speaks truth as he sees it. His statements are only shocking to people who are not used to politicians telling the truth even when it hurts.

His latest outpouring dominated headlines. He has verbalized what just about everyone in the Middle East and the Gulf knows: the world would be a 100-percent better place if Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi were still in power.

“Look at Libya. Look at Iraq... [Saddam] would kill the terrorists immediately. Now it’s the Harvard of terrorism,” Trump told CNN. “If you look at Iraq from years ago - I’m not saying he was a nice guy, he was a horrible guy - but it was a lot better... Right now, Iraq is a training ground for terrorists... Frankly there’s no Iraq and no Libya. It’s all broken up. They have no control. Nobody knows what’s going on.” None of the so-called experts, retired generals or politicians wheeled out to express their opinions have ever come out with that gem of pure truth.

As of now, it looks like Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off at the finish, which is good news. America will choose between a strong, determined, successful businessman, and one of the toughest women in politics, whose composure before a Senate Committee investigating the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was outstanding. Clinton looked presidential, and even under vicious personal attack she remained calm and collected.

This time, Americans are spoilt for choice, but whether it is Trump or Clinton, or a combination of both, there is a good chance that Americans - and hopefully the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa - will be the winners.

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 he 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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