The Arab Factor?

Rob Meltzer

It was one of the more bizarre chapters in the Cold War, but at some point around 1977 the CIA, the DEA and the American military were backing different warring factions in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia, and apparently different American agencies were essentially fighting each other. The Cold War had a tendency to do that, and one of the gravest screw ups of American foreign policy was the odd ball decision by the Reagan Administration to climb into bed with Islamic terrorists in order to undercut the Russians in Afghanistan. By some indication, first Bush and now Obama have gotten themselves in the same mess in the Middle East–first deciding that tyrants were our best friends because they contained terrorists, then declaring those allies to be terrorists and backing actual terrorists against them, and deciding that anyone who calls themselves a democrat and fights a tyrant must be a democrat, which was the misconception of the so-called Arab Spring. As a result, we now have Egypt controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, Lebanon under the sway of Hezbollah, Gaza under the management of Hamas, and Al Qaeada making a credible play for Syria, Yemen, Libya and Tunesia, not to mention Mali and, they hope, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Emirates. Plus, the Taliban are growing stronger in Afghanistan and Pakistan and spreading into Central Asia, the Iranians are on the verge of having nuclear weapons and Iraq is doing the Tidy Bowl to Disaster Routine.

If one were to really try and sort out what the various administrations have been doing, you’d be really be wasting your time. However, I’m slowly making my way through Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr’s book, the Dispensable Nation; American Foreign Policy in Retreat. This is a guy who really was supposed to be the brain trust of the Obama Admin on Afghan and Pakistani affairs, and his book, thus far, describes what I guess is the Obama Doctrine of “engaging less and mattering less.”  And thus far he has been detailing the backlash of vacillation and failure to stick with a coherent problem.

We’ve been discussing some of the books that have come out this spring on the failure of American policy abroad–particularly well documented in Dirty Wars. Nasr’s book goes a little further, both in condemning the administration of which he was a part and having some optimism that a sound policy can be salvaged.

But that’s not exactly what I wanted to talk about. Many years ago, Fouad Ajami wrote a superb book called the Arab Predicament. It sought to really iron out the political philosophy of the Arab world and how the West could legitimately engage the Arab states. As recently as 1992, when I believe the book came out, Ajami could reasonably argue that the West was not at war with the Arab world (not even in Iraq or Iran), and that the Arab/Muslim world had it in its best interests to work with the United States in addressing global issues of terrorism, environmental change, population growth and economic development. He could also argue that the United States would never be able to battle terrorism on its own, as the Arab world had it within its political power, if it had the will power, to engage the terrorists more effectively than the West itself. Nasr’s book has made me think about Ajami’s book again, and I will re-read that volume. But if the Boston Marathon really does have an impact on this country, it may be the impact of reminding us that neo isolationism is not a productive philosophy. Nasr has clearly rejected the first term approach, but that doesn’t mean that this president should give up. Most Arab Americans who write honestly about the topic will admit that the first step has to be “de linkage,” allowing terrorists to control the narrative that the world’s biggest problem is America’s alliance with Israel. The second step has to be to get these Arab states to understand that the United States can be relevant, and is willing to engage our traditional allies, even with different leaders in charge.

The Arab World comprises a lot of states and 500,000,000 people. Does Obama intend to kill them all with drones?