First Published: 2012-09-17

 

Misreading the Arab Street’s Anger

 

The neocon response toward the anger against the US on the Arab and Muslim “street” is to lash out at those countries and to chastise President Obama for his early efforts at out-reach. But Middle East specialists Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett say the real problem was the lack of follow-through.

 

Middle East Online

We begin by noting our sadness over the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the others who were killed at the consulate in Benghazi. Hillary knew and worked with Chris Stevens during her service in the State Department; he was very highly regarded, professionally and personally, among his colleagues.

In the United States, much of the early discussion about the attack in Benghazi has focused on a question that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself laid out: “How can this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction?”

In fact, it is not so hard to understand how “this” — along with the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo, subsequent protests at US diplomatic facilities in Sanaa, Khartoum and across the region, and myriad other manifestations of resentment against the United States in much of the Arab and Muslim worlds — could happen.

But most Americans don’t really want to understand it. For, as Hillary underscored on “The Ed Show” on MSNBC, “the critical issue here is the deep-seated resentment that people have for US policy throughout the region. … Hatred and resentment for US policy are the heart of the problem here. Communities throughout the Middle East are angry.”

This reality is now crashing in on US ambitions in the Middle East every day. Yet, as Hillary noted, Americans “have not even begun to grapple with the enormity of the challenge we face as countries become more politically participatory, and people have a voice.”

Over the past few days, we’ve heard more than a few politicians and commentators recommend cutting off aid, or demand that Egyptian President Morsi adopt a tougher rhetorical stance against “extremist” discourse in his own Muslim Brotherhood if he wants a coveted meeting with President Barack Obama.

Against this, Hillary countered that “it a fantasy to think that [the United States] has cards to play,” with which it can leverage key local actors. “The President of Egypt, before he comes to the United States, his first trips were to China and Iran. … The train has left the station in these countries, and unless [Washington] figures out how to adapt, [its] strategic position in the Middle East and, therefore, globally will continue to erode.”

So far, though, the United States is clearly not adapting. Why are Americans so reluctant to grapple with Middle Eastern reality? Hillary addressed this critical question on Al Jazeera:

“There’s a really fundamental flaw in US strategic policy … and it has to do with empire. We look at each country, at each place, and we see the expatriates that we want to see in the cafés in Paris, who parrot our line about secular liberalism, and we arm, fund, and train them to go back and, in effect, impose a political order on those societies that have very different histories, characters, cares, and concerns. … Those expatriates we listen to repeatedly — in Iraq, Iran, Libya, everywhere — we listen to them not because we’re stupid but because we have a very determined focus for dominance.”

Especially in a political season, American elites do not seem at all inclined toward soul-searching about their country’s foreign policy after the events of the past few days. Much has been made of Mitt Romney’s “shoot first, aim later” (to use President Obama’s phrase) comments on events in Libya and Egypt. But Hillary pointed out on Al Jazeera that other prominent Republicans — for example, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa — have gone even further than Governor Romney, arguing that President Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world during his first year in office, most notably through major addresses delivered in Istanbul and Cairo, was a “mistake” that showed “weakness.”

This is, Hillary noted, the “wrong critique.” For Obama hardly fulfilled the promise that some believed was embodied in his 2009 Istanbul and Cairo speeches — or his campaign pledge not just to end the Iraq war but also to end the “mindset” that had gotten the United States into that strategically and morally failed project. Rather the Obama administration “walked back completely” from those commitments.

The real critique — which Romney, of course, won’t put forward — is “why is the Obama administration really so dishonest in its policies, and how could people in the Middle East really take America’s word seriously as a constructive force.” Until Americans and the politicians can address that, they never will understand “what is the reason” for Middle Easterners’ anger.

Flynt Leverett served as a Middle East expert on George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff until the Iraq War and worked previously at the State Department and at the Central Intelligence Agency. Hillary Mann Leverett was the NSC expert on Iran and – from 2001 to 2003 – was one of only a few US diplomats authorized to negotiate with the Iranians over Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Iraq. This article was originally published at RaceforIran.com.

Consortiumnews

 

OPEC agrees deal to cut oil output

US Congress overrides Obama's veto of Saudi 9/11 bill

UN warns 'hundreds' in Aleppo need medical evacuation

Amnesty accuses Sudan of using chemical arms against Darfur civilians

Palestinian president to attend Peres funeral

UN warns 700,000 will need aid once Mosul offensive starts

Saudi seeks oil leadership in economic pinch

Egypt court suspends block on island transfer to Saudi

Bid for international Yemen war probe fails at UN

King Abdullah visits home of murdered writer

Bahrain says 9/11 bill will harm US

9/11 bill puts US, Saudi cooperation in question

UN envoy says Syria talks 'very difficult with bombs falling'

Erdogan says Moody's was 'bought' after downgrade

Erdogan: Turkey may need state of emergency for more than a year

Iraqi activist wins Norway rights prize

Kidnapped German woman, baby freed in Syria

Turkey stops Kurdish TV broadcasts

A year of bombing in Syria triggers limited interest in Russia

Obama defends refusal to use military force to end Syria civil war

Palestinians react to death of Peres

Poverty takes toll in rebel-held Yemen fishing village

Kerry threatens to end negotiations with Russia on Syria

Kuwaiti court scraps petrol price hike

Iraq requests more US troops to take on IS in Mosul

Airstrikes hit hospitals in rebel-held Aleppo

Iran nuclear chief says not worried about Trump

Iranian, Italian ships hold manoeuvres in Strait of Hormuz

Gunmen kill three Egypt policemen, civilian in Sinai

Turkey says 32,000 coup suspects awaiting trial

Paris to host international meeting on Libya

Etihad plane in emergency landing in Abu Dhabi

Struggling Saudi Oger lays off 1,300 staff

Israel ex-PM to serve 27 months for graft

Syrian kids return to school in Manbij

World Bank releases $300 million for Syrian refugees in Jordan

UN Libya envoy warns against ‘political impasse’

Iranian FM in Ankara for Syria talks

Syrian army retakes rebel-held Aleppo district

Israeli ex-president Peres dies

Oil prices post marginal gains

Russia tries to strongarm US with Aleppo assault

Saudi petition seeks 'full' rights for women

Jordan vows crackdown on online incitement

Assad, Russia press intense Aleppo assault