Monday, May 12, 2014

The Middle East Cannot Be Ignored

By Alan Caruba

Have you noticed that you’re not reading or hearing much about the Middle East these days?

That’s because, if there isn’t a war or revolution going on there, we tend not to take much notice. Our attention span for the civil war in Syria disappeared months ago despite the horrendous slaughter there.

It is likely that you were unaware that Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, was in Israel from May 7 to 9 having talks with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. That’s because neither the U.S., nor Israel issued a press notice. On May 12, Obama’s Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to attend a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council defense ministers.

No American defense chief has attended for the past six years!

That inattention reflects President Obama’s policy of having no discernable policy regarding the Middle East beyond withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, promising billions to Pakistan, and doing his best to ignore Syria.

On June 4, 2009 as part of a trip to the Middle East he was in Cairo uttering a bunch of platitudes and misinterpretations of history that were typical of his wishful thinking about Islam. He said, “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

Obama has a tough job given 9/11, the 2013 bombing of Boston’s marathon, the Syrian slaughter, the attacks on Christians throughout the Middle East, and news of the abduction of more than 230 school girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram, Islamist terrorists who reflect the region’s slim adherence to human rights of any kind.

A report in the Israeli newswire, DEBKA File, said, “The impression received in the Middle East capitals is that Barack Obama has adopted the old slogan of ‘Apres moi, le deluge!’—intending to leave his White House successor after January 2017 an Iran that is fully capable of manufacturing a nuclear weapon.”

Unlike the President, leaders of Middle East nations realize the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran represents and Saudi Arabia recently conducted the largest military exercise ever seen in the Gulf region. Officers from all the Gulf emirates except Qatar took part in the war game for the first time. It was a first for Egypt which like most of the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

It has not gone unnoticed that “disengaging the U.S. military from the Middle East and its troubles leaves Hagel free to devote himself to implementing the president’s guidelines for shrinking America’s ground, air and naval forces.” Also on his schedule are visits to Amman, Jordan, and to Jerusalem.

David Bukay is a University of Haifa professor of Middle East Studies and author of Islamic Fundamentalism and the Arab Political Culture. In a May 2011 article posted on American, he offered “The Middle East Operational Codes: Five Keys to Understanding.”

They are worth revisiting.

#1 – The Middle Eastern state, with its political institutions being a Western import, is weak and ineffective compared to the indigenous Middle Eastern social institutions: the clan, the tribe, and the religious community. All Arab states comprise violent, hostile tribes and rival religious communities that stick together only by coercion from an oppressive authoritarian regime.

#2 – Middle Eastern leaders are not secure in their offices. Therefore, when the authority of a ME regime disintegrates, the outcome is not democracy, but rather anarchy as the most likely replacement.

#3 – Perhaps the most important key is the central role of the army, being the regime’s principle power and political supporter.

#4 – The masses have never been a sovereign electing people; historically, they have been without influence in the political realm and the decision-making processes. In the Arab world there is no social contract based on trust and cooperation, as the foundation of Arab life is suspicion of the other and hatred of the foreigner.

#5 – Aside from authoritarianism or anarchy when a leader is deposed, one of the most like alternatives to the ME regimes is not democracy, but Islamism. The Islamic phenomenon is not defensive and passive; it is an aggressive onslaught against modernism and secularism led by urban, educated, secular middle-class groups.

Bukay’s keys reflect much of what has been occurring in the Middle East and extending across the northern tier of nations in Africa—the Maghreb--and into others with large Muslim populations.

Ignoring the Middle East except to bother Israel about its six decades of problems from Palestinians and to engineer a hopeless negotiation with Iran is more about Obama’s fantasies than any understanding of the Middle East beyond wanting to avoid dealing with the region.

That cannot end well unless we are witnessing a growing realization among the Gulf states and other ME nations, largely Sunni except for Shiite Iraq and Iran, that they are facing a common enemy in Iran. They have known this for a long time, but they now know that the United States, so long as Obama is President, will not come to their aid.

© Alan Caruba, 2014

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