Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Despite U.S.’s help in the Arab world, anti-Americanism still simmers - The Globe and Mail

This editorial is not as bad as its title promises:

Despite U.S.’s help in the Arab world, anti-Americanism still simmers - The Globe and Mail:

What is good about it is that it tries to break from the "why do they hate us after all we have done for them" rhetoric that infused Bush supporters rhetoric with regard to the Middle East. Instead, this piece suggests that the Arab Spring may take a long time to play out and that the results of this historic event are far from  clear. It suggests that US policy toward the middle east has not won many friends or influenced many people to see the US as an international "good guy" and that current efforts to find a policy to replace Bush-era neo-realism have been muddled. I'd agree with all these points.

I might even go a bit further. It seems to me that consideration of policy options for the Middle East also have to avoid blaming everything on the US. It might be fun to do so. It might make people feel ethical. And, it does have a ring of  truth that lends it legitimacy. US government policy with regard to the Middle East has been far from enlightened. But, finding the US at fault for everything does not help rebuild constructive relationship in the hear and now. It might make good history some day (I don't research this field and so cannot say), but what is needed is go forward thinking.

For instance, the US needs a real policy with regard to the  Palestine. Sure, the US supports peace. Who doesn't. The question is what will that peace settlement mean. Sure, the US supports Israel's right to exist. Except for extremists  ... who doesn't? So, what we need is a policy -- heck, let's make up a name for it, let's call it "the two state solution -- that recognizes that the need for peace is predicated not just on Israel's security (a legitimate concern) but on the Palestinian security as well. In addition to a real two-state solution (perhaps not one guarded by a wall), this policy could also include an effective development strategy for Palestine and a right of return for refugees? If these kinds of statements could be made, progress could be made and the US would start to win some friends.

In addition to this, those of us living comfortably distant from violence, need to recognize that there is a lot more going on in the Middle East than pro/anti-US. This was the naive belief that fuelled the disaster in Iraq: get rid of Saddam and people will love us. Only a woefully misinformed person could have believed that. And, only a person who refused to learn from history could say "why are these people so ungrateful. We got rid of Saddam for them" and actually believe that is true. Democracy is an amazingly tricky concept. Rather than dividing the Middle East up into "democratic" and totalitarian regimes, why not accept the fact that  the political organization of Arab states will look different from American or Canadian democracy. And, that might not mean they are undemocratic. Why not start a transition to some form of indigenous democracy now by supporting it, not with violence but with diplomacy (what used to be called "statecraft") and encouragement.

These are important issues for Canadians. Not because we can look at the US and say "you made  a mess in the Middle East" but because the Canadian government is falling into the same binary trap: heightened rhetoric, military force will solve problems, unconditional support for Israel, democratic v non-democratic states, etc. Canada used to play a constructive role in the Middle East. It was a role that did not try to direct the future but looked to provide support and mediation. The current Canadian government decided that that approach just wasn't tough enough for them and have abandoned the chance of doing anything in favour of "tough talk" and bombs. The result is that the Canadian PM and Foreign Minister stand on the sidelines and should trite slogans (this is unacceptable, these people are terrorists) all the while not realizing that their tough words have not made life any better for the people who live in that region.


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