This document outlines the methodology for political/social science investigation at IslamPolicy.com. I am posting it so that those interested in the manhaj, aqeedah and direction of the site, those that might want to assist or contribute can review the processes.It is also an interesting and unique document that can assist those interested in political Islam generally.
Sunday, May 31, 2015
By Younus Abdullah Muhammad
Almost 14 years after the attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent declaration of a global war on terror, violent Islamic extremism, previously known simply as terrorism, continues to dominate the headlines. Public reaction to the latest wave of Islamic terrorism has been vehement across the globe. Everyone recognizes an enhanced extremism in jihadist groups but few acknowledge that most effort to counter terrorism with force, typically a similar but unreported state-sponsored terrorism, only exacerbates matters. This is particularly true in the West, where punditry of both primary political parties portrays a war between good and evil; a violent Islamic extremism threatens to destroy Western culture and to occupy Western nations.
Current discourse tends to divide Muslims into the good and the bad. Unconsciously many equate the “good” with those supportive of what are haphazardly called “western values,” more properly classified as passive acceptance of western dominance. An extension of this overly simplistic dichotomy then surreptitiously defines “bad” Muslims as any that remain critical of the repressive aspects of “western” policy and practice. While Muslims must condemn dissolute and excessive violence, such passive acceptance of this Manichean perspective cements an almost complete inability to address the root causes of the ongoing conflicts.
There have been four waves of terror in the modern era, all of them driven primarily by extremist ideologies. The anarchist wave ran from 1880-1920; the Anti-colonialist from the 1920’s to 60’s; the New Leftist from late 60’s to the early 90’s, and the current Religious Fundamentalist wave began in 1979 and continues unto the present. Modern terror is also a product of advancements in communication and evolving revolutionary doctrine. The expositions of bin Laden are not unlike the anarchists Kropotkin and Bakunin.
Terrorist tactics tend to invoke extraordinary, obtrusive and destructive reactions. Surveillance, military and law enforcement measures are typically enhanced and broad and oftentimes illegal application of law blankets suspect populations. In the same way McCarthyism eventually birthed COINTEL in the age of communism, domestic and foreign policy and practice today, particularly in the United States, challenges cherished notions of civil liberties. As George Washington put it, “He who would sacrifice civil liberties for security deserves neither.” Today, individualized IP-addresses and I-phone tracking mechanisms make the national security state less obtrusive, but they also create the prospect of virtual internment camps, enforcing unwritten but punitive laws against dissidence. This helps forego the necessity of more extreme measures and intimidates those that might advocate publically against a system that oppresses the masses. It must be stressed that these current maneuvers overwhelmingly target Muslim populations.
Due to this enhanced scrutiny and discrimination, terrorist movements typically spark the most animosity amongst the populations they claim to be defending. But the overreaction of those they target sustains conflict and simultaneously induces what social movement theorists call ‘radical flank effects,’ where less violent radicals are emboldened on the principle they represent a ‘lesser evil.’ Thus terrorism can be seen as a pragmatic strategy, effective for moving towards a target.
Additionally, law enforcement practice and policy has enhanced a growing Islamophobia. The NYPD, for example, was forced to shut down its ‘demographics unit,’ a special-ops unit contrived by a former CIA official. It was criticized by activists, not only for overstepping rights but for its chilling effect on free expression. The overstepping associated with today’s counterterrorist narrative may prove more extraneous than previous eras. Where other waves of modern terror had 40-year life cycles, the West is already 35 years into a wave of sacred terror which seems, at this moment, to be interminable. Perhaps that is by design but it all suggests that both terror and counterterror tactics only enhance the phenomenon, a never-ending cycle.
Another effect of the Manichean perspective lies in an insolent alter-extremism. The assassination of the French cartoonists epitomized this fundamentally, but mostly unrecognized, issue. Extreme fundamentalist interpretations stem from the faulty analogy of texts, called ‘qiyas’ in Islamic jurisprudence. Extremist interpretations are based on oversimplifications and generalizations that do not consider the specific nuances of events that occurred during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. They also do not account for social change or historical progressions. In the case of assassinating those that defame or depict Muhammad today, a primary fallacy lie in not considering that those residing in the West are not bound by Islamic law, are not living under shariah, and are under no covenant like those that were assassinated for defamation (and actually treason) during the Prophet’s 10 years as a statesman.
Nevertheless, there is a responsibility that comes with power, especially when dealing with the weak. Attacks like those against the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, or the even more nonsensical attempt in Texas more recently by ISIS followers, are ultimately political reactions to antagonistic portrayals, deliberately seeking incitement and publicity. One of the Charlie Hebdo covers posted lewd caricatures of the Prophet of Islam just days after the September 11, 2012 murder of the American ambassador in Libya. Pamela Geller, a primary target in the “Draw Muhammad’, Texas attack has consistently provoked and prodded Muslims at large, expanding the idea that every Muslim in the mosque secretly wants to implement shariah in America and other ignorant conceptions. Provocations like these certainly don’t justify such wanton and senseless violence, but the ultimate reactions are interesting.
Charlie Hebdo was a marginalized publication before the incident, which induced 3 million citizens, many of them Muslims, onto the streets in support of democracy and free expression. Pamela Geller never had so much publicity in her life and her contest will likely become a popular annual event. Nevertheless, a deeper irony is always missing. The Charlie Hebdo attackers were of Algerian descent, a nation the French brutally colonized from 1830 unto the non-colonial era. In fact, the French alongside the British, created the modern Middle East and its authoritarian structures through the Sykes-Picot agreement, a betrayed promise for a united pan-Arab or caliphate-like order. Since that time, western powers have done their utmost to prevent free expression and independent democracy throughout the Middle East. Many true academics point out that Islamic political violence is largely a result of having no other alternative avenue of contestation. The U.S. hegemon has largely assumed the same role. The Obama administration just reestablished full-fledged military ties to the dictatorship in Egypt, amongst other examples. Muslims are not ignorant of these salient realities and their connection to violence. They are simply afraid to speak about it out loud.
To be sure, the recent wave of religious terror is not confined to Muslims. The era includes Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist terrorism as well. It is also uncomfortable for the West and its allies to discuss state and state-sponsored terrorism. Yet, to deny that the overwhelming amount of religious terror stems from those claiming to act in the name of Islam is also deceitful. Unfortunately, many Muslims fail to acknowledge the mere existence of “Islamic extremism.” For example, when an ISIS-inspired decapitation occurred in Texas late last year, many sought to brand it “workplace violence.” This was true of Nidal Hassan’s Fort Hood attack as well.
For years, self-righteous community leaders left extremism largely unchallenged, pretending it didn’t exist or acting as if those adopting the terrorist’s ideology were simply not significant enough to warrant their prestigious attention. Such an attitude subliminally adopts the same excommunication (takfiri) tactic of those they claim to oppose. It is as if to say they are not Muslim at all. Only now, with funding for initiatives that counter violent extremism are leaders coming to the fore. Unfortunately, they have no influence in at-risk populations. In the process, they are being exposed as simple charlatans and their efforts will prove counterproductive as well.
Truth be told, Islamic thought is indeed in desperate need of a reformation and renaissance. In the 11th century, a debate between al-Ghazzali and Ibn Rushd – known as Averroes in European circles- initiated a divide, the consequences of which continue to plague much of Islamic thought unto today. Al-Ghazzali attacked Ibn Rushd’s reliance on ‘scientific knowledge.’ His critique was skeptical that we could really know anything at all about reality, its principles of causality, for ultimately all was determined solely by God. Interestingly, Ibn Rushd’s work was highly influential in Christian and Jewish circles. It helped inspire the Renaissance in Europe On the other hand, al-Ghazzali’s thoughts were misconstrued and led to the adaptation of a detrimental mysticism that still covers Islamic peoples. This fatalism has proven largely responsible for the gradual backwardation of the Muslim world. It is an uncomfortable truth, but it was indeed an anti-intellectual decline that preceded Western colonization.
Today a rigid and anti-rational mindset lie at the root of fundamentalist ideology. Such conceptions lack any appreciation for the application of Islamic principles, while simultaneously accepting positivist advancements in social, political and economic arenas, most of which are in full agreement with the Islamic tradition. Rule following over substance and rote memorization over abstract and critical thought prevails. This despite the fact that all the prophets included in the Quran were serious dissidents within their respective societies. There can be no doubt that outmoded and archaic authoritarian structures have long prevented a progressive political Islam from inducing such a reformation. As the remaining authoritarian governments suppress calls for reform, freedom and electoral political structures, elite networks of privilege supported by western powers, continue to benefit while the masses remain in chains.
However, by monopolizing force in the hands of the repressive state and ignoring populist pushes in the name of protecting ‘interests,’ western nations betray the very principles the supporters of Charlie Hebdo claimed to be defending. This hypocrisy has proven so pervasive and long-lasting that to mention it leads to immediate dismissal and in some cases consequential repression. Such is the core denial that underlies all pride, prestige and privilege. Nevertheless, when terrorism “experts” call for diverse measures that seek to eradicate evil or “degrade and destroy” terrorist movements, they fail even to acknowledge the root causes. In the sophistic rhetoric of politicians we find allusions to such but the policies never include an actual concern for human rights or democratic norms, only blatant hypocrisy and more weapons sales for the military-industrial complex.
The typical sentiment is as Alan Dershowitz explained in his Why Terrorism Works (2002), “The current mantra of those opposed to a military response to terrorism is a plea to understand and eliminate the root causes of terrorism. There are several reasons why this is exactly the wrong approach… The reason terrorism works – and will persist unless there are significant changes in the responses to it – is precisely because its perpetrators believe that by murdering innocent civilians they will succeed in attracting the attention of the world to their perceived grievances and their demand that the world “understand them” and “eliminate their root causes… We must take precisely the opposite approach to terrorism. We must commit ourselves never to ty to understand or eliminate its alleged root causes, but rather to place it beyond the pale of dialogue and negotiation.”
This perspective has sustained and continues to drive much of counterterrorism theory and practice. The paradigm portrayed by politicians and the corporate media has rejuvenated grandiose notions of a global war on Islamic extremism. In the same way colonialism and imperialism have always sought to recruit members of oppressed peoples, this paradigm generates derivative effects that allow simplistic and Manichean distinctions between good and bad Muslims to reign. The consciousness it creates affectively marginalizes all critics and intellectuals that acknowledge the root cause, thus pushing a continuation of the Age of Extremism and sustaining the national security or counterterrorism state, a major boom for the corporations and institutions that benefit most from perpetual conflict.
The primary means of an alternative intervention would be, first, for both sides of this false, but effective dichotomization of the Oriental Islamic and Occidental West, to practice the principles they preach. The Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessing be upon him, stressed that, “the religion is easy, so whoever makes it difficult, it will overtake him.” He also said that “extremists are ruined” and repeat it thrice. The Quran authorizes the Muslim to defend themselves against those that attack them but not to transgress limits. And in explaining warfare the Prophet would advise, “Not to long for encountering the enemy and to turn first to God to request security.” The objective of jihad in Islam, prompting visions of global conquest in the West, has always been to open up an ability for the propagation of Islam, something most possible today, perplexingly, in non-Islamic and democratic societies.
It most also be stressed that it is not merely “bad Muslims” that misconstrue principles embedded in their civilization. America’s founding fathers were enemies to British imperialism, the terrorists of their era. Its founding documents are replete with vehement rejection of tyranny and the inalienable rights of all humans. For example, Benjamin Franklin once remarked to Thomas Paine, the intellectual architect of the American system, that “where liberty is, there is my country.” “Where liberty is not, there is my country!” Paine quipped in reply. It gets no more anti-imperialist than in these sentiments. It is disheartening to see their message mutated into fascism under right-wing parties currently.
Today “experts” frequently explain, usually indirectly, that Arabs and Muslims generally are not ready for democracy and the rights that accompany it. Instead they are in need of strongmen that can create the type of stability that alleviates the West and its allies’ fears. Consequentially, anti-American protests and protesters are displayed as representatives of an erratic and unpredictable Arab rage. Meanwhile, autocrats and dictators are armed to the teeth as oppressive governments become allies in proxy wars for regional domination.
To be clear, we are not in Manichean war. As Lisa Stampnitzky highlighted in her important 2013 work Disciplining Terror: How Experts Invented Terrorism, “Although evil and irrationality have been central tropes in the discourse of terrorism since the 1970’s, there have always been significant factions of experts who have contested the assumption that terrorists are irrational and the conclusion that terrorism can be attributed to ‘evil.’ Such experts have not been in a position to overturn the politics of anti-knowledge however.”
We all must challenge these faulty presumptions. The clash of civilizations is fueled by extremists on both sides, and extremisms that are only enhancing. Promoting true moderation alongside liberation in an ‘Age of Extremism’ will require diligence and effort that seeks to alter popular consciousness. Criticism of the other cannot be blind to the hypocrisies that drive resentment. Advocating narratives that promote moderation, justice and freedom cannot be sincere unless they are willing to expand cherished rights and privilege to all. It is convenient to hold that human nature is violent and competitive, but in the end we may learn that before one can effectively condemn the extremism of another, they must first undergo an inconvenient self-critique that makes certain they do not have similar faults within themselves. That conception leads to the realization that we do not live in a ‘black’ and ‘white’ world at all and might lead to an effective promotion of moderation and the end of extremism.
Younus Abdullah Muhammad holds a Master’s of International Affairs and is the founder of IslamPolicy.com. He was recently released from incarceration in the United States and resided in the D.C. Metro area. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Saturday, May 23, 2015
Bismillah Al-Rahman Ar-Raheem
All Praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, Seal of the Prophets, upon his family and companions and whomsoever follows him until that inevitable day; to what proceeds:
It gives me great pleasure to be able to announce that after over four years of incarceration, I, Younus Abdullah Muhammad, founder of IslamPolicy.com, have been RELEASED from imprisonment in the United States, wal-hamdulilllah.
This ‘makhrajan’ comes after a reduction in sentence that could have only have come from Allah (swt) and I attribute it to Him solely, the One in whose hand lies my soul. Allah, aza wa jaal, has said in the Quran that, “When harm touches man, he calls to Me for help, then when I have changed (that harm) into a favor from Me, he says, ‘It’s Only because of knowledge that I possess that I obtained it.’ Nay, it is only a trial, but most of men know not.’ (39:40).
While I am no doubt bewildered by the prospects of facing the currents of American society, labeled American Al-Qaeda, I do want to remain cognizant that this opportunity to be a freeman, a husband, a father, and citizen comes from Allah alone. I also want to remind and remember the statement of Abu Dharr that “every blessing that does not bring you closer to Allah is actually a misfortune.” So, I pray that my release is a benefit for me, in this world and the next, and an opportunity to cleanse myself, draw closer to my Lord, improve my pathetic condition and make amends. I’ve left many behind better than myself.
Surely our lives, our provisions and our dispositions are only from Allah, the All-Knowing. And it is to Him that we owe every station of our existence, from birth unto death. He ta ala does not put us through tests we cannot bear, even though stress and anxiety sometimes make us think we are not going to pass through them. The Messenger of Allah (saws) narrated in hadith Qudsi that Allah, subhanahu wa taala, said, “I am as my slave expects Me to be, so let him think of Me as he chooses.” Imam Nawawi raheemahu Allah said about this hadith in his Explanation of Saheeh Muslim that, “The scholars say that expecting the best of Allah is to expect that He will have Mercy on him and relieve him of hardship.”
I remember being flown home in a private government jet after five months of incarceration in Morocco and finding out I was facing life imprisonment in the United States. At that moment, when one’s freedom seems to be lost forever, simply for speaking their mind, the soul has nothing left to do but turn to Allah, aza wa jaal. Today I can guarantee that a relief from hardship comes in ways that are mostly unexpected. The reflective one realizes that Allah relieves hardship in ways that oftentimes connect to pathways of deeper, spiritual healing the. Therefore, we must always pay attention to the experiences Allah puts us through, and try to remember that there are lessons to be learned from each and every passing wind.
The test of this world is as Ibn al-Qayyim rahmatuAllah alaih elaborated in his own explanation of the aforementioned hadith about the way a servant thinks of his or her Lord that, “Most people – in fact, all of them except those protected by Allah – assume other than the truth, and assume the worst. Most people believe that they are deprived of their rights, have bad luck, deserve more than what Allah gave them, and it is as if they are saying: ‘My Lord has wronged me and deprived me of what I deserve,’ and his soul bears witness to this while his tongue denies it and refuses to openly state this. And whoever digs into his soul and comes to know its ins and outs will see this in it like fire in a triggered explosion…”
I believe that this statement, from this great scholar, largely defines the journey to Allah and the primary test of this difficult world. Lord knows I’ve failed this test as much as I ‘ve passed it, but now I am working to reunite my family, iron out personal complications, remain free and maintain basic sustenance.
The world has shifted a substantial amount since my initial incarceration, and I hope to reestablish ties that might allow me to comment occasionally on topics that remain very dear to me. My primary interests presently include a concentration on the role of hadith interpretation and its influence on contemporary Islamic movements, on U.S. foreign policy in the Muslim world, the state of Islam and Muslims in America, the actual principles embodied in an American system that has been erased from contemporary conceptions (no not the false patriotic fascism promoted by FoxNews), and Islamic politics, economics and society generally.
Additionally, incarceration granted me the opportunity of interaction with and critical contemplation on the counterterrorism community generally. I have been particularly intrigued by what has been classified as countering violent extremism (CVE). While this has led me to contemplate ways of preventing others from throwing their lives away, I remain staunchly opposed to the national security or counterterrorism state and its connection to the elite, neoliberal order, or what Dwight D. Eisenhower referred to as far back as 1961 as the ‘military-industrial complex.’ I believe that today’s counterterrorist, or national security state isn’t merely dangerous to Islam and Muslims, but to humanity and civilization generally.
I must also emphatically state that I absolutely reject the conception that terrorism is justified in any which way and by anybody. I ask Allah to accept repentance for my not having made that absolutely clear in the past. It seems to me definite that we are suffering from an era the prophet (saws) foretold; one marked by ignorant youth who recite the best of speech but do not embody it. If we are to truly stand for the ummah’s liberation, we will have to locate a balanced position between the day’s extremes.
Of course, the next period is going to be the most difficult phase of my reintegration. In America, 70 percent of former inmates return to prison within three years. The barriers to employment, housing and social assistance are significant and the stigma severe. One can only imagine the additional stigma associated with my specific situation. My heartfelt appreciation goes out to all of those that courageously supported me through this. I humbly ask anyone that can assist us (myself, wife and two children) during my present predicament to do so. If you know of any opportunity for freelance journalism or other employment prospects that would enable me to better provide for my family, I would be incredibly grateful.
A beautiful peace in our religion is the wide definition of ‘sadaqah’ (charity). When the ahul suffah wondered whether the rich would be favored by Allah because they had the means to give monetary charity, Allah’s Messenger informed them to make dhikr, tasbeeh and the like. Indeed even a smile in our religion, or words of encouragement, are acts of worship. It is truly an amazing deen for those that practice it and we thank Allah for making us from the Muslimeen!
I look forward to hearing more from some of you soon. You can communicate with me at firstname.lastname@example.org for now or by joining me on my new Facebook (LINK). Please share the attached video with friends and post online, having social support will be crucial to my effective reintegration. I hope that you might also share this message on forums, social media and across the web and that you may contact me with words of support and encouragement. May Allah, ta ala, forgive our sins, guide us to a path that is pleasing to Him and keep us firm upon the sunnah - wal hamdulilahi rabeel al-ameen!
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Ibn al-Jawzi said in his Naseeha Al-Walid', "Never has a man been tried with anything greater than his high ambitions (idealisms). This is because a person who has high ambitions will choose the highest goals and it may be that he doesn't have enough time to achieve them or his instruments are too weak so he remains in constant suffering. I have been given this ambition in some regards and suffer because of it. I am not saying that I wish it would not have been given to me, for the sweeter the life the less the intellect, and an intelligent man does not purchase additional pleasure for deficient intellect."
The USG has released a list of bin Laden’s reading material from the Abbottabad raid. In an apparent attempt to silence those accepting Sy Hersch’s revelation that the USG’s version of events was more Hollywood than reality (and what a great movie it made), the list includes Western academics like Noam Chomsky and Paul Kennedy. Probably looks a lot like the library of many living in Western societies and it is likely only a matter of time before downloading a copy of the Quran and Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival might get you in some trouble for “material” or “intellectual” support or something.
As a result, more and more people today question the world we are living in. I was mesmerized recently when CSPAN documented a USG center for the study of asymmetrical warfare somewhere in Virginia. They interviewed a sargent and were showing a makeshift town that would be utilized for training. However, the town did not look like some third world terrorist hideout in the Middle East or Africa. Instead, it resembled a small town in any American state, with Main Street, Church, bar and shopping plaza. Caller after caller phoned into to wonder why the training spot looked so Americana and none of them were buying the Sargent’s backtracking. It was pretty hilarious.
No doubt such critical reading is already sufficient for an assessment that you are trending toward violent extremism and for a “good brother” to appear and pretend he is recruiting for ISIS. This Brave New World I’ve been set free in really is a strange place indeed!!!
In 2007, a coalition of congressmen attempted to pass the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act. This was the first piece of legislation to address “ideologically inspired violence,” but it drew criticism for essentially conflating radical environmentalists and anti-globalization leftists with Al-Qaeda and was defeated. No doubt, the most recent scares will reinitiate such efforts. Soon dissent in general will garner one the label of a radical ‘one step away from violence,’ and thus in need of all sorts of surveillance.
Yuriduna an yutfiu nur Allahi bi afwahihim – “They wish to extinguish the Light of Allah with their mouths”… but they don’t understand that manipulation, deception and extremism only increase support and they march forward in ignorance. Unfortunately, if the current order starts to fracture again, as it did in 2007, those with power would rather unleash global war than watch it crumble. With the Federal Reserve exhausting all remedies and the economy in the tank, the only solution would be to cut USG spending and curtail the military. This is what bin Laden was reading in Paul Kennedy’s academic research on the fall of empires, and it is part of Al-Qaeda’s long-term plan, as delivered to Abdel Bari-Atwan in 2007.
An idiot op-ed on foreignpolicy.com suggested that bin Laden’s reading list was somewhat immature for a self-proclaimed shaykh (link). I guess that author missed all the speeches he gave earlier in life in front of hundreds of the most complicated and studious books of Islamic history. Such nonsense attempts at defamation (such as the claim they found ‘mounds of pornography’ in the Abbottabad compound) are what make all western efforts at countering violent extremism fall short and when the exposure of USG lies and deception only leads to more lies and deception in an efforts to cover-up those already exposed.
As a result, more and more people today question the world we are living in. I was mesmerized recently when CSPAN documented a USG center for the study of asymmetrical warfare somewhere in Virginia. They interviewed a sargent and were showing a makeshift town that would be utilized for training. However, the town did not look like some third world terrorist hideout in the Middle East or Africa. Instead, it resembled a small town in any American state, with Main Street, Church, bar and shopping plaza. Caller after caller phoned into to wonder why the training spot looked so Americana and none of them were buying the Sargent’s backtracking. It was pretty hilarious.
Apparently, even bin Laden was a bit shocked at the way 9-11 turned out. The Guardian article reads, “There is a notable interest, too, in conspiratorial theories of world power, with several volumes which claim to expose the secret societies and cabals that run the world and the evils of financial capitalism. Bizarrely, the library includes one book – New Pearl Harbor – which argues that the government of George W Bush was complicit in the 9/11 terror attacks.” I oftentimes wonder if factions of power knew 9-11 was coming, allowed it to happen and perhaps even enhanced the effects, but there is no doubt that one of Al-Qaeda’s intended effects from 9-11 was to create a dissonance between the USG and its people and an awareness of the distinction between USG rhetoric and action.
I think that rather than rely on violence, Muslims with proper minhaj and aqeedah should come up with mechanisms for addressing the reality that people in power profit domestically from goading little kids into elaborate plots and that the military industrial complex profits immensely from war and chaos in the Muslim world.
One thing I realize about some of my previous work at Revolution Muslim was the way it allowed authorities to fulfill their own agenda. It was a lesson that all those seeking authentic Islam could benefit from. May Allah aza wa jaal liberate this ummah from its ignorance and give us insight to see through a massive propaganda war. We should be at the forefront of providing holistic socio-pschological-political-economic alternatives based in the shariah. Unfortunately, too many of us are bent over backwards and forwards trying to get plugged into the system that encourages self-seeking deceit and manipulation.
Reading material included militant works – but it also contained surprises like books suggesting the US deliberately allowed 9/11 attacks to succeed
THEGUARDIAN.COM|BY JASON BURKE
Saturday, May 16, 2015
by Younus Abdullah Muhammad
Those are certain to be the dividing lines of a heated foreign policy debate in the coming 2016 presidential election. That election will likely pit Jeb Bush against democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But both assertions are essentially incorrect and are rather emblematic of the insolent hubris that underpins the ‘pax-Americana’ perspective that drives each dominant political party. This perspective sustains America’s present existence as an imperialist power, as distinguished from the exemplary republic the anti-imperialists that founded America envisioned.
Truth be told, ISIS is not a function of some mere blunder made by the Provisional Governing Authority of Iraq in 2003. It is true that the decision to bar former Baathists from participation in the new Iraqi government fed the insurgency. However, resistance to occupation would have looked similar regardless. Sunnis clearly understood that “democracy” would give Shiites majority power and that they would use that power to persecute them. The perspective held by Jeb Bush’s accusator, and most Americans unfortunately, assumes the faulty presumption that the Bush administration actually intended to craft a functioning democracy in Iraq. In reality, Iraq had been subject to American aggression much earlier than 2003 and U.S. policy in the Middle East has never had a bit to do with democracy. For that, Iraq offers perhaps the greatest evidence.
Those fighting on the ground for ISIS can be separated into two camps: indigenous fighters from Iraq and Syria and foreign jihadists that have traveled from countries all over. These foreign fighters are driven by a quest to reestablish an Islamic caliphate. They view Middle Eastern governments as American proxies and see warfare as necessary in countering both of them. Iraq and Syria today are simply the most accessible and fitting arenas for foreign jihadists. Nevertheless, in actuality foreign fighters represent a minority of ISIS fighters and leadership.
The majority of ISIS fighters are indigenous and Jeb Bush is certainly wrong to suggest that they were formulated in some void left by President Obama’s departure from Iraq in 2011. They are typically young, in their late teens thru mid-twenties. That places their very existence coincident to a massive genocide in Iraq that started with America’s reaction to Sadaam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. That genocide remains unspoken of and unacknowledged.
The student may have been right to assert that ISIS is a product of the Bush administration. But the assertion would have been more accurate had he understood that it was actually the administration of George Herbert Walker Bush that created the initial impetus for the processes we see unfolding presently. Iraq was the first victim of George Bush I’s ‘new world order’, as it was subject to massive and unnecessary aerial bombardment during the First Gulf War.
The Gulf War was waged absent restraint. Former attorney general Ramsey Clark has claimed that all sorts of illegal weapons were utilized, some in experimentation. Civilian infrastructure was targeted and it was during this phase that the term ‘collatoral damage’ entered mainstream jargon. During the 1990’s Iraq was blown back, from the most developed Arab country by nearly all indicators, to the Stone Age. The effects were catastrophic, mostly for the Iraqi citizenry and not the regime, but what most today remain heedless of is that the sanctions that followed the first war in Iraq were even more deplorable.
At the conclusion of the Gulf War, the Bush I administration chose to keep Sadaam Hussein in power. Democrats argued for his replacement, but as the Democratic Party’s chief ideologue Thomas Friedman made clear, the new ruler should be “an iron fisted Iraqi junta without Sadaam Hussein.” By the time Bill Clinton was elected president, the notion that Iraq still presented a problem for the region dominated. During his tenure Iraqis were subject to severe and sustained bombardment, under the guise that Iraq otherwise represented a ‘rogue state’ capable of external aggression. For the rest of the 1990’s, Iraq was subject to the most intense and comprehensive economic sanctions ever implemented. Of course this proxy war was waged under the guise of humanitarianism.
The effects were sickening. In fact, the United Nations own statistics documented that the effect of American-led sanctions on the Iraqi population was deplorable. For example, a comprehensive evaluation of all statistical studies on death caused by the sanctions led professor Richard Garfield to call it, “the only instance of a sustained, large increase in mortality in a stable population of more than 2 million in the last 200 years.” Coincidentally, Osama bin Laden attempted to justify Al-Qaeda’s targeting of American civilians by citing the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis that were killed by the sanctions.
All statistical analysis confirmed that anywhere from 250,000 to 2.5 million children were killed. Despite this, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madelline Allbright replied to questioning about the deaths on the 60 Minutes new program and said, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it.” It would be much more accurate to recognize that the children fighting for ISIS today were born or passed through childhood during the era of sanctions and bombing. Unfortunately, the American ethos fails to consider that people abroad have history as well and are shaped by it and not simply some policy blunder of the world’s dominant power.
The invasion and occupation Iraq in 2003 only worsened matters. It was the direct result of the adoption of neoconservativism, a doctrine that differs from both traditional Republican realism and Democratic liberalism. It is likely Bush II would have invaded Iraq with or without 9-11. In their justification for the Iraq War, two neoconservative ideologues, Lawrence Kaplan and William Kristol, explained Bush II’s foreign policy as “a distinctly American internationalism.” They claimed that both liberalism and realism represented a minimalist approach that was due to the fact, “the very concept of self-interest provokes discomfort, and the other because it defines the national interest far too narrowly.” Neoconservative doctrine was one of “full-spectrum dominance” and was not a doctrine that cared at all about ‘democracy’ for others.
Before Bush II was elected, the Neocons writing under the Project for a New American Century argued that Bill Clinton should have removed Sadaam Hussein by force when he threatened the dollar’s role as sole global reserve currency. Sadaam refused payment for his oil in dollars. That induced a sharp rise in the Euro against the dollar and threatened to collapse the petrodollar recycling system. Therefore 9/11 simply represented the Pearl Harbor Neocons were already looking for. Today we know that in the halls of the Bush administration everything after 9-11 was framed so that it would justify Iraq’s invasion. What we don’t typically appreciate is that such sentiment was shared by both political parties at the time and that Iraq had, by then, already been subject to aggression for over a decade.
Jeb Bush’s statement marks a resurrection for the neoconservative views that now dominate the popular Fox News inspired perspective of Republicans everywhere. His likely national security team resembles a remodeled neoconservatism. Neocons feel that Bush II’s foreign policy has somehow been vindicated by the current chaos in the Middle East. People have already forgotten how miserable life was everywhere due to Bush II’s Iraqi occupation. A return of the neocons to power in 2016 would likely initiate World War III, a result they may very well be intending.
When Jeb rolled out his foreign policy plan in February 2015, 19 of the 21 people that worked on it were employees of either his father or brother’s administrations. For example, Paul Wolfowitz was a follower of the insane political scientist Lauri Mylorie. Her theorizing provided the framework for Bush II’s justification of the Iraqi war and was followed in the hallways of the administration after 9/11 despite it not being based on a shred of empirical evidence. There are many more scary examples of individuals with proven track records as warmongers.
Jeb also told a private group of Manhattan financiers that his primary advisor on U.S.-Israeli relations was his brother. Jeb’s connections to big oil, big business and Wall Street are embedded in the neoconservative approach. This is something that goes back even farther in the Bush family legacy. Prescott Walker Bush, Jeb’s great-grandfather was a Wall Street financier and prominent backer of Hitler. In the event Jeb Bush is elected, it is likely we would see a foreign policy that mostly resembles full-fledged fascism under the guise of American exceptionalism; neocon doctrine and Nazi ideology are remarkably similar.
In response to the student’s accusations, Jeb simply replied, “look, we can rewrite history all you want, but the simple fact is that we're in a much more unstable place because America pulled back.” This resurrected neoconservative platform is sure to play a major role in the upcoming presidential election. By highlighting that the student was indeed a Democrat, the mainstream press gave Jeb much needed publicity. Popularizing the story will also help a mainstream media that seeks to reduce the world to the perspectives of America’s two dominant political parties. Yet, because both parties serve the interests only of the elite, they should be disregarded almost entirely. For the next year and a half Democratic and Republican positions will be pitted, one against the other, as if they are the only options and as if they are dissimilar in practice. Actually, foreign policy hardly differs between them, but one thing is certain: the crimes and genocide committed in Iraq, even before the 2003 occupation, will be written out of analysis and thereby history altogether.
It is convenient for Americans to forget the Iraqi war, all of it. That is a convenience, however, that Iraqis cannot enjoy. In fact, the Iraqi people have been subject to American aggression since 1991 and ultimately they may never allow us to simply forget it. Our air campaign against ISIS has only turned their attention to our shores and our intervention continues to create much more terrorism than it prevents. Both political parties are embarking on paths that will only sustain conflict. This conflict is only good for the military-industrial complex that truly runs the country. The election of Jeb Bush, as opposed to Hillary Clinton, would only enhance the likelihood of global war while guaranteeing policy implementation that proves catastrophic for non-elites everywhere.
All conscientious people should oppose such an outcome and work against it. That will require an educated and informed citizenry. America needs a truly progressive platform that rejects the corporatist notions that drive American politics (and Hillary Clinton). In order to establish an alternative outcome, we must acknowledge our blunders and enter a new direction entirely. We must see through lies and deception and look back at the roots of the American republic, at its birth as an anti-imperialist experiment. We cannot right the wrongs of the past, but by acknowledging them we might initiate the processes that eventually prevent us from sustaining them.
Younus Abdullah Muhammad holds a Master’s of International Affairs and is the founder of IslamPolicy.com. He was recently released from incarceration in the United States and resides in the D.C. Metro area. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Obama's Reverse-Pivot to the Middle East Offers Yet Another Opportunity for "Change"
by Younus Abdullah Muhammad
President Obama's well organized speech in front of the UN General Assembly on September 24, 2013 was marked by an apparent recognition that the ensuing battle for the future of the Middle East, as opposed to Asia, will determine the near-term geopolitical future and balance of power in the world for at least a generation to come. Up unto that point, Obama's Mideast policy had been, by design, mostly rhetorical, meant to salvage the Muslim world's public opinion as much as possible while pivoting the loci of US concern to the projected high-growth economies of East Asia. Mideastern interest was mostly confined to preserving the US's unspoken military dominance in the Gulf and increasingly East Africa.
President Obama's election once spurred some early "hope" that US-Mideast relations would alter but as scholar Fawaz Gerges has described it, "contrary to the public perceptions, Obama's lofty rhetoric about a new start in relations between the United States and Muslim countries did not signify that the region ranked high on his foreign policy agenda. When Israeli-Palestinian peace talks proved much costlier than Obama and his advisers had foreseen, the president first allowed his vice president to be humiliated by the Israeli prime minister and then awkwardly disengaged from the peace process, thereby undermining his own credibility and doing consequent damage to America's prestige and influence. So while Obama has invested some political effort on Mideast diplomacy, he has shown himself unwilling to do more to achieve a breakthrough. The decision speaks volumes about the administration's foreign policy priorities, as well as the decline of American power and influence in the region." (Obama and the Middle East, 2012, p.11)
Nevertheless, Obama's latest UN address seemed to offer a 'reverse-pivot' and path to serious reconcentration. In the speech Obama explained that the US "will be engaged in the region for the long-haul" and he suggested that reengagement will center around reinitiating the Israel-Palestine peace process and resolving the Iranian nuclear issue. Now, after five years of reduced focus, and in turn influence, from all but the region's major oil producers, the Obama administration has recognized that its withdrawal has created conditions under which foreign powers have emerged and through which regional discord, civil conflict and divide have exasperated. Today stark division subsists not only between Sunnis and Shiites, secularists and Islamists, but also increasingly between a politicized and militant social underbelly and their elite and traditionally Western-allied counterparts.
Obama's speech offered one very promising principle that could slowly mediate such clash. While addressing the unfolding conflict in Egypt, Obama expanded the definition of American interests beyond oil, Israel and neoliberal economics to include support for the development of government that "legitimately reflects the collective will of the people." If realized in practice and policy, that would prove a major alteration that might initiate a new era and style of American diplomacy. In the end, long-term lessons might be learned that document concern with the promotion of pluralism and representative governance leads to mutually beneficial engagement while real politick masked in rhetoric more often than not results only in entanglement and eventual catastrophe. If the past five years are any indication Obama's words will prove merely a rhetorical tool, an attempt to deflect the enhanced awareness that Obama really has not had a Mideast policy. Whether because of that reality or in spite of it, the center of gravity in international affairs has clearly shifted back to the Middle East. Any actual connection between the U.S. hegemon's vital interests and support and aid for authentic representative government, with all the plurality and risk that necessarily accompanies it, would not only represent a major change in course but may usher in an era led by America in the Middle East.
The Obama presidency began with an order to close Guantanamo Bay. In June of 2009 he went to Cairo and called for a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims." But, like his promise to close the Guantanamo Prison, his efforts to improve relations have proven overblown. It is important to recognize that Obama did not, at this time, link democracy promotion to the national interests of either the US or the people of the Middle East. In his Cairo address he stated, "I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by another." As opposed to his democratic primary opponent Hillary Clinton, now-President Obama actually rejected a policy of democratization and reform initiated by President Bill Clinton in the 1990's after it became apparent that political Islam was on the rise and the days of Arab authoritarianism were numbered. Instead, Obama called Mubarak a "stalwart ally" and when the Arab Spring protests rent asunder in Tunisia and Egypt his Vice President Joe Biden refused to label Mubarak a dictator. In actuality, US reaction sought to subvert Egyptian protests and first to replace Mubarak with his vice president, Omar Suleiman. They maintained support for Ben Ali in Tunisia until his departure and continue to support oil-rich autocrats in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. They increased military support and cooperation in Yemen even after the regime started firing on protestors and then were pressured by Britain and France to intervene in Libya before remaining totally lethargic so far with regard to Syria. Contrary to the popular American narrative, the number one obstacle in the way of Obama's actual foreign policy strategy has been the surging demand for democratically-minded transformation across the Middle East.
Despite the recent reversion to authoritarianism and other complications, any lasting US influence in the Muslim world "for the long haul" will necessitate both policy and practice that tracks closer to the democratic oratory espoused by Obama's teleprompter. Egypt, home of a quarter of the Arab world's population and arguably its cultural center, represents the best opportunity for such alterations. At the same time it is a case study in American hypocrisy. In Obama's UN speech he argued that in Egypt Mohammed Morsi was elected but "proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was mutually exclusive." The President said nothing however of the reempowered military junta presently running the country with its long experice in autocracy. And Obama emphasized that the US "purposefully avoided choosing sides" while failing to mention that by refusing to classify the intervention as a coup the US has clearly made its decision. "We have determined that it is not in the best interests of the United States to make that determination," as he put it before. He then went on to connect US interests to the support and aid of government reflecting the "collective will" of the Egyptian people. However, "collective will" is a vague term that can easily be manipulated in definition, away from one that supports government for the people by the people and into one that serves as a cover for a return to elite dictatorship protected by sustained US assistance.
So far US policy has show no sign of promoting actual pluralism. In August, Secretary of State John Kerry described the coup in Egypt as "restoring democracy." That was right before the regime gunned down hundreds of nonviolent, pro-Morsi protestors, classifying the women and children killed as terrorists, rounded up the leaders of the nonviolent Muslim Brotherhood and imprisoned them on trumped up charges, shut off free expression, closed down television stations, imposed curfews and reset emergency laws from the Mubarak era. As the late Christopher Hitchens succinctly described it, most nations are states that have militaries but Egypt is a military that has a state. The root obstacle now to pluralism and government representative of the collective will in Egypt is in fact the 'deep state' that revolves around the military. In reaction to the clear coup, the Obama administration merely canceled a joint military exercise, temporarily reviewed the $1.3 billion in military aid before sustaining the bulk of it and has sat idly since as all genuine political plurality has been subverted. For their part, the EU conducted an "urgent review of Egyptian relations" partially suspended the export of military equipment and continued most of a $5 billion package in loans and aid to support "democratic transitions." Such assistance will further entrench the return of Egyptian totalitarianism.
These efforts at 'democracy restoration' do not represent the plurality of either Arab or Egyptian thought. Neither the Egyptian military or US government has ever supported Mideast publics. In reality, such manipulation is part and parcel of a sustained suppression of political Islam that has hallmarked the West's creation of the modern Middle East through the secretive Sykes-Picot accords of the first world war era. The preference for Arab authoritarianism has only heightened since it became clear in the 1990's that any free and fair elections would bring Islamists to power. The interim Egyptian government has issued a "road map" to restore elections. However, that road map was drawn up absent consultation, even with members of the anti-Morsi coalition busy slogging that the people and the military are "one hand." The interim government announced a 50-member panel that will draft a new constitution, but that panel will include only two, pro-regime Islamists and so could not be realistically representative of Egyptian aspirations. The people of Egypt overwhelmingly elected Islamists in initial parliamentary and presidential elections. And while the so-called Islamist constitution of Morsi passed through national referendum, the new constitution will be put to no test other than the scrutiny of a judiciary that recently added insult to injury by releasing Hosni Mubarak from his prison chains.
The interim government is led by former finance minister Hazem el-Bablawi, a proponent of the neoliberal reforms induced under Mubarak who argues for an outright ban of the Muslim Brotherhood. Actual Egyptian political plurality, not unlike the rest of the Middle East, is extremely diverse. True liberals performed horribly in early elections but represent a growing segment of society especially amongst the youth. The National Salvation Front is a coalition of parties that range from strict secularists, to Nasserites, communists, and people of all political persuasions. The ultraorthodox salafi al-Nour party won more than a quarter of the seats in Egypt's first parliament. The nationalist al-Wafd party, present in Egypt since the days of British colonialism, has a heavy constituency and many other parties and platforms formulated in the early days after the Arab Spring. The coup and return of control to the military backed by the judiciary and its remnants of the Mubarak-age will only subvert the collective will of the Egyptian mass through a return to one-party dominance.
Much has been made about the Obama administration's embracement of the Muslim Brotherhood. Truth be told, such embracement had more to do with pragmatism than any actual support for change. The US wields tremendous global economic influence and with the Egyptian economy on the brink of collapse it wasn't hard to imagine that the Islamists early election victories would be short gained. President Morsi was no radical. He appointed General Sissi to please the US and his constitution did nothing to take away the military's powers. He shut out his salafist counterparts almost altogether. He embraced IMF loans and hosted a trade delegation for major US multinationals. US communication was always paternalistic. For example, John Kerry attached its meager financial support to Morsi's backing of IMF reform. "In light of Egypt's extreme needs and President Morsi's assurance that he plans to complete the IMF process, today I have advised him that the US will now provide the first $190 million of our pledged $450 million in budget support funds," he said. At the onset of Egyptian protests against a controversial Youtube video last September, Obama called Morsi's government a "work in progress." The Obama administration clearly recognized that the Muslim Brotherhood led government would be constrained by an obstructionist judiciary that had already dismissed a democratically elected Islamist parliament and was blocking the new constitution.
However, when Morsi issued decrees granting himself temporary autocratic powers, the Obama administration advocated for reforms that would have entrenched the pre-Arab Spring network of privilege that helps to effectively make Egypt a US client state. The administration advised that Morsi make cabinet changes and that "the art of politics is to give your adversaries something," a lesson the Obama administration will soon learn as the US government shuts down. The US maintained contact with General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi. Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel was "impressed" with the former US resident. The White House distanced itself from the coup and continued to advise Morsi to appoint a new Prime Minister. Still, their passive reaction since documents a sustained indifference to authoritarianism in the name of stability and an aversion to any type of actual Arab-world reform representative of its populace's diversity.
Obama's reverse pivot has much to do with perceptions of America's waning influence and the prospect that other powers will step in to fill the void. Any true Middle Eastern alteration, especially if achieved by Islamists moderate or extreme, would threaten an international order increasingly controlled by a global ,as opposed to a western, elite. That elite includes the Middle East's own aristocracy. Saudi Arabia, for example, a country infuriated by Obama's apparent embracement of the Arab Spring and Brotherhood, pledged $12 billion in aid to Egypt along with Dubai to support the Morsi coup. Then on August 8, as pressure for the suspension of US, EU aid intensified, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, head of Saudi intelligence and close confidante of the Bush family, appeared in Russia for direct talks with Vladimir Putin. He was no doubt there to discuss Putin's support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the Gulf Cooperation Council's push for a New Middle East modeled on preserving authoritarianism and potential future inroads for Russian military sales in the event the West pursued a course consistent with human rights. On August 9, Saudi King Abdullah donated $100 million for a US counterterrorism center as Egyptian rhetoric portraying all Islamists as terrorists paved the way for coming massacres. Such emboldened diplomacy led Egypt's military to state on August 18 that its relationship with the US and other western governments was "under review." In a sense, these gestures held the West hostage and forced them to consider the prospects for a returning power struggle along Cold War lines.
Russia would gladly replace Western arms sales in the region and any discussion of a New Middle East, along with the aid, infrastructure investment and loans that would accompany it, represents a potential threat to American dominance. Any offloading of the more than one trillion in petrodollar reserves held by Arab sovereign wealth funds could collapse America's economic imperium. If supported by Russia, in allegiance with Brazil, China, India or South Africa, an alternative international monetary order could form. OPEC nations could dismember that present order tomorrow by simply removing oil's pricing in US dollar terms. No doubt the realists that hold the actual reign of US power were properly alarmed. Consequently, it is little wonder America accepted the Saudi-induced coup and little wonder Obama no longer wants to "lead from behind" in the Middle East. The ultimate reverberations have already induced alternative solutions in Syria (Assad 'must not go now') and in negotiations with Iran, both allies of Russia.
These international connections highlight the reality that the Egyptian military's putsch represents a neo-fascist trend in international relations, marked by a merger between state and corporate power that relegates government so it serves the needs of an interconnected global elite. That growing movement, typically clothed in the rhetoric of democracy, represents the most serious challenge to the balance democratic nation states inherently offer against transnational powers. Today, from the US in the West to China in the East, national policies are increasingly dictated by globally-minded influences, from multinational corporations, a military, industrial complex, international financial institutions and other institutions that serve the primary interests (namely immediate profit) of upper-tiered income earners around the world. Under these conditions, the politics of democracy becomes a mere shadow cast on populations by the "interest" of elites. If viewed from this radical perspective, these influences become evident in the Egyptian coup.
The Egyptian Army, with an annual budget of $4 billion represents the fourteenth largest army in the world. Because the military's influence, in conjunction with the state bureaucracy, extends to every sector of society it is home to some of the most lucrative international contracts. Whether by way of interest rates paid on Egyptian bonds, the sale of weaponry, foreign direct investment or the import of subsidized American food, Egypt serves as a major stimulus for transnational capitalists. Saudi Arabia, a country General Sissi also served in thoroughly, is exemplative of the same. Saudis not only send all their petrodollars back to Wall Street and the City of London for investment, but they have signed record-breaking arms contracts over recent years.
The late Chalmers Johnson described the Saudi military nexus in his book The Sorrows of Empire (2004), "Vinnell Corp. a Northern Grumman firm in Fairfax, Virginia has had primary responsibility for training the Saudi National Guard and has, 'constructed, run, written doctrine for, and staffed five Saudi military academies, seven shooting ranges, and a health care system, while training and equipping four Saudi mechanized brigades and five infantry brigades. Saudi Arabia has, in turn, funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into major defense corporations to equip those forces." As in Dubai, Saudi's partner in the Egyptian coup, where the former CEO of Blackwater, the US's foremost private mercenary firm, resides and provides security for the regime, military equipment and training focuses on protecting the dictatorship from domestic uprising, particularly pertinent in lieu of the Arab Spring. The $12 billion in aid to Egypt will help temporarily quell an impending economic crisis but their concern with the prospects of an altered US government have nothing to do with private western power. In the weeks following the Egyptian counterrevolution, Saudi Arabia awarded $22.5 billion in infrastructure contracts to three Western-led consortiums for a metro-system in Riyadh.
Obama didn't mention any intention of promoting governments reflecting the collective will of Saudi, Bahraini, or Emirati societies. Today's US-led international military-industrial complex has outgrown what Dwight Eisenhower once referred to as its, "total influence - economic, political, even spiritual." The global elite's influence often trumps sovereign political decisions around the world and runs contrary to public opinion. Factions of that network no doubt gave the go-ahead for the Egyptian coup. Egypt's stock market rose 7% in its initial days. So when Egypt's interim ministry reestablished the national security state by gunning down peaceful protesters with live ammunition, the US president remained effectively silent and the secretary of state issued a vague and implicit message to the Muslim Brotherhood to "step back from the brink." When the military rigs future elections and reestablishes Mubarak-like rule, Egyptian liberals may realize that they effectively backed a counterrevolution and Islamists will learn again that America's rhetoric about democratization cannot be believed.
Another factor of realism weighing on Obama's repivot had to be an awareness that the Muslims Brotherhood's failure in democratic participation will prove a boon to militant, revolutionary Islam of the Al-Qaeda type. The alterations and divisions now percolating in Egypt are similar to a previous era. In the late 1980's political Islamists were gaining ground in Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan, while in Sudan a military coup installed Omar al-Basheer. Then, when the Algerian Salvation Front (FIS) won a surprising victory in first round parliamentary elections in December, 1991, it sent ripples of caution throughout the international community. Political Islam was on the rise. In realy January, 1992 the Algerian military cancelled the elections, banned the FIS and arrested and tortured hundreds of its supporters. The French backed the coup and the first Bush administration followed suit with tacit approval. Algeria subsequently descended into more than a decade of civil war that took over 100,000 lives. Today, Egypt also rests on the brink of civil discord.
Attacks on Egyptian security forces and police officers are rising. Low-level insurgent violence has increased in the Sinai and has reemerged along the Nile Valley for the first time since the 1990's.
Weapons from Libya and Syria are readily available. A 2008 cable from the US embassy in Cairo released by Wikileaks cited US analysts as claiming the Egyptian armed forces were unable to engage in combat and cited their inability to quell Islamist insurgency in the Sinai as an example. A front for militants in Egypt would only add to the appeal of groups like Al-Qaeda. In Algeria it was six months after the military cancelled elections before jihadists assassinated the interim prime minister and nine months before the first bombing. As Secretary of State Clinton put it before leaving her post, the US "has got to have a better strategy... the Arab Spring has ushered in a time when Al-Qaeda is on the rise."
Indeed that is the case. In early August the Obama administration ordered 19 embassies closed and issued a worldwide travel alert. In Afghanistan, where Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are set to declare victory at the end of 2014, casualties amongst Afghan troops are at all-time highs. The Pakistani Taliban have surged in influence and just killed more than 70 Christians in church allegedly in retaliation for US drone attacks. Three US citizens apparently took part in the recent mall attack in Nairobi. The Shabab claims to have more attacks planned. Meanwhile, jihadists flock to Northern Syria from all over the world in ways typical of Afghanistan in the 1980's. To coincide with the September 11th anniversary Al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri directed offshoots to continue focusing on attacks inside America. Intercepted communication between he and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Nasr al-Wuhaishi triggered the embassy closure. Militant Islam will only increase under the reimposition of Mideast authoritarianism. So groups like Al-Qaeda have also proved primary beneficiaries exerting pressure on President Obama to reengage.
Despite these nondemocratic pulls, Obama should utilize his last three years in office to initiate both policy and practice that promotes true reform. Initial efforts could pave the way for sustained engagement under a likely Hillary Clinton presidency. Principled policy that pushes for actual pluralism and political contestation poses an alternative paradigm, something sorely needed to break the tragic status quo. Linking US interests to government reflective of the collective will could create conditions that actuate a crosspollination in political ideology. This typically embeds secular notions of the separation between religion and state, no matter the oratory of religious parties. Defending free expression and association helps to promote political contestation over violence. These axioms make the democratic experiment attractive to people across the globe and Arabs are no exception. However, in practice US policy has consistently undermined these principles. It is time to temper America's engagement with realpolitik.
It is also important to recognize that plurality in the Middle East necessitates a role for political Islam. As Olivier Roy described it when Islamists surged in multiple elections in 2012, "Liberalism does not precede democracy; America's founding fathers were not liberal. But once democracy is rooted in institutions and political culture, then the debate on freedom, censorship, social norms and individual rights can be managed through freedom of expression and changes of majorities in parliament. However, there will be no institutionalization of democracy without the Muslim Brothers." That analysis remains true and the US must do its best to promote a return of Islamists to political participation in Egypt in ways that allow them to learn from their mistakes and hold sway.
Since its ascension after the Suez Canal Crisis in 1956, US policy in the Middle East has been marked by a dissonance and anger created by the contradiction between an espousal of Wilsonian idealism and behavior derived solely from self-interests. Under realpolitik, concrete reality not ideology shapes the world. As Dr. Henry Kissinger described it in his Diplomacy (1994), "One of the principle tasks of statesmanship is to understand which subjects are truly related and can be used to reinforce each other. For the most part, the policymaker has little choice in the matter. Ultimately, it is reality, not policy, that links events. The statesman's role is to recognize the relationship when it does exist - in other words, to create a network of incentives and penalties to produce the most favorable outcome." 50 years of failed diplomacy in the Middle East should document that it is time to realize idealistic notions of promoting government for the people by the people with more than rhetoric and absent the footprint of occupation are truly linked to US peace and prosperity. Therefore it can be argued that crafting networks of incentives and penalties to attain democratic objectives would in fact pave the way for mutually beneficial and realistic outcomes beneficial to all.
The contradiction between US behavior and its expressed belief has helped to cement a cognitive dissonance amongst the primary drivers of US policy that blocks the realization that realism has mostly failed wherever it contradicts so-called American values. Blindness of this actuality explains how a Wall Street Journal editorial, and others likely it, are able to advise a continuation of US support for the Egyptian military because it "buys access with the generals." And why it can then explain with a straight face that, "Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile's Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy." In reality, Pinochet was put in charge with the assistance of none other than Henry Kissinger and the CIA. He overthrew Chilean democracy and was ultimately charged with international war crimes. In September, 2000 the CIA was forced to finally reveal that in Chile it, "sought to instigate a coup to prevent Allende from taking office after he won a plurality." Pinochet was assassinating protestors and executing political opponents while the US sustained sales of "controversial military equipment." It took 17 years for Chile to restore democracy and today a rapacious elite continues to rein despite reestablished elections. Chile remains a country with an incredible gap between rich and poor. However, because Chile is now a part of the neoliberal order for the Wall Street Journal it is a success story. It is unacknowledged contradictions like these that allow John Kerry to describe the similar situation unfolding in Egypt today as 'democratic restoration.
The gist of Obama's rhetoric is actually not that new. His initial National Security Strategy outlined that the U.S. would, "reject the notions that lasting security and prosperity can be formed by turning away from universal rights" and that democracy "does not merely represent our better angels; it stands in opposition to aggression and injustice. And our support for human rights is fundamental to American leadership and source of our strength in the world." Additionally, in accepting his Nobel Prize, President Obama rejected "a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists" and explained, "no matter how callously defined, neither American interests nor the world's are served by the denial of human aspirations." While not even the hallmark of his UN address however, Obama's connection between the collective will of Arab publics and the national interest of the United States represents a principle of foreign policy that can be measured. It is only by surveying that record and realizing that it has consistently been opposed that one can see the prospect for positive change if Obama chooses to practice what is preached.
Such a proposition has recently been documented by American political scientist Amaney Jamal. In her important and courageous new book Of Empires and Citizens (2013) she confirms that the US has always insisted on "pro-American democracy or no democracy at all" in the Middle East. Dr. Jamal's thesis that Arab societies are "divided between the people who benefited from their leader's relationship with the United States and therefore sought to preserve the dictatorship and those that did not, and therefore sought democracy" has generated expected but unfair criticism. Nevertheless, such an empirical recognition documents that the 'collective will' of Mideast peoples has always been defined, at least in the minds of US planners, as equivocal to the perspectives of those interested in preserving the regime. Grasping these relationships leads to an understanding of how the American Empire has expanded on colonialist tools for indirect rule. As Mark Lynch, the Obama administration's chief academic advisor during the Arab Spring, put it in Foreign Affairs (May, June 2013), "If Jamal is right then much of the received wisdom of the last decade needs to be reconsidered."
No academic that wants to stay in favor can take that position however. In turn he dismisses her claims as farfetched and instead defers to neo-Orientalism, explaining that Mideast publics, and by discrete extension Dr. Jamal, suffer from 'cognitive bias' - "the misplaced belief that Washington's power to shape their lives is actually much more interesting than the prosaic truth." In reality, Lynch's dismissiveness is typical of the hubris and cognitive dissonance that helps Americans justify its role in making the Muslim world the democratic exception. Conjuring up pejorative labels like 'the Arab Street' helps the wielders of power blame the victims themselves. As Fawaz Gerges explains it, the Arab Street "is a derisive term so often used by the foreign policy community and even by the best Western journalists [that] is in great part a myth that has prevented US policymakers from examining or even acknowledging the existence of civil society politics." Realistically attending to the collective will of the people and connecting that attention to US interests would require such altered realizations. Effecting alterations in defense of the actual collective will of Mideast peoples would require a refusal to participate in authoritarianism. The use of carrots and sticks, or what Kissinger described as a "network of incentives and penalties to produce the most favorable outcomes" has always sought to preserve the status quo and in opposition to publics. That explains Obama's general failure in Mideast policy, the indifference to the Egyptian coup, and his initial disinterest in engaging at all with the faultiness his predecessor's efforts to impose pro-American democracy by force had exposed.
Promoting government that "legitimately reflects the collective will of the people" would serve US interests, especially in the long-term. Apart from seeking to reignite the Israeli, Palestinian peace process and to negotiate with Iran, Obama should make some clear, principled alterations that would have wide appeal. First, the US should immediately halt its military aid to Egypt, making it contingent on the removal of repressions and the reimposition of multiparty civilian rule open to all sectors of society. Gulf sheikhdoms may provide cash but they cannot provide actual weapons or development and while majorities in Egypt have sided with the coup, that support will twiddle away when it becomes apparent Egypt will only return to the age of Mubarak. The military and whoever might be elected to head the new regime will not be able to reimplement authoritarian rule without sustained US assistance. The immediate reaction may be nationalist and anti-American, at least from some sectors of society, but it will subsequently craft a 'collective will' that ultimately proves supportive.
At the same time, the US should arm Syria's rebels and counter Russia and Iran's massive support for the Assad regime. No matter ongoing diplomatic efforts to remove chemical weapon stockpiles, the 'collective will' of the Syrian people also needs supported. For over two years they've suffered most from Obama's disengagement. It is time to usher in an era of foreign policy distinct from Kissinger's realism. On Syria, Obama has followed his advice completely. In a Washington Post editorial from 2012 entitled, 'The Perils of Intervention', Dr. Kissinger argued against humanitarian intervention in Syria and democracy promotion on the grounds it would endanger the world order and induce lawlessness. He asked whether humanitarianism as a principle of foreign policy implied that a vital but nondemocratic nation like Saudi Arabia should be opposed simply because "public demonstrations develop on its territory." One year later, Syria indeed lay in lawless shambles with over 100,000 dead and the world order remains subject to disintegration. Kissinger's point on Saudi Arabia however leads to another necessary adjustment.
Were the promotion of 'collective will' as a principle of foreign policy actually adopted, the Saudi regime would not be opposed once public demonstrations formulated. Instead, it would be subject to immediate cessation in aid and support simply on the grounds it quells all internal dissent and serves as the primary obstacle to development. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal recently warned in an open letter to oil minister Ali Naima, "the world is increasingly less dependent on oil from OPEC countries including the kingdom." The US shale revolution implies the strategic partnership with the House of Saud is no longer appropriate or necessary; now that is true from both realist and idealist positions.
Additionally, discussions with Iran, no matter the displeasure of Benjamin Netanyahu, must continue. The last thing the Mideast or America needs is conflict in Iran that could pull the US into another quagmire or even lead to the breakout of World War III. Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani is no doubt sincere and the potential for peace far exceeds the associated risks, regardless of whether the Ayatollahs will accept the outcome of negotiations. Iran is nowhere close to developing actual nuclear weapons and rational discourse between US and Iranian officials would certainly generate valuable political and human capital, especially amongst the next generation of Mideast leaders. To that end, the US must understand that meaningful negotiations about the Israel-Palestine peace process cannot occur until the US makes sustained assistance for Israel contingent on its cessation of settlement construction. It is absolutely insane to expect the Palestinians to enter negotiations while Israeli occupation is expanding.
Finally, the effects of such an actual expansion in the definition of US interests would entail a "long haul" commitment to development. In the immediate aftermath of the Arab Spring, the US and Europe discussed a New Marshall Plan for the Middle East with Egypt as its pillar. However, to this date US, EU assistance is below the one trillion dollar mark. Yet, in his national security speech in May of this year, Obama claimed foreign assistance is "fundamental to our national security and it is fundamental to any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism." In cooperation with the rest of the international community and especially its local NGO's, a long-term plan for Mideast development should be prepared and funded and a few major initial projects should be initiated immediately.
All of this may seem idealist and the odds are that the traditional principles that have driven US policy will maintain. However, we should contemplate the long-term consequence of a sustained mismatch between our speech and action. At the same time we might also pause to question why, no matter the degree of corporate propaganda, US domestic policy also seems unrepresentative of the 'collective will' and instead caters to an elite. Absent such alterations democracy on American shores will continue to trend much closer to Egyptian totalitarianism.