The Changing Middle East And Pressures On American Policy

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Context

The assassination of US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, has created a foreign policy crisis of sorts for the country. The American think tank community has jumped on examining and understanding the reasons behind the Arab rage, especially when the US had just helped nations like Libya and Egypt creep out from the long shadows of despots.

Some scholars have gone as far as claiming that the future of Arab-American relations will be defined by the response to the attack. There is already a talk to assist the security forces in Libya, to deal with the challenge posed by the rise of Salafists that appear resurgent in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Some of this discussion has the smell of what is called nation building, a premise that failed to work in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the other hand, Republican US Senator Paul Rand questioned the motive behind sending billions in aid to the so-called allies that don’t act like one. He had proposed cutting funds to Egypt and Libya until the arrest and handover of the perpetrators of US consulate attack to FBI. Although blocked by Democratic Senator Harry Reid, Rand Paul had also suggested stopping US funding to Pakistan for detaining Dr. Shakil Afridi.

War on terror, Arab Spring, anti-Islam events with origins in the West, all played a role in what transpired first in Egypt and Libya and subsequent protest in many Islamic countries.  

Analysis

American Foreign Policy, Arab Spring And War Against Terror

The inconsistency of American foreign policy is a complicating factor. While it is concerned about the rise of Salafist in Egypt and Libya, they are being supported via Qatar and Saudi Arabia in Syria. This elevates mistrust about US intentions in the region.

Meanwhile, the Israeli media has interpreted the events of the Arab world as an attempt by “Extreme Salafists” to take over the “Moderate Islamists” that came to power as a result of the Arab Spring. It blames President Obama for allowing this to happen, and this is likely to become a hot issue in the upcoming American elections and provide the advantage to the Republicans.

Additionally, during the Arab uprisings the rage of the street was directed towards the despotic leaders that could not have remained in power without Western backing, the recent attacks are directed directly at American diplomatic presence, an ominous development. This could symbolize the next phase of the war against terror and US is already preparing for this eventuality. The options are limited, it’s not like the military option has not been tried before.

On the other hand, President Obama’s comment regarding Egypt, that it is neither an ally nor an enemy, seems like the new American posture during this time of transition in the Arab world. The message appears to convey if the new governments of the Arab world take the side of the Islamists, they will be considered as an enemy. Meanwhile, the societies of countries like Egypt and Pakistan have turned increasingly conservative and sympathetic to the message of the Islamists and the space for secular quarters is consistently shrinking.

While the situations of Afghanistan and Middle East are different, NATO’s stance towards Afghanistan appears to be changing. The British Defense Secretary Phillip Hammond commented recently:

“There needs to be, in my judgment, greater weight given to the high-level political initiative for reconciliation. We recognize that Afghan society is such that it is pretty difficult to imagine a situation where there won’t be any level of insurgency … but it is also difficult to imagine in the long run a stable prosperous and sustainable Afghanistan that has not managed to reintegrate and reconcile at least a significant part of the insurgency.”

The Growing Risk Of Home Grown Attack

Without going into details, there is now a pattern to incidences that originate in the West and are disrespectful towards the Muslims. These events create widespread mayhem in the Islamic world and have proven to be devastating for the US and NATO missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nonetheless, they continue to occur regularly under the freedom of expression clause.

Most dangerously, such events increase the chances of reactionary attacks in the Western world with connections to Muslims living there, with tragic consequences. There is evidence to suggest that Al-Qaeda is working on such a scenario.

Referring to the drone strikes, in his message for the 9/11 anniversary, Ayman Al-Zawahiri stated:

“Today, American Muslims are being killed in Yemen, tomorrow they’re going to be killed (by the US government) in New York and Los Angeles. Get ready for the holocaust.”

On a statement posted online on Saturday, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) stated it was the responsibility of Muslims in the West to go after American interests.

Recognizing the gravity of this threat, Bruce Riedel commented in his recent article that appeared in the Daily Beast:

“When movies are distributed to demonize Islam, they are actually helping it (Al-Qaeda) win its war. When it becomes fashionable to suggest that American Muslims are not really Americans or “us,” then we are the loser. When it is implied a Muslim cannot be President of the United States, then Al-Qaeda gains.”

Conclusion

At this critical juncture, no cookie cutter solutions are available. The military approach has not worked while there is the reluctance to work with moderate Islamists, as their loyalties are doubtful.  The assassination of

The assassination of American ambassador to Libya and the subsequent anti-American protests, are likely to reinforce the message of hardliners in the US. Meanwhile, as a result of kinetic strategies and tactics that continue to be adopted in the war against extremists, anti Americanism keeps growing in the Islamic world while providing fodder for Al Qaeda. In short, this vicious cycle is leading to the growth of conservatives in US and in the Islamic world.

The chances of a major military escalation are considerably amplified by Israeli paranoia over Iran’s nuclear program and the change in its threat perception caused by the Arab Spring.

 

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