A Letter to American People: “Make America A True Leader in the World Again”
The United States of America (America) is the nation that made democracy a compelling force in the modern world, America has an enormous responsibility to come to the side of the countless dispossessed, disenfranchised and suffering people of the world. That is the path of Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Franklyn D. Roosevelt (FDR), that led America to earn greatness.
The struggles America has gone through, since its inception 240 years ago, to get rid of bondage, prejudice, inequality, and bigotry – the Revolutionary war to be free, the bloody Civil War to end slavery, and subsequently through the infamous movements for the collective bargaining rights of workers, women’s liberation, equal civil rights of all citizens, have caused paradigm shifts in the world. These calls have caused the world wake up with a new sense of dignity and liberty.
We look up to the American people to walk on that path of greatness again and ‘make America great again’. America is the only nation that consistently showed eagerness to help liberate other people from the grip of tyrants, oppression and sufferings. They have enthusiastically fought to liberate Europe and other places in the world to liberate from the two devastating world wars. They initially were reluctant and divided to get involved in any war. However when the case of liberating others become clear and paramount the American people did not refuge. This is the spirit often the politicians and military leaders utilize to go to war in other places in the world:
The big question is why many of our presidents failed and instead, led America to lose its moral voice and leadership in the world? What are the forces, again and again, that block the path of duty and vision? As American Muslims, we wonder why, America has failed to exercise reason and ‘common sense’ with the Muslim world that is almost one-fourth (23%) of humanity, constituting majorities in more than 50 countries that still controls a huge amount (75%) of oil reserves in the world? Why well thought out agendas that would promote democracy in many Muslim majority societies and could help uplift their economic conditions are abruptly abandoned and often reversed in the middle of the course? Why, instead, dictators are supported, elites and militaries are bribed in those countries to carry out repressive and detrimental policies? Why instead of creating a win-win state of affairs with the Muslim world, American leadership has chosen, repeatedly and consistently since 1950s, the path in which common people of all sides, including the Americans have paid a heavy price while a few powerful transnational vested interests have gained? Indeed a lose-lose outcome all around!
A true leader does not let a few powerful groups and/or lobbies exploit the people within and beyond the borders. A genuine leader, facing dissension and conflicts, devote time and energy to help integrate his nation and fight against divisions and polarization. Thinkers like Edward R. Murrow – who helped stop the vicious MacCarthysim, that incited the Communist phobia and polarized the society in the 1950s — warned the nation that fear, prejudice and arrogance rob this great nation of its founding values and principles. Still, time and again, as it is now, the nation has become a victim of these counterproductive forces?
Let us then reflect on the works of some of the administrations in the past and the causes of their successes and failures.
The Vision of the King-Crane Commission, and the Marshall Plan
Towards the conclusion of the World War I it was President Woodrow Wilson, going against America’s allies in the war – Britain, France, and Russia – established the King-Crane Commission to explore the Middle East and to address the “the real wishes and true interests” of the people in the region after the Ottoman empire was dissolved. Guided by the founding principles of America that all people have the right of self-determination, he insisted on independent nation states that would be governed democratically. A permanent peace was his vision, and he realized that this goal cannot be achieved without reaching out to the people. A significant team under the two eminent scholars knowledgeable about the Middle East spent 42 days covering 36 cities and towns — reviewing hundreds of petitions and talking to countless people — issued the report. Almost one hundred years ago the report exposed — that the people in the region wanted independent self-governments based on democratic principles – and offered solutions that remain as valid today as it was then.
The consequence of deliberately ignoring the report and hiding it in the archive from the people of America and that of the world is creating the conflict-prone Middle East that suffered from the turmoil, bloodshed, violence and wars ever since: millions perished and trillions of dollars wasted. The enormous price paid in abandoning the path to moral high ground.
President Wilson’s vision and commitments — expressed in the famous ‘14 Points’ laying down the terms of engaging in the World War I for peace and the “war to end all wars”, his King-Crane Commission and its visionary recommendations raised all hopes in the Muslim world, only to find soon after that he became ill and incapacitated to materialize his grand vision.
Taking full advantage of America’s absence, Britain and France, ignoring the report and violating the 14 points, instead, went headlong to materialize the ideas as per the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 to serve their own vested interests, that created a conflict-prone Middle East that we see today. Wilson’s 14 points also could have blocked the path of the devastating World War II as his terms were liberal, that Germany accepted, without any war-reparation demand.
President Wilson was a true American hero who envisioned America’s greater responsibility in helping this world become democratic and equitable. He also proposed the international institution, the League of Nations, completely a new concept then, to manage world affairs collectively and democratically and promised self-rule for all member states.
He exercised wisdom, not arrogance, and did not allow the fear of diversity, uncertainty, difficulties, and the disapproval of allies or of his fellow politicians diminish his values and vision.
In that footstep President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), as America helped liberate Europe again and the rest of the world from the grip of the World War II, insisted the European powers to relinquish their colonial hold and let self-rule take place in the post-war world. He also did not live to see the end of the World War II. However, he laid down a vision his successor, President Truman initially attempted to follow suit. This leadership along with other factors set the stage for many countries to be free from the colonial rule. The world was jubilant with an expectation of change after a long dark colonial era. In that wave 36 countries became independent during the 1950s and 60s, and many more since. America played a vital role in that outcome.
The United States of America gave the Phillippines independence in 1946, and rebuilt the defeated and devastated arch enemies during the war – Germany and Japan – through its Marshall Plan and established self-rule there. America handed over power to the representatives of the people of these countries only after 7 years of occupation without asking any reparation. The impetus of new infrastructure and the democratic systems helped these once warmongering nations become peaceful world powers, allies, and industrial giants in our time.
If America did not make these investments in these countries in that critical hour and left them in the devastating conditions, in all likelihood they would turn towards the Communist powers. This could create a more confrontational and dangerous world. These are the examples of leadership to defeat and displace evil with good that the world looks up to America, time and again, to provide.
The spirit behind the King-Crane Commission and later the Marshall Plan is that costly conflicts and their long term fallouts can be avoided if other peoples are helped to achieve their freedom, dignity and welfare. Whenever, America failed to follow the enlightened path and chose the way to dominate and repress others, it led itself and others through the dark tunnels of disgrace, defeat and human misery.
President Wilson or FDR, even though resisted getting involved in wars initially, did not ultimately avoid engaging in the world wars when the moral call of liberating countless people from the bondage of aggression became clear.
A military engagement sometimes is necessary and unavoidable. However, whenever a military approach is undertaken, it should be a part of and subservient to the greater agenda of diplomacy and peace based on principles.
The Vision Lost in Fighting The Cold War
Unfortunately, the enormous trust and confidence gained by America during the early1950s started to erode fast as Truman abandoned the path of ‘liberating others and promoting democracy in the world’ for a confrontational militaristic agenda.
Succumbed to the pressures of the Cold War and the Soviet expansion policies abroad and the pressures exerted by the neo-conservatives at home, he embarked on a single-track intense course of militarism — that has ever since been extremely costly and counterproductive for America – that set the stage for an enormously powerful vested interests to emerge that the succeeding administrations fail to control.
Truman was asked to “Scare the hell out of the American public”, and he did. Ever since the Congress has been more than willing to expand defense spending that often defies reason. That created the impetus for the ‘military industrial complex’ – later President Eisenhower warned the nation about – to become a formidable force in America, dictating its policies for a long time. The tactic used in this destructive path is hiding important information from the American public to deliberately mislead them with constant fear and prejudice mongering.
This tactic of dehumanizing enemies and vilifying them as invincible ‘ten feet tall monsters’ worked then as it works now. Instead of focusing on the constructive approach to attain the main goals at home and abroad with reasonable cost, the vested interests, for their own profit, drag the nation towards an enormously costly path of confrontation.
Granted, during the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, when not only America but the entire world was gripped with fear at the lurking nuclear holocaust, the nation indeed was under enormous pressures. It was not wrong to fight against the Communist onslaught in the world at that time, it was, however, very wrong the way it was carried out.
The path chosen, disregarded the causes behind Communism. The focus was to crush the movement by force. The same way the Western powers are now trying to defeat growing radicalism in the world without addressing the causes behind it. The violent confrontations did not work, then, during the Cold War, and it is not working now defeating radicalism. The ‘War on Terror’ has largely failed in spite of hundreds of billions of dollars spent by the Western powers during the last decade or so.
The causes, then, as the causes now, are the same. People suffering from poverty, indignity, exploitation and subjugation during and ever since the Industrial Revolution rallied behind a call that promises them a change. The more vigorously the West fought against Communism – via proxy wars and armed confrontations – the more forceful the resistance forces became. This vicious cycle of violence continued until the visionary diplomatic process of détente was initiated by President Nixon, the direction of the Cold War changed and brought victory for America through constructive and peaceful ways. This visionary process also helped transform the arch rivals – the Soviet and China – into world partners.
American leaders should have understood the weaknesses of Communism and the reason for its popularity among the poor, dispossessed and disenfranchised people. That was the time America should have intensified its agenda to help liberate them from the grip of colonial or neo-colonial subjugation and exploitation. America should have reached out to the people of those societies and helped uplift them from their dire conditions. The people themselves would reject Communism and its ‘closed door’ authoritarianism. Taking the path of understanding, America could have achieved its objective of defeating the socialist-communist block much sooner than it did and at the fraction of the price it actually paid. Incalculable human misery could have been avoided and a new better world would have emerged today on the sound foundation of democratic principles.
Carl Marx was correct in his diagnosis of the problem: extreme exploitation did exist during the Industrial Revolution and since. However, the solution his ideology offered was subversive and against human nature. In the long run the systems based on such ideology did not work.
A socio-political system, in order to be stable and viable for a long time, needs to promote freedom, social justice, equity, and pluralism. There is no alternative to this approach in this interconnected world.
This understanding should have been the basis of fighting Communism, then, as it is a vital tool to fight radicalism today. Rebellion and extremism do not take place in a society that is democratic and equitable. That is the reason a free-market system focused on greed and endless materialism does not work either. Such a system increasingly facilitates wealth and power to gravitate towards each other, create extreme disparities, breed corruption and injustices and renders a society unstable and eventually even dysfunctional.
The Dulles Brothers: A Culture of Ruthless Domination and Exploitation Originates
In 1953 two brothers – Foster Dulles as the Secretary of States, and Allen Dulles as the CIA director – were appointed to take charge of the overt and covert operations of American foreign policies. They were perfect neo-conservatives, the warriors of the corporate world, and allies of the “military industrial complex”. Their decade long campaign against the popular, mostly democratically elected, leaders who were deliberately branded as ‘leftist’ and ‘troublemakers’. The sin of these popular leaders was that they championed the cause of their people. Covert operations ousted them and replaced them with dictators. This sparked distrust and anger against America around the world and drove countless people to the Communist camp ready to fight the ‘evil’ American agenda, and intensified the costly confrontations of the Cold War. More or less the same way, now, many young Muslims are driven to the radical camps.
They first ousted the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1953 and replaced him with a tyrant monarch (Shah), a puppet, who fully cooperated with the West in exploiting Iran and oppressing his people for 25 years until he was thrown out in a revolution. Next the Shia clerics came to power, calling America “the Great Satan”. The American taxpayers ended up paying the price in dealing with the conflict-prone region for decades since.
Had the burgeoning democracy thrived then in Iran under Mossadegh, a deep admirer of American values and leaders, Iran being a regional power could have influenced the entire area to be an ally of America. Instead, today the region deeply dislikes and distrusts America. The consequences of that blunder in 1953 are still haunting America today.
The Dulles brothers also ousted President Arbenz of Guatemala (for the sake of the United Fruit Company, an American Multinational), and Prime Minister Lumumba of the Congo in the 1950s. In that footstep, later, the CIA also murdered President Allende of Chile. All extremely popular leaders, and they were replaced by dictators who repressed and exploited their respective people.
Fidel Castro and leaders like him in the region and around the world, including that of Vietnam, got the message about America’s modus operandi. Severe reactionary forces emerged to fight capitalism and all its evil exploitations. The cause of Communism triumphed while America’s moral voice got trampled. America became the champion of the multinationals. The stage was set for fierce confrontations.
Vietnam Could have been avoided: blunders of American Presidents
Ho Chi Minh was America’s ally during the World War II, in fighting Japan, using America’s weaponry and training. After the war Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence from the French colonial rule in Sept. 1945. In his declaration he used the American ‘Declaration of Independence’ verbatim. He was inspired by the freedom Philippine got from America in 1946. He approached America first, and wrote a letter to president Truman for help. That letter was hidden from the American public for the next 25 years. Had Truman worked with Ho Chi Minh at that time, compelled France to leave the place, the destructive and devastating Vietnam war could entirely be avoided. The war that took 58,000 American lives, brought polarization and commotion in the society, wasted over one trillion [in 2011 dollar] of the taxpayers money and killed over a million Vietnamese and others in the region.
If America gave Ho Chi Minh only 500 million dollars to rebuild his devastated country at that time, and helped liberate the people, as was suggested by a State Department official, stationed at and knowledgeable about Vietnam then, America could save its taxpayers 2000 times of that money. What a price to pay for abandoning principle! If Vietnam were an ally, fighting the Soviet-Chinese expansion would have been much easier and less expensive.
Why America failed in Iraq?
The invasion of Iraq is very controversial. The vast majority of the Muslim world question the motive behind the invasion. However, this distrust and anger could have been turned around had the Bush administration make Iraq a success. A Marshall Plan could have produced a completely different scenario in the Middle East.
The main reason Iraq failed was not establishing a power-sharing democratic system among Shia (60%), Sunni (18%), and Kurds (21%), the three unequal, but indispensable ethnic groups with long historic rivalries and connections with the regional powers.
The system of interdependency in governance – difficult to achieve at other times — could have been achieved under the American occupation when there was a power vacuum in Iraqi politics right after Saddam was ousted from power.
Giving a premature election, without creating a consensus building transition towards power-sharing, in a country of overwhelming Shia majority, was a recipe for disaster. This was exactly what America did in Iraq in 2005 knowing that the election would produce overwhelmingly Shia dominated constituent assembly and the Sunnis would boycott the election. The Sunnis did. The Constitution framed by such a constituent assembly, according to many experts, remains to be the reason why Iraq has been dysfunctional.
One of the suggestions, to achieve interdependency, was that there should be a bicameral legislature – the lower house on the basis of universal suffrage, the upper consisting of an equal number of representatives from each ethnic group – and striking a delicate balance between the two houses, the positions of prime minister, president, head of the army, etc. on a rotating basis from different ethnic groups as was done in Lebanon in the past. Terms like these and others could be part of the Constitution framed by an international team of experts along with Iraqi experts – as was done in Kosovo –and then validated by a referendum. The power-sharing among the ethnic groups could have integrated Iraq and catapulted the country, containing the second largest oil reserves in the world and a fairly educated society, to become a regional power and an American ally, exerting positive influence in the region.
Instead, the neoconservatives, in order to dominate Iraq via Shia rule, arranged a premature election, executed exhaustive de-Baathification processes to oust Sunnis who worked during Saddam’s regime from top to bottom, disbanded over 250,000 Sunni army. These pushed the country towards a sectarian civil war, and created a turmoil in which 4000 American lives lost, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi killed (exact figure not known), 4 million people displaced and majority of skilled and professional people left the country. Iraq lay in ruin. The cost to the American taxpayers is over a trillion dollar. Iraq, after 14 years, still remains dysfunctional and conflict prone. Al-Baghdadi, one of the founders of the Islamic State, later recruited many disbanded Sunni Iraqi army and launched a vicious campaign of terror not only in Iraq and Syria, but also manifested its presence, through violent events, all over the world including America. The American public suffers from insecurity and anxiety. The consequent Islamophobia in the society leads to polarization. A lose-lose outcome all over.
The key reason for this failure is the intention of domination and not establishing democracy in Iraq.
The Bush Doctrine Hijacked by pro-Israeli Lobbies
Another well-meaning agenda foiled. The Bush doctrine laid down in 2005, the ideals of liberating people from the grip of bondage and helping democracy spread. The entire MENA (Middle East and the North Africa) region trusted America. The Bush administration initially pushed the Mubarak regime to accommodate the Muslim Brotherhood in the parliamentary election, urged Lebanon to include Hezbollah in the political process, and compelled Israel to allow a fair and free election in the West Bank and Gaza. The region became euphoric about the possibility, the Arab street expressed ‘America was not as Crusader but as champion of the dispossessed’. Large majorities throughout the region told pollsters that they believed the United States truly wanted to see the Muslim world move toward democracy. A few months after the President’s second inaugural speech in January, 2006 the Gallup International found that 78% of people in the Middle East considered democracy “the best form of government.” A phenomenal achievement for America and its doctrine of democracy.
Many radical groups abandon their confrontational path to participate in the electoral processes. This enormous political capital and the goodwill in the Muslim world, that was long lost due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was regained by America then and could be utilized to transform the region. This good relationship was very much disliked by Israel and its supporters. Within a short period of time they made a complete reversal on the Bush doctrine and changed the President’s proclaimed agenda.
There was an onslaught of seminars, books, writings about it and widely circulated in the West. The social media was bombarded with literatures and videos, academia and media campaigned together, all to suggest that ‘Islam and democracy are not compatible, ‘Muslims are not fit for self-rule’, ‘radicalism/terrorism cannot be handled by democracy in a Muslim majority society’, ‘Islam, not poverty and repression, is the real reason behind the violence and bloodshed’, so on and so forth. So called scholars, writers, analysts, media personalities, politicians, etc. participated in this smear campaign to convince the Western people in general and American public in particular that it is not in the interest to promote democracy in the Muslim world.
In 2006, a Pew poll found that while the majority of the Western public thought democracy was “a Western way of doing things that would not work in most Muslim countries,” majorities in every single Muslim country surveyed flatly rejected that argument.
Within a year a complete reversal took place in the administration. It is alarming to note that there are powerful forces working relentlessly behind the scene to change the vision of a President to promote democracy in the Muslim world. After achieving astounding victory in the elections– Hamas and Hezbolla – were officially branded as terrorist groups in America the same way PLO and its leader Arafat were branded as terrorists for 30 some years to avoid any peace dialogue with the Palestinians. President Mubarak of Egypt felt a sigh of relief as his repressive, undemocratic agenda to stay in power was given a green light again so that he would join America and Europe in cutting off all aid to Hamas in order to topple it from power in Palestine.
Israel never wants democracy in the Middle East and its wish prevails. The fear is that if the Muslim neighbors become democratic it would put an enormous pressure on Israel to give the Palestinians their independent state to have self-rule. How can Israel, then vilify and denigrate the Muslims and Arabs in particular as not fit for self-rule? Arabs are all portrayed as fanatics and terrorists following the religion that advocates violence. And the handful terrorists are constantly pointed out not as exception to the rule, but as the rule. A disservice to the Muslims of the world is done by coloring them by one brush. An invincible campaigh to portray all Muslims as against the so called ‘Judeo-Chritian’ values, creating a perfect allaby for ‘us versus them’ , and when media and academia collaborate to pain in one brush, it works. The Islamophobia is deliberately and systematically inplanted in the American culture. This is how Israel justifies its occupying the Palestinian land and repressing them in an apartheid style.
This stand goes well with all the monarchies and authoritarian rulers in the region. They do not want democracy to thrive in the region to become a threat to their rules. They and Israel find a common cause, and fight for it together, behind the closed door. Tunisia, an emerging success story of democracy after the 2011 Jasmine Revolution, is facing manipulation, bribing and pressures from the regional powers on the Tunisian leaders to render the democracy
The poison of distrust was spilled all over the world again. Al-Queda previously warned the Muslim world not to trust America and participate in these elections as these were part of a ploy. The radical voice got vindicated while the moderates were disgraced. Behind the scene the Islamists vowed never to trust America again. The stage got set for ensuing conflicts and confrontations. Israel beat around the bush.
Israel’s Hard Line Policies RenderingAll Stakeholders Victims
America, the power, that used to be admired once as the beacon of liberty and democratic values in modern time is, instead, increasingly seen — since the inception of Israel — as an instrument of Zionism and oppression in the Middle East. Since 1948 American presidents, policy makers, politicians, thinkers, writers are all seen having double standards with respect to the issue of self-determination and dignity of the Palestinian people. For about seven decades long, this failed modus operandi has stained the conscience of America and made it a hypocrite in the world, not to be trusted with leadership to meddle in other peoples’ affairs.
No other factor causes as much distrust and anger in the Muslim world as America’s unconditional support for Israel. This superpower looks the other way and, worse, even actively supports and rewards Israel by giving the largest foreign aid while the later occupies the Palestinian land and perpetrates crimes against humanity: invades Gaza at will and kills unarmed women, children, and old people indiscriminately, as it fills its jails with Palestinian adult and children at will, as it blows up Palestinian homes at will, as it continuously increases illegal settlements with complete disregard for the international law and sensibilities. America remains Israel’s staunch defender before the world when Israel murders ten Palestinians for every Israeli killed during this conflict in the name of ‘security’. Israel is more powerful than the rest of the Middle Eastern countries combined, in addition, the superpower itself – with all its might – remains at its service 24/7 as a servant. How much more ‘security’ Israel needs before it is satisfied and would live in peace with the Palestinian people? It is not the issue of security, it is all about subjugating the Palestinian people to become Israel’s servants as many extremist Jews believe that ‘the rest of mankind is created to serve Jews’. With this kind of attitude peace will never come into that land and Israel’s long term viability remains questionable.
Security is not about living in an ivory tower fortified with military power while subjugating people all around via authoritarian puppet regimes by maintaining secret alliances with them using American influence. Security is undeniably connected to stability and peace. And peace cannot be achieved by denying justice. No amount of military power in the world can defeat the power of this truth. Otherwise America would not get defeated in Vietnam (initially thought to be a ‘peasant’ country), and the Soviet would not get defeated in Afghanistan (thought to be an uncouth, primitive society). Both Israel and America are in a denial phase living in a fantasy world not in touch with the reality.
Instead of leading Israel towards success and peace, America has become a puppet government following Israel towards the self-defeating, self-degrading state of disgrace. The right wing groups in Israel that have emerged – with the help of powerful pro-Israeli lobbies and neoconservatives in America and other Western countries – as a formidable power devoid of fairness, justice and decency. Their essence is ‘might is right’. Intoxicated with power and arrogance, these groups and their alliances, dictate courses that violate all ethics and standards of justice humanity so far has struggled to uphold. The powerful transnational alliances — systematically and consistently – manipulating the electoral processes and infiltrating the decision making systems of the superpower and other Western powers – dictate policies and actions that violate the values and principles of these democratic nations and degrade them. The more repressive Israel is towards the Palestinians the more isolated it is becoming from the world. America has lost its moral voice and leadership in the world behaving like a sick giant nailed to the ground, taking orders from Israel.
As James Bakers, former Secretary of State, has recently put it in a CNN interview that ‘America cannot give an effective leadership to end the Israel-Palestine conflict by being “Israel’s lawyer”.’
The wisdom and vision of a leader like Lincoln – who realized America could not continue subjugating the blacks – or a leader like Woodrow Wilson, who envisioned that the Middle East could not be stable without democracy upholding people’s rights and dignity is most needed today to help the world get out of this costly and disgraceful quagmire. America with its strong foundation in democratic ideals and its experiences in the nation building of other countries can provide this leadership in the world today. However, first it must gain back the trust and confidence it had before the Cold War started.
This ‘enemy within’ needs to be confronted and helped transform in order to regain the envious position of leadership America had before Israel was created in 1948 with the help of the Truman administration. Therefore, it is now America’s responsibility to heal the world from this ‘cancer’ that has created a big stain in the conscience of humanity by bringing about the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict immediately.
In response to Israel’s long corrosive agenda for the last seven decades, the world is increasingly turning against Israeli aggressions and oppression. This has tainted the images of all Jews as racist in the world, in spite of many Jews and Jewish organizations fighting and voicing against Israeli injustices. Israel has caused a damaging relationship between the 16 million Jews and 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. If a mutually respectable and trusting relationship could be maintained between the two people since Israel’s inception in 1948 with the involvement of the international community, today Israel could earned hundred times the benefits thorough trades and exchanges with its neighbors and the Muslim world: a win-win outcome could have emerged.
Again reflecting on the warnings of the King-Crane report in 1919 against establishing a Zionist state in Palestine we feel deeply sorry. The report proclaimed that such a state would be dangerous as it would ignite constant arms confrontations and bloodshed in the region. The warning fell on deaf ears.
President Obama’s failed policy for Iraq and Syria:
A rhetoric on the campaign trail is one thing, taking the right decision while in the office, is another. For the sake of a greater interest, sometimes, an unpopular decision is necessary. The reasons for the change could be explained to the American public.
His decision, being the President of America knowing the situation unfolding in Iraq in 2009 onward, to withdraw American troops completely was a complete disregard for the interest of that civil war torn country, and a blunder. The consequences of this decision was the emergence of the Islamic State and the devastating Syrian civil war since 2011.
By 2009, under the leadership of General Petraeus, the rebellion and violence were brought under control, Sunnis were given an offer to come on board in the handling of the country and about 100,000 Sunni, previously disbanded army, joined the militia group called the ‘Awakening Council’ to fight al-Qaeda. The terrorist organization, that incited the sectarian civil war in 2005-06, was crushed, and its leader Al-Zarqawi killed. However, the remaining roadblock towards success was the Prime Minister Noori Al-Maliki himself, a die-hard Shia, promoting Shia domination in Iraq alienating Sunnis and having ‘shouting matches’ with General Petraeus, should have been removed from power in 2009. Instead, he was given 5 more years to do a lot of damage before he was finally ousted in 2014. Putting a constructive visionary player in power in 2009 could have made a big difference. After a lot of turmoil the people of Iraq were coming to grips with the realization that they all need to work together to make Iraq functioning and viable.
These, among other steps, Obama could have taken to seize the opportunity. He could have made a complete turn around in Iraq. His timidity and indecision blew the second chance for Iraq.
Instead, his withdrawal decision and publicly setting the date, ignited the spirit in the half dead terrorist elements hiding underground to emerge as the fighters for Al-Baghdadi to create the Islamic State: a monster indeed was in the making.
If he could have gone for gradual withdrawals and if a portion existed in Iraq when Syria started to embroil in civil war in 2011 onward, American troops and sufficient armaments to the moderate opposition to the Assad regime could have been forceful and topple the regime. America could have arranged for a power-sharing arrangement in Syria as it could have done in Iraq a decade earlier. The entire region could have turned towards a positive direction.
Intractable enemies have become polished politicians and partners once a trustworthy and fair democratic process is in place, often with the involvements and under the supervision of regional and/or world powers. It happened in South Africa, El Salvador, Cosovo, Nepal, Tajikistan after the revolution, and now it is happening in Afghanistan to name a few. It can happen in Syria, Iraq and in the Middle East. If this understanding was the driving force of the Obama administration at that time a transformation could have ensued.
Instead the Islamic State seized the opportunity created by America. When they saw America was not helping the liberal opposition forces, they put their full focus to occupy the vacuum created in the opposition. The regional powers also helped the Islamic State to become a formidable force. This would not happen if Obama listened to the then Secretary of State, the Defense Secretary, other advisors, especially paying attention to the then CIA director David Petraeus, he could have achieved this victory. All of these people strongly felt that a substantial military support ought to be given to the moderate oppositions to Assad who were significant in the beginning and were almost winning had not later Russia entered the scene. It was within reach, just needed the right decision. Obama, single handedly destroyed the opportunity. One year later Obama changed his mind and wanted to help the liberal opposition groups. It was too late by that time. He should have listened to then Ambassador
Again another opportunity appeared before him. The barrel bomb when he decided to get involved in Syria. If he did he could have again change the whole scenario and save over 400,000 lives and the unparallel destruction of the country. He was timid because he was afraid that who would be in power, how that could be sustainable? From the mistakes made in Iraq by the Bush administration he should have known that a power-sharing system among various ethnic groups under the occupation of America could have achieved that. Trusting Putting was a blunder and a moral failure. The consequence in terms of death and destruction also rests on those who could make a difference then and help save lives. An American president who watched hundreds of thousands killed and a nation destroyed to the ground and did almost nothing would remain answerable to his conscience. A leader cannot compromise principles and deviate from his/her conscience in consideration of popularity, legacy, and other personal issues.
President Obama should have learned the lesson from the consequences of abandoning Afghanistan after the Soviets were driven out from there in 1989. With a complete disregard for the people, America packed its bag and left and forgot about the place that was inundated with trained fighters with arms – who fought as America’s allies — and no functioning government. That was a safe haven for the Taliban and al-Qaeda to grow strong. If America stayed in Afghanistan a little longer to help establish a viable government and a democratic process, perhaps 9/11 would not take place, and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq would be unnecessary. Only a fraction of that cost would be needed in 1990s to help establish democracy, build some infrastructure and industry, and establish trade and business. A win-win situation.
Coming back to the case of Syria, Aleppo is not the end, it is the beginning of a new chapter of violence and bloodshed that has a potential of causing enormous trouble in the world. Radicalism is not defeated. A new insidious but destructive agenda is in the making. It is just taking a little break as the Islamic State took 3 years-break after the death of al-Zarqawi before manifesting itself like a monster no one could imagine it even in the wildest dream.
The Causes of Radicalism
No where in the King-Crane report in 1919, there is any mention of the existence of any Islamic radicalism or Arab terrorist group in the region. It is important to explore the factors and forces that have been increasingly feeding the breeding ground for radicalism and terrorism in the same place since.
The very first terrorist acts in the region were recorded in the 1930s & 40s done by the Zionist groups like Stern Gang, Irgun (that blew up the King David Hotel, killing 91 people), Notrim and others. Their brutalities and bloodshed, and later Israeli state-sponsored violence scared the Palestinians to leave their homes in masses for refugee camps, creating space for the Jewish immigrants. The successes in achieving their objectives through violent and criminal means, later, became examples for the Palestinian youths to follow suit for their own cause. That set the stage for radicalism in the Middle East and in the world.
In more recent times, radicalism grew in societies with dysfunctional governments or almost no rule of law except crime and corruption. Boko Haram in Nigeria, grew during an utterly repressive corrupt rule of an autocratic regime. Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Shabaab in Somalia took root in an environment of utter chaos and dysfunction, where general public became desperate and sympathetic towards rebellion.
On the other hand, repressive authoritarian rules also create the impetus for terrorism. Extreme situations of exploitation, corruption, and injustice breed extremism. The Jihadist and Salafist movements sprang up during the repressive, authoritarian, secular rules — under the patronage of the West — in places like Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria in the 1950s and onward. Since Sisi destroyed the burgeoning democracy in Egypt, though the coup in 2013, violence has increased almost eight fold than that existed before the coup. Whenever the path of democracy and a fair political system is abandoned or subverted by a tyrant, radicalism increases as in Tajkistan now.
The moderate Islamist non-violent forces can fight against extremism and terrorism more effectively than others. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have condemned Brotherhood’s moderate agenda of promoting participation in the mainstream political press, in order to bring about a in electoral processes and peaceful engagement with the society to help bring about welfare. That is why they become a social force that could be used to bring about stability and welfare. Instead, being unnecessarily paranoid, the secular forces collaborate with the autocratic rulers to crush them or subdue them using the most undemocratic, criminal means. These counterproductive agenda then corrupts the mindset and modus operandi of the society harming where it harms most: the institutions become sysdfunctional and undemocratic from where the nation take a long painful way to overcome.
Since Muslim Brotherhood, under the charismatic and visionary leadership of al-Hudabi, became non-violent and completely dismantled its military wing by 1973, the group directly or indirectly has influenced many major and minor radical groups to become non-violent and become constructive in many countries by 2007. This peaceful, constructive revolution has been deliberately ignored by the Western leadership and the media. Major militant Islamist groups like al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (IG) in Egypt (the largest armed movement in Egypt in the 1980s and 90s) and AIS in Algeria, IRP in Tajikistan, and smaller groups in Jordan, Yemen, Lybia, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia followed suit. The visionary Bush Doctrine also attracted and influenced many groups and radical forces. President Mubarak in Egypt did not ban Muslim Brotherhood for terrorism, but because his regime feared Brotherhood’s popularity as a social force. Instead of banning them if they were allowed to engage constructively in the political process, they could also emerge as more moderate and pragmatic group in that constructive process of engagement. They are radicals’ enemies. The leaders of Al Qaeda and Islamic State criticize and mock the Brotherhood’s non-violent stand as they realize that the more a moderate agenda become successful the more forceful its message it to invalidate violent movements.
When a constructive organization like the Muslim Brotherhood is branded as a terrorist organization as it is attempted by the Senator Ted Cruz’s ‘Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Bill’ recently in America or deliberately subverting the democratization process of the Bush Doctrine by the pro-Israeli forces, the radical cause gets reinforced while a moderate voice gets trampled. Regardless of the fact that the basis of the allegation was debunked, the counterproductive agenda continue to serve the vested interests. An expert testimony can easily verify what John Esposito, an American scholar, says “For more than 30 years, Muslim Brotherhood associated movements and parties have been a force for democratization and stability in the Middle East. Muslim Brotherhood associated parties promoted and contested elections in Muslim majority countries as far flung as Morocco and Indonesia.”
By branding this group as a terrorist organization, the American government is pushing many moderate Islamic forces towards the radical camps. These are extremely counterproductive actions causing tremendous disservice to the interest and security of the American public and that of the world.
President Kennedy in 1962 articulated the underlying impetus of rebellion and radicalism: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
There could be differences of opinion and ideology among different people in a society. Freedom of religion and freedom of expression are fundamental democratic rights. Even though many people may not agree with the interpretation of Brotherhood, everyone in a democracy should fight so that their right to practice what they believe is right is upheld. That is their fundamental right. The only effective and constructive way a society can be progressive is through openness and constant dialogue among the differing groups. Ideology and one’s faith cannot be enforced.
Radicalism is marginalized and invalidated in Tunisia since 2011 as the democratic rule survives . Many attempts of the Islamic State to have a foothold in Tunisia have been averted by the local people providing full cooperation with the authority. Most of the radicals left the place and gone somewhere else, such as Syria and Iraq, mainly because there is no sympathy or support for radicalism in the society anymore.
The vast young generation in the Middle East, in which 60% is 30 years and younger with about 30% unemployment rate, a serious condition is constantly pushing for a greater conflagration. They are growing up frustrated and dismayed with the way their elites and leaders collude with the outside powers to exploit their society, mismanage their resources, and rob their freedom and future. The degrading conditions are the breeding grounds of radicalism and terrorism. The same reason the Vietnamese were die-hard Communist radicals once fought and defeated America. Many of those rebels, after their victory, became politicians, officials, bureaucrats, businessman and wheeling and dealing in trade with America. A similar story can unfold in the Middle East if these young people are treated respectfully as citizens of a self-rule and offered a better economic condition.
In this global society, the operations of groups like al-Qaeda, the Taliban and now the Islamic State, have already created an aura of defiance and chivalry, fighting the formidable powers in the world, that they think, robbed and victimized many Muslim majority societies, Palestine is paramount among them. The constant humiliation and subjugation among other oppressive factors become the fuel that feeds radicalism.
Their ability to stand up to the onslaught of the 'War on Terror' and defying intimidations of the local and regional governments appear empowering and awe inspiring for many young Muslims – rich or poor, educated or uneducated – around the world. This is an ever lurking destructive domain that is continuously seducing young minds to join radical groups. If one group gets subdued, others spring up with a more vicious agenda. This ever present call of 'jihad' appears as a way out of the humiliating and degrading reality a young person is often stuck with and alienated by an undemocratic, corrupt society. The lure of comradeship in a radical, chivalrous, organization can become a powerful force on such an alienated person. The solution lies in making the Middle East a democratic and better place.
It is interesting to note the way Al-Zarqawi (2003), and Al-Baghdadi (2009) the two most notorious founders of the Islamic State in recent time used religion to create a forceful terror movement to attract young, frustrated, and ignorant Muslims around and all over the world. They came in contact with a large number of derailed and frustrated young people — who were previously into drugs and crimes — in the jail in Zarqa, in Jordan or Camp Bucca in Iraq. These ringleaders, who previously were not religious, saw that the call of religion works on these people in bringing them all together. They then concoct an interpretation of Islam that suits their objectives best: to be cruel, intolerant, fiercely violent, and devoid of any human quality.
The most effective way they can be invalidated and rejected is through proper religious culture that is most needed in the Muslim world today. That can be achieved in two major ways: 1. Replacing the centuries old dogmatic and ritual focused ‘madrasa’ curriculum — that promote status quo, authoritarian religious culture, intolerance, and blind following — with an informative, balanced, and broader academic system that become more in tune with the spirit of Islam and its fundamental messages. 2. Establishing democratic and open society set-up in which a forceful discourse among different segments can be carried out to help bring about a moderate mindset. This should be the top priority in the Muslim world. In Tunisia, it is the on-going dialogue between the Islamists and secularists, and the consequent changes in both that have been influencing the whole nation – that was previously polarized and confrontational – to come together.
A dialogue and constructive engagement between opposite forces always empowers the moderates and marginalizes the extremes on all sides.
Prominent leaders and generals in our time, rightfully, concede that there is no military solution to radicalism and extremism. The root causes must be addressed. There seems to be no disagreement about this understanding in the West. It is baffling, however, to witness that nowhere in the Middle East the real issues have been addressed. The forces that are blocking the path towards a real solution, needs to be confronted and stopped.
It is of extreme importance to understand that if people are willing to blow themselves up for a reason, they can do it at the choosing of their time and place, there is no power to stop them unless they are convinced of a better way out. Offering them that way should be the preoccupation of the world leaders today.
Rached Ghannouchi, a prominent Muslim leader, the ex-president of Tunisia shared his thoughts that the “only way to truly defeat ISIS is to offer a better product to the millions of young Muslims in the world.” It is called “Muslim democracy.” This “better product” must be a political system that is democratic, that respects human rights and that gives Islamic values political space.
The Emerging World and its Demands
In this interconnected global society with an ever higher awareness of human rights and dignity leading to ever greater demand for liberty and self-rule with the abundant availability of firearms due to the most reckless arms business worldwide for the last several decades, a society, or a region, or even the world cannot remain healthy subjugating a group or a segment of humanity and denying their rights. The world powers come to grip with this emerging reality of our time. For the places like Iraq and Syria with a volatile mosaic of different ethnic groups, sects, tribes and factions, there is no alternative to a power-sharing arrangement or a confederate system.
History is a testament to the fact that die-hard radicals and once intractable enemies have become polished politicians and partners once a trustworthy and fair democratic process is in place, often with the involvements and under the supervision of regional and/or world powers. It happened in El Salvador, Kosovo, South Africa, Tajikistan after the revolution, Nepal, and now in Afghanistan to name a few and it can happen again in Syria, Iraq and in the Middle East.
America has been paying a high price for not sticking to its founding principles and not following the teachings of its great leaders like Wilson, who realized that peace is not possible without reaching out to people and addressing their issues. Peace cannot be established without justice. Therefore, unfairness, prejudices, arrogance, phobia, desire to dominate others, cruelty, and other vices that obstruct justice also hinder peace. This timeless principle should be the guiding light for a leader who has enormous responsibility towards establishing peace in the world.
The keys are direct and forceful involvements of the international community in monitoring and even setting up the terms of “crafted” political transitions, dialogue, constructive engagements, economic incentives and empowering the moderates to help bring about the needed systems and mindsets challenge and change ignorance, corruption, and wrong ideas of Islam poisoning the societies.
Putin is a double-edged sword: He is an extremely shrewd, ruthless, ambitious adversary with no scruples, but he can be a partner in bringing about the ground breaking changes that are needed to be done before the window of opportunity slips by.
The above analysis of the past lays down some factors and forces towards failures and successes of American leadership in the world. In this interdependent world America needs to be a constructive force in order to serve its own true interests and gain back its leadership in the world. Again, here is a brief list that we think you should do in that pursuit.
- Be a warrior for democracy and human rights. There is no substitute for this in this emerging global village if peace and stability need to be maintained. Work with the international community to undertake a comprehensive, forceful, and consistent agenda to take collective actions against the regimes that are autocratic and those that subvert a democratic process to become autocratic.
- A burgeoning democratic process, especially in a society that was in turmoil such as Syria and Iraq, in order to be viable, must be reinforced by a rapid economic development.
- Globalization should be monitored to narrow the wealth divide in the world to attain social justice. A society would remain instable until the gap between the rich and the poor are brought down to socially acceptable levels.
- Help establish power-sharing democratic systems for those societies that consist of different sects, ethnic groups, factions, etc.
- Empower the moderate Muslims to fight radicalism. Those groups that abandon violence and participate in an electoral process to be part of a democratic system should be considered moderates irrespective of their ideologies views.
- Encourage dialogues and constructive engagements between the liberal and Islamist forces in order to help bring about a moderate socio-political culture.
- Israeli-Palestinian issue to be resolved, two states or one state, so that liberty, human rights and securities of both Arabs and Jews are achieved, making sure one group cannot dominate the other. A confederate system may be ideal.
- With the cooperation of Russia, get directly involved with Syria and Iraq both, to help establish power-sharing democratic systems and/or confederate states especially for the Kurds. A Marshall Plan is needed to rebuild destroyed and devastated Syria.
- Remove official terrorist designation of Hamas and Hezbollah and recognize their election results in 2006. It is counterproductive to label Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization as the Senator Ted Cruz’s bill is trying to do. They became non-violent and dismantled their armed wing in 1973. They have become a social force in Egypt and they should be recognized as such in order to help such a group fight radicalism and bring about democracy in a Muslim majority society.
- The administration should work closely with the American Muslims and their leaderships to help create a stimulating environment to gain the mutual trust and cooperation towards making America safer and more secure.
11.American Muslims can play a vital role in building bridges between America and the Muslim world for mutual security, stability, and welfare.