America’s Gifts Should Not Be Understated

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Guest Commentary

Setting aside Washington’s woeful Middle East policies, it is worth reminding ourselves that the United States of America is one of the greatest nations on the planet. A world in which America did not exist would be poorer in terms of technology, space exploration, medical advances, entertainment and life-changing inventions.

Moreover, the fact that the U.S. is such a stable country given the mix of religions and ethnicities is miraculous. Americans are us, all of us. With the exception of Native Americans. Their genes are our genes. This potpourri of 320 million individuals, whose ancestors escaped poverty and persecution to follow their dreams, has succeeded in uniting all with fierce pride and patriotism under one flag.

During my recent visit to the U.S. I was privileged to be asked to deliver the keynote speech at the 24th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference in Washington DC before a huge audience. I spoke on many topics but focused primarily on the relationship between the U.S. and the Arab World, our joint security and our historical friendship.

At the same time, I was critical of President Barack Obama’s embrace of Iran, his lack of commitment towards a Palestinian state and his failure to intervene in order to save the Syrian people sandwiched between regime bombs and terrorists. That I was able to speak my mind on what I consider to be a country’s mistakes on its own soil means that America is confident enough to hear constructive criticism unlike so many other countries which pay lip service to free expression.

America bashing has become a popular pastime in many parts of the world, not least my own. We have come to the point where if anything doesn’t work, we conclude it is all Washington’s doing. We relish in anti-American conspiracy theories and accept them as the unvarnished truth no matter how ridiculous and embemlished they seem. There is no nation without fault and no person without fault. Just as we are quick to fault America, we should also celebrate its blessings.

American administrations have blundered through the Middle East over the past 14 years. Few would deny that U.S. interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have been costly failures or that American mediation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has not worked. But we should accept that like every world power — Russia, China and the EU — the U.S. acts according to its interests.

Whether they like us, are with us or against us that is their prerogative as a sovereign nation whose sole responsibility is to its own citizens. We who have been affected by U.S. actions also have the right to be transparent when airing our views of America’s wrongdoing within our region.

Because America’s global reach is so vast and as is often said “When Washington sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold”, part of my keynote speech was devoted to next year’s presidential election. Unfortunately, George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisers were a disaster for my neighborhood. President Obama, who began his presidency with a warm reach-out to Muslims, turned out to be as bad, if not worse.

“Some might say that the presidential election is an American matter, and as an Arab I should not interfere,” I told attendees at the at the Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference. “Allow me to correct them. The choice of a president and his policies will affect the whole world,” I said.

Both during my speech and in a column published on August 5, I endorsed the property magnate Donald Trump as the best candidate for president on the grounds that the career politicians are likely to repeat the same mistakes as their predecessors because they share similar mindsets. A businessman might not.

Obama is a great intellectual able to see all sides of the argument and view issues in shades of grey rather than black and white. Those can be assets in daily life or in the legal profession from which he is drawn, but in a leader they make for paralysis and indecision. Obama has proven the old adage, “he who hesitates is lost.”

Thankfully, there is a new page for the United States in the offing. Polls indicate that voters seek a fresh face with fresh ideas, which is why Trump is still surging ahead despite his straight-talking that some consider offensive. Too rich to need campaign donors, he will not be under the heel of wealthy individuals, corporations or lobbying organisations.

He says what he thinks and goes with his gut, no matter what anyone else thinks. He may not have a complete grasp of all the issues yet, but he speaks truth as he sees it. His statements are only shocking to people who are not used to politicians coming out with the truth even when it hurts. His latest outpouring dominated headlines. He has verbalized what just about everyone in the Middle East and Gulf knows — the world would be a 100 per cent better place if Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi were still in power.

“I mean, look at Libya. Look at Iraq. Iraq used to be no terrorists. He [Saddam] would kill the terrorists immediately, which is like now it’s the Harvard of terrorism,” he told CNN. “If you look at Iraq from years ago — I’m not saying he was a nice guy, he was a horrible guy — but it was a lot better than it is right now. Right now, Iraq is a training ground for terrorists. Right now Libya…Nobody even knows Libya. Frankly there is no Iraq and no Libya. It’s all broken up. They have no control. Nobody knows what’s going on.” None of the so-called experts, retired generals or politicians wheeled out to express their opinions, have ever come out with that gem of pure truth.

As of now, it looks like Trump and Hilary Clinton will be facing off at the finish, which is good news. America will choose between a strong and determined successful businessman and one of the toughest women in politics, whose composure before a Senate Committee investigating the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was outstanding. The lady looked presidential and even under vicious personal attack she remained cool, calm and collected.

This time Americans are spoilt for choice. But whether it is Trump or Clinton, or a combination of both, there is a good chance that Americans — and hopefully, the peoples of the MENA region — will be the winners.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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