It is exasperating to listen to American officials pontificate about events in the Middle East and offer reasonable sounding proposals to resolve the area’s problems, when those same officials and the entire political power structure they represent refuse to acknowledge that they have played a major role in creating or expanding those problems. This is why it is astounding to watch the United States now lead the military assault against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) by using the same techniques that contributed in a major way to the birth and growth of the militant Islamist ideology that forms the core of ISIS and its criminal deeds.
The latest example of this is a statement the U.S. State Department put out Monday quoting Secretary of State John Kerry saying that, “The fight against violent extremism in the Middle East can only truly be won if there are clear and appealing alternatives.”
This simplistic statement sounds so logical and reasonable, but in fact is full of dishonesty and disgraceful critical omissions. I say this because the United States itself played a direct and clear role in helping to foment the spread of ISIS-style violent extremism by creating the conditions for it in 2003 when it invaded Iraq and wiped away the former Iraqi state and government. That war created chaotic conditions in Iraq that provided an opening for Osama Bin Laden to send Abu Musab El-Zarqawi into Iraq to set up a local branch of Al-Qaeda. This small group of killers and anti-Shiite Sunni sectarian extremists expanded slowly and eventually branded itself ISIS.
Kerry’s statement is also problematic in mentioning the absence of alternatives. There are no strong alternatives in large part because for over half a century — and still ongoing today — the United States and other major foreign powers enthusiastically have supported Arab autocrats and tyrants whose disdain for their own citizens has been the single most important reason for the growth of ISIS-like mentalities and behavior. The status quo in the Middle East that the United States favored and supported for so long made it impossible for any alternatives to emerge.
John Kerry’s simplistic statement Monday reveals either dishonesty or sheer ignorance, or perhaps a bit of both. That is truly troubling given that he represents a massive amount of military force that his country unleashes regularly around the Middle East, most often leading to troubling conditions such as we witness in Iraq and Syria today. To then follow up with simplistic statements for public consumption in which he offers solutions to the problems the United States helped create is an incredible act of disregard for the basic intelligence and common sense of billions of people around the world who do not share the kind of political and intellectual dishonesty he displays in this case.
It is not the responsibility of the United States or any other foreign power to fix the problems of the Middle East, which are mainly home-grown problems stemming from over half a century of autocratic or dictatorial rule, massive incompetence and mismanagement in governance, rampant corruption, declining education quality, misguided militarism, environmental irresponsibility, and trampling on the rule of law and citizen rights. The United States knew about all this and more, but nevertheless resolutely supported the political systems that ultimately drove some of their citizens into the realm of Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
How can anyone possibly take seriously statements such as John Kerry’s? Moreover, why does the United States keep insulting us and the world by making such statements that lack so much logic, credibility and veracity? Presumably, the answer is that the United States feels no real repercussions either from pursuing the corrosive policies it has for half a century, or from adding insult to injury by saying that we need attractive alternatives to stem the flow of our young men into killer movements like ISIS.
This highlights the wider problem that we continue to suffer from in the Arab world’s relations with the United States and other major world powers. This is the perpetuation of colonial attitudes among both American and other foreign elites who toy with the Arab peoples, on the one hand, and Arab ruling elites who play the game of dependent colonial subject, on the other. ISIS represents one of the few fractures in that process that shatters the prevailing conditions of the past century, and, not surprisingly, frightens both Western and Arab rulers. Until those same Arab, Western and other foreign rulers accept that their shared policies were the main underlying reason that allowed ISIS and other such movements to come into being, statements such as John Kerry’s this week will only meet with ridicule and disbelief, and zero impact on anyone other than his poor press secretary who has to disseminate this kind of ridiculous nonsense.
Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly in the Daily Star. He was founding director and now senior policy fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. On Twitter @ramikhouri.
Copyright © 2014 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global