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The quandary of American foreign policy

By Andrew Chaponda

To dance or not to dance, is the stark reality facing the United States of America foreign policy today? The rise in Arab and Muslim streets against entrenched dictators, monarchs and Mullahs most of them ironically on the proverbial American payroll since the end of World War 2, calls for an urgent and radical change in the direction of the U.S foreign policy.

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

There is no doubt that the USA has made deals with the devil in the name of political expediency as apposed to standing for what are quintessentially American values; right to free speech, freedom and personal liberty.

 The American foreign policy has not seen worse times than these. There are two possible outcomes as a result of the uprising sweeping the Arab/Muslim world. First, an American foreign policy that is genuinely pro democratic and much stronger in pushing the US global national interest or secondly a severely depleted, bruised and weakened American global power play the likes of which have not been seen since the U.S became a super power at the turn of the 20th century.

It is my contention that the current wave of uprising beginning with the sacking of Tunisia’s strongman of 23 years, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali after and followed the fall from grace of long time American blue eyed grand daddy and dictator Hosni Mubarak after a 31 year unchallenged, brutal and corrupt reign in Egypt will forever reshape and expose the inconsistencies of the American foreign policy.

The demonstrations in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Algeria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia on one hand and Iran and Syria on the other present different challenges and opportunities, the Americans are advised to tread very carefully if they are to come out of this with some modicum of decency in their foreign policy and what they stand for as a country.

The bright side of things, however, is that America still has a chance to salvage part of its tattered and torn foreign policy by among other things recalibrating, refocusing and beginning to practice what they often preach; human dignity, equality, human rights and self determination of all people regardless of where they are in the world.

The Arab/Muslim world is not a monolithic block. It is not even about to become one. The demonstrations we have witnessed and continue to witness are a microcosm of and a wake up call to the Washington policy wonks that have a tendency to look at the geopolitics of the region in shades of white or black. There is no middle ground and this straight jacketedness of American foreign policy has been their strength as well as an albatross that has fed into the current upheaval in the Muslim/Arab world.

It is unfortunate that with so much economic and military might, the U.S has over the last half century staked all her bates in favor of Israel and Arab dictators and against millions of the Arab/Moslem people. The dictators were willing and able to suppress their people, literally and figuratively turning themselves into appendages of American foreign policy while the human rights and dignity of their people were suppressed. The winner so we used to think was American national interest, until now. The chickens are coming home to roost. The U.S has to decide and decide very fast if they want to be at the table or forever become irrelevant in so far as the new geopolitics of the Middle East is concerned.

Both President Barak Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were at pains to define the U.S position in the early stages of the revolution. From up close where I am, it was a total shock to see the Obama administration failing to articulate a clear, cogent and coherent position on the uprising in Tunisia and Egypt, until much later on. The conservative wing of the American media and blogosphere lead by Fox News could not believe these people were capable of organizing and demanding the same rights they (Conservatives/Tea Partiers) think are sacrosanct.

It was Barack Obama fault the Glen Becks of this world wanted us to believe who was responsible for fanning the passions of freedom in the Arab/Moslem world. Really. The speech President Obama delivered in Cairo two years ago became the scapegoat.  What was shocking was the Obama administration failure to articulate the fact that the driver for change was the people desire for freedom, period. Instead we were treated to indecision, discord and contradiction in the US position on the uprising.   

So many conspiracy theories were banded together similar to the McCarthy inquisitions. There had to be an external influence. The Arabs are not capable of demanding human dignity; they must be getting the influence from somewhere. We heard that the terms Do not tread on me, I need our country back should not apply to the Arabs.

There is nothing outrageous about any people demanding they be treated with dignity. It’s not too much to ask, unless one has a sinister motive. This is exactly the same argument dictators like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe often use, that it is the west influencing its citizens to demand free and fair elections, freedom of speech, association and human rights. To hear this even from the American officials made for very sad reading.

After failing to anticipate the rise of the Arab people against their long time dictators, all America could think of is how will this affect Israel? An alien from outer space would think that Israel determines the foreign policy of America to such an extend that America is prepared to sacrifice relations with millions of Arabs/Moslems for some peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel in 1979 and religiously enforced by a dictator with American support for over 31 years.

If this peace treaty has worked as much as they want us to believe why hasn’t there been a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Why did America find it necessary to support dictators who ostensibly were underwriters of the peace while ignoring the plight of millions of those countries’ citizens?

Herein in lies the irony of the American foreign policy; Do as I say not as I do. People all over the world can see through this hypocrisy where peace treaties are sustained on the backs and economic and social deprivation of the vast citizens in those countries. Dictators were and are bought off with huge military aid and token development assistance.

If Egypt was at peace with Israel who were they going to fight with $1.3 billion in annual military aid? Its people?  We now know this is the aid that made it possible for Mubarak to pamper, spoil and indulge his military top brass while the rest of the Egyptian population including the rank and file soldier subsisted on less than $2.00 per day. Whatever happened to soft power?

Conservative commentators like Charles Krauthammar even had the nerve to suggest that the USA interest in the internal affairs of these new democracies is to help protect them against totalitarians, foreign and domestic, read the Moslem Brotherhood and other nationalists who have every right just like the fundamentalists within the USA have a right to participate in the governance of their country. Get over it America, the world is changing and the sooner you realize that all peoples deserve to chose a government of their choice the better for everyone.

I sincerely hope Krauthammar is speaking for himself. In my opinion his suggestion is an exact carbon copy of the US foreign policy the people of Tunisia and Egypt just rejected, that other sections of their communities be excluded from participation in the political discourse of their countries at the behest of foreign powers, particularly the United States. Do these people ever learn anything? Fortunately I think this time they will.

There is very obvious difference between the open support and enthusiasm the US administration has towards Iran demonstrators and how they have conducted themselves in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and even Syria. The argument that in 2009 the USA failed to support the Iranian people in their quest to unseat President Ahmed Nejard’s should be no reason to be overly excited this time. The same measured and stand offish attitude we saw in Egypt is a better script to follow lest the contradiction becomes so apparent that it emboldens those dictators and weakens pro-democracy advocates.

The fact that Iran congratulated the people of Egypt for ridding their society of a dictator has clouded the US foreign policy. Thrusting themselves into the current demonstrations will do more harm than good to the demonstrators. The last thing the demonstrators want is the Iranian regime couching the uprising as a battle between Iran and the U.S. It’s a sure way to sap the air out of the demonstrators. Regardless of how much the U.S hates Iran, it is my considered view that the Americans curb their enthusiasm and hatred of Iran and its leaders. Iran is US enemy number one and the feelings are also mutual in Teheran.

The worst thing the USA can do is to openly support the demonstrators in any overt and overly enthusiastic way different from similar situations in Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, and Libya and for that matter Syria. Iran like it or not has a very significant pro regime supporters including the Revolutionary guard. Iran is also aware that the current changes in the region will forever change the geopolitics of the region in their favor. The absence of American leverage over the Revolutionary guard means the U.S has no influence on the military the same way they did in Egyptian.

Accordingly Iranian authorities are prepared to fight for what appears a new and pro Iranian regional dispensation once the dust has settled. What with Bahrain where a minority Sunni clique rule over 70 percent Shias majority. All the dictators in the region are not Iran’s comrades; they take orders from the United States. Iran and for that matter the Arab street have been one in condemning the collusion that has reduced the region to an America/Israeli playground. Their reason, you cannot love Arabs without supporting a lasting resolution to the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Iran has been the only consistent voice in this regard, and the Arab street is not lost on this fact.

The United States knows fully well that the current revolution in the Moslem and Arab world will undo many decades of American hegemony in the region. If all the above countries were to go the Tunisian and Egyptian way a new era in American Middle East diplomacy will have been created. I see this new era of Arab/Moslem self determination conducive to long term peace in the region, including the Palestinian resolution.

All the support and collusion these dictators have afforded the United States has not translated into peace. Instead, had the Arab world has been able to speak with one voice; it is my view we could have had peace by now. Classical divide, bribe and rule have been the norm. This is a good start and the United States should embrace the opportunity and let Israel play ball.

There is also a lesson all dictators including Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe should learn. Whether a dictator is foreign sponsored or driven by neocolonial rhetoric is no guarantee to eternal rule. From the fall of the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran in 1979, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines in 1986 and Suharto of Indonesia in 1998, the people’s power will always triumph. The endgame is always be same, the dictator runs away in utter humiliation while a new dawn in people power takes hold.

As a Zimbabwean watching the anti government demonstrations unfolding, I am encouraged that our day will come. We may not be able to recreate the same revolutionary script given our different political histories and culture, but one sure thing is that dictators do not last, the people do.

To its credit though the United States have prevailed over their servant armies to refrain from killing their people. The same cannot be true in Iran and Zimbabwe where American influence is non existent. Whichever outcome the current anti government demonstrations end, the U.S foreign policy will be in need of major makeover.

Andrew Chaponda is a Zimbabwe political activist and Social Commentator and can be reached at: [email protected] 

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