“About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon …. and one of the generals called me in. He said, ‘We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq’ …. I said, ‘We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?’ …. He said, ‘I guess they don’t know what else to do.’ So I said, ‘Well, did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?’ He said, ‘No, no.’ He said, ‘There’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.’ He said, ‘I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.’ And he said, ‘I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.’”
— General Wesley Clark (ret), March 2, 2007
America has been obsessed with certain regimes in the Muslim World. The world has already witnessed the outcome of this obsession in the American-sponsored regime-changes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya. Of late, America is obsessed with two regimes in the Middle East, the Islamist regime in Iran and the Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Iran’s alleged nuclear program and violation of human rights have been the main justifications for the possible US-Israeli invasion of the country to “de-nuclearize” and “democratize” it. America is obsessed with the Syrian regime for its alleged genocidal war against its own people. If American selective regime-change operation in the Muslim World is pushing the world towards prolonged intra- and inter-state conflicts in the coming decades is the most important question today. This paper appraises the role of America in intensifying world conflicts – directly or indirectly – through invasions or benign neglect of smaller countries.
It aims at answering the questions a) Is the Muslim-West conflict a derivative of American imperialism? b) Are there better options for America? c) Can America be a dependable friend and partner-in-peace-and-progress of the Muslim World, not an adversary? The main argument of this paper is that while “global jihad” is a hackneyed cliché, not Muslims but America is posing the biggest threat to world peace by its armed and diplomatic interventions in the Muslim World. Iran and Syria are the latest in the long list of countries America has been contemplating to invade since 9/11.
The “Regime-Change”: Perspectives and Ramifications
What famous French writer Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about America in his Democracy in America (1835) after visiting the country in the early 1830s is a classic. Many of his observations about America are still valid today. However, what he thought America would never do, build a large army and wage wars, was no longer valid by the second half of the 19th century. He wrote: “The Americans have no neighbors, and consequently they have no great wars, or financial crises, or inroads, or conquest, to dread; they require neither great taxes, nor large armies, nor great generals; and they have nothing to fear from a scourge which is more formidable to republics than all these evils combined, namely military glory.”
America has been at war with too many countries to mention here. Most of America’s wars have been unnecessary and anything but defensive at all. This chapter is an appraisal of America’s growing confrontational relationship with several Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, South Asia and beyond; and its short- and long-term ramifications.
Although “global jihad” is a problematic assumption, there is nothing so sensational about projecting the ongoing Muslim-West conflict as an extension of another “Hundred-Year-War”. Very similar to the Hundred-Year-War between England and France (1337-1453), the ongoing conflict has been going through its periods of high intensity, lulls and truce. Further tensions and escalation of conflicts by America and its allies are most likely to engulf pre-existing conflict zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and create new battlefields in Iran, Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere within and beyond the Muslim World. America is likely to drag its client states into the war. Conversely, anti-Western countries are likely to forge ties in the coming years as well. It seems, eventually, China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel (among others) are not likely to remain neutral after further escalation of the conflicts. We believe the preponderance of the Military-Industrial Complex and lobbies that profit immensely from wars and conflicts in America have been at the roots of most global conflicts. The so-called “global jihad” and threats from “rogue states” like Iran and North Korea are nothing but red herrings. The real threat to American hegemony will not come from Muslim autocracies but newly emerging democracies or quasi-democracies in the Muslim World. The so-called Arab Spring has installed yester years’ Islamist-turned-democrats to power in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. As the Ennahda party of Tunisia does not have liberal democratic credentials so does the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt represent the illiberal Islamism. America can neither deny these parties their democratic right to run governments, nor can it expect them to promote liberal democracy and secularism.
The so-called Arab Spring heralded a new beginning in the Arab World. America’s and Arab rulers’ ambivalence and duplicities towards the Arab Spring have created problems for the entire Muslim World. While Arab monarchs and America had been selective in supporting the regime change movements in the Arab World, they would love to see Syrian and Iranian regimes go the Mubarak-Qaddafi way. They are against similar changes in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other monarchies in the Arab World. Iran also has serious reservations about any regime-change movement in Syria. American policymakers possibly know democracy in the Muslim World is not going to benefit America and Arab monarchies. Yet, paradoxically, they favoured regime-change movements in Egypt, Libya and Syria.
Conservative Gulf monarchies were unhappy with America’s support for regime-change in Egypt. Israel is not pleased at the regime-change in Egypt either, as it knows well that a democratic Egypt in the long-run will not respect the peace treaty with Israel, signed by its dictator, the late Anwar Sadat in 1978. It is noteworthy that the Muslim Brotherhood declared that once elected to power, it would scrap the treaty. In view of the growing popularity of Islamism in Egypt, it is no longer a question if but how soon the Islamists will be eventually calling the shots there. Most importantly, although the Arab Spring has overthrown only a handful of Arab regimes, the wind of change is blowing fast to weaken the already de-legitimized Arab autocracies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE. They will sustain as long as they have the oil money and American troops to support them. Having 25 per cent youth unemployment, growing population pressure and mass disapproval of America among Arab population, autocratic pro-American Arab regimes do not have good prospects in the coming years. One Brookings Institution opinion poll in October 2011 in five Arab countries –Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and UAE – revealed that more than 70 per cent of Arabs support the Arab Spring and dislike America. Only around 35 per cent of Arabs consider Iran a threat, while the bulk of them consider Turkey their role model.
American State Department has been consistently myopic with regard to its Middle East policy. Far from reflecting American’s core values in regards to justice, peace and human rights, American foreign policy has been mostly protecting the interests of America’s military, big business and the overpowering Israel Lobby. American-sponsored regime-changes in the Muslim World, which in violation of democracy and/or human rights and sovereignty of nation states in Syria (1949-1955), Iran (1953), Indonesia (1965), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003) and among others, Libya (2011), have neither benefited America’s long-term interests nor have they stabilized these countries.
Meanwhile, the so-called Arab Spring has not brought rich dividends to the proponents of democracy in the Arab World. Tunisia seems to be the only beneficiary of the Arab Spring. The Islamist Ennahda Party-led coalition government with non-Islamist partners, including the centre-left Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol, gained substantial mass support by early 2012. Although the Government will take time to create enough jobs for the 19% percent-unemployed Tunisians, yet it has so far successfully resisted the Salafist demand for the imposition of Shariah law in the country. However, several Ennahda leaders have been engaged in a “quiet dialogue” with radical Islamist Salafists. One is not sure how long the Tunisian democracy will sustain. Things are not that rosy in Libya and Egypt either. Egypt went through its parliamentary elections in January 2012 electing deputies who mostly belong to “soft” Muslim Brotherhood (47%) and “hardcore” Islamist Salafists (around 23%). However, soon the Egyptian military declared the elections null and void and dissolved the parliament. Meanwhile, Egypt had been thoroughly polarized between Islamists and non-Islamists. Most Egyptians want Shariah law and promise to “liberate” Egypt from “subservience to Israel and the West”. Although Egyptians have chosen their leader for the “first time in 5,000 years”, the election of anti-American and anti-Israeli Islamists to power in this resource-poor populous country does not bode well for Western interests and peace in the region.
The regime-change movements on the one hand have weakened the strong hold of Arab autocracies; and on the other, have emboldened people in post-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia. Arabs vying for democracy and human rights see Turkey as a role model. No longer considering Iran as an adversary, many Arabs are envious of Iranian men and women who have more freedom and better rights than they enjoy under Arab autocracies. Iran’s persistent criticism of American hegemony and pro-American Israeli and Arab regimes has also been important catalysts in this regard. In view of this, it seems Henry Kissinger was right in registering his scepticism about the success of “revolutions” in the Arab World. He thought the “Arab Spring” was counterproductive and criticized America’s reengaging militarily in countries in the name of “humanitarian intervention”:
The Arab Spring is widely presented as a regional, youth-led revolution on behalf of liberal democratic principles. Yet Libya is not ruled by such forces; it hardly continues as a state. Neither is Egypt, whose electoral majority (possibly permanent) is overwhelmingly Islamist. Nor do democrats seem to predominate in the Syrian opposition. The Arab League consensus on Syria is not shaped by countries previously distinguished by the practice or advocacy of democracy. Rather, it largely reflects the millennium-old conflict between Shiite and Sunni and an attempt to reclaim Sunni dominance from a Shiite minority…. The revolution will have to be judged by its destination, not its origin; its outcome, not its proclamations.
The article is a condensed version of the writer’s forthcoming book, Global Jihad and America, which is being published by Sage (Los Angeles-New York-London-New Delhi).
Taj Hashmi is a faculty in Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tennessee, USA