Thursday, 3 February 2011

DOES THE US HAVE ANY MORAL AUTHORITY IN THE MIDDLE EAST?

Does the US and its western allies have any moral authority in the Middle East, or have they nothing to offer now amid the social uprisings after decades of supporting authoritarian regimes without any resolution to the central problem which is the Palestinian question? If a public opinion poll were to be conducted among Arabs throughout the Middle East and North Africa, how would they answer the question posed above after a decade of 'war on terrorism' and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Writing during the downfall of the Communist bloc and the evolving US Cold War with Muslim countries that were not part of its 'client-dependency network' in the Middle East and Central Asia, high-profile media-promoted scholar Francis Fukuyama had become the darling of the neo-conservatives because he celebrated the triumph of the West, essentially the US, over the Communist bloc. Over the years, I have made critical references to Fukuyama's ideas, especially those in The End of History that made him famous and which in my view is shallow populist writing designed to appeal to the mainstream, yet trendy, even radical in its approach of the subject and in its style, while conformist, even reactionary and xenophobic (anti-Muslim) in its goal.

Christopher Hitchens was right on the money when he wrote that Fukumaya uses "an arsenal of clich├ęs and stock expressions located somewhere inside his word processor, so that he has only to touch the keyboard for one of them to spring abruptly onto the page." Arguing that Islam and modernity are not compatible, Fukuyama, like many Western liberals and conservatives, equates modernity (and scientific knowledge) with liberal-bourgeois political and market-based mass-consumer geared economic institutions as they operate mainly in Anglo-Saxon societies. A former employee of the US State Department, Fukuyama has been an advocate of that long-standing American foreign policy practice, coercive regime change that former vice president Dick Cheney and his neo-conservative backers embraced.

The American-centric assumptions behind the shallow xenophobic thesis that Fukuyama promoted became popular with neo-conservatives in the late 1990s and the first five years of the Bush presidency until Fukuyama broke with neo-cons on foreign policy issues. The hidden danger with this individual is that he selectively uses Marxian rhetoric with the intention of promoting bourgeois capitalist goals, thereby allowing free hand of liberals and conservatives to criticize him selectively. 
 
One could argue that we live in the age of shallowness when dummy-down everything from the mass news media so that it entertains more than it informs, to dummied-down politically and culturally trendy scholarship that appears scholarly and original, that conforms with the institutional mainstream, and appeals to a broader spectrum of people than the narrow academe. The same shallowness exists with regard to US moral authority that amid the widespread social uprisings in the Middle East it is trying to project.

It is true that the West does have noble moral principles that can appeal to the entire world, not just to the Middle East and Muslims from Indonesia to Pakistan. Indeed many Western 'moral principles' of which I would include civil rights and human rights, fundamental universal freedoms such as speech, press, and worship, multiculturalism and normative relativism, all these principles are very admirable. I have no public opinion poll to determine what percentage of people around the world, many Muslims included, deem such western moral principles as honorable. I am guessing that many would approve enthusiastically and they would even wish to adopt them for their societies.

The problem with the moral quandary of the US (and the West) with regard to Arab authoritarian regimes is its blatant hypocrisy given the immense gap between 'liberal democratic', pluralistic, human rights rhetoric on the one hand, and exploitative policies designed to serve US and Western economic and strategic interests in the region. Can the US and Europe really conceal their practices in the Middle East in the last 60 years behind lofty rhetoric about moral principles now that the uprisings are taking place; can they run away from their record?  Naturally, as long as Egypt's Mubarak, Tunisia's Ben Ali, Yemen's Saleh, or
Saudi King Abdullah dutifully serve US and Western economic, political, and military interests, they have a relatively free hand to ignore those lofty Western moral principles that the US makes public to the world to reassure the public that in theory it supports them.

There is no evidence that the US was pressuring Egypt, or any country currently in social upheaval to undertake democratic reforms in accordance with the moral principles I have delineated above. On the contrary, the US was only interested in the 'war on terrorism' which was a pretext for Egypt and other Arab regimes to violate human rights of their citizens; the US demanded reforms that would open markets to allow corporations greater and easier access to markets that the Arab authoritarian regimes were using to enrich narrow circles of companies and individuals that of course conducted business on the timed-honored baksheesh system. What moral obligation does the US government have now that the uprisings have erupted, other than to ensure the new regimes are as loyal as the old ones?

The world judges the US and the West not by vacuous rhetoric about moral principles that it embraces in theory, but by its historical relationship with Arab dictatorships. It is true that pro-US (pro-West) dictators have a history of getting out of hand, as they figure that the patron state (US) owes them for years of loyal service. It is also true that the US has a history of protecting its interests by cutting its losses when there is no alternative to a crumbling regime. What is the US doing now that the Egyptian and Yemen regimes are trying to convert the popular social uprisings into civil wars? 
 
Is the US working behind the scenes to make sure that national self-determination and true sovereignty are installed under democratic rule, or is it trying to make sure that another authoritarian pro-West regime succeeds the one that the people are overthrowing? Will the US and EU make any public calls and privately work toward implementation of lofty western moral principles of freedom, democracy and human rights, or will they simply demand accommodations to foreign capital and US military interests combined with the continuation of the war on terrorism? People judge moral principles not by empty words, not by populist neo-con propagandists like Fukuyama, but by actions!

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