Obama’s Empty Rhetoric

The White House summit on extremist violence ended without a clear enunciation of a US strategy to overcome either Sunni or Shiite political Islam. In fact, political Islam was never even mentioned. Islam in the modern Middle East was portrayed as a vast moderate force for good, while the terrorists of the Islamic State were defined as an insane yet small minority. President Obama called the terrorists “a perversion of Islam” and also declared that the “West is not at war with Islam”. Obama hardly ever mentioned Israel at all. But if he was intellectually honest, the president would come to the realization that the vast majority of today’s Muslims perceive their religion to be in a war against Zionism and the so-called “Jews of occupied Palestine”. Also, little was said about Iranian support for terrorism against the Jewish state (over one hundred thousand rockets aimed at Israeli population centers). Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot in Gaza and the West Bank whose goal is Jewish genocide, was never mentioned. Ironically, Obama’s White House might not be at war with Islam, yet Islam is at war with America’s most trusted ally in the Middle East, Israel. From a Jewish point of view, Obama’s speech was mere empty rhetoric.

In the eyes of many Muslims, Israel and the US are the latest incarnation of a Western Crusader invasion which first began nearly a millennium ago. Certainly for most Muslims this has indeed been a long war spanning many centuries. This is especially true since its latest round started over two hundred years ago with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. But the age of European colonialism came to full flower after WWI. And since the 1920’s, political Islam has been on the march as the Islamic antidote to Western subjugation. Israel has never been anything but a very minor project of Western imperialism. While Israel by itself has always been a distinct project of Jewish history, culture, and especially religion. It is in this religious context that Israel (the Jewish possession of the Holy Land) is recognized by the Koran. This all-important Islamic revelation is never mentioned by Islamists; nevertheless, it is true and has the authority of Divine inscription.

The short period of ascendant Arab nationalism (1950’s and 60’s) was an anomaly created by the superpower Cold War competition. It was during this time that the European and American institution of neo-colonial Western and Soviet-backed military juntas, absolute monarchies and fascist dictatorships took form and flourished. During this period, political Islam either went underground or was perceived by the US-backed Arab monarchies to be a legitimizing force and allowed to operate openly and expand. But the sinful anti-Israeli rebellion against the Koran’s authentic voice (Koran 5:21), by those who claim to know better than G-d, continued unabated. While it is true that the nature of political Islam is a perversion of the religion, what is far from true is that it represents a minority of Muslims. When it comes to Jewish national rights in Israel, political Islam is in hateful opposition to all of G-d’s revelations — the Torah, the Christian Bible, and the Koran.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the US administration formulated the Carter Doctrine, and American responsibility for the Middle East was formalized into a military commitment. Within a year the Islamic Revolution in Iran had also been firmly established. In the meantime, US-Saudi cooperation with the arch-dictator Saddam Hussein attempted to kill the Iranian revolution in its infancy. This policy, ironically, had been initiated by an American president (Carter) with a long rhetorical record in support for human rights. Political Islam had taken over the major Shiite Muslim country, Iran, and the US was firmly entrenched within the region, not only to oppose but also to overthrow the new Islamic Republic. Meanwhile, the most radical Sunni Islamic terrorists (later to morph into al-Qaeda and the Islamic State) were being organized by the Saudi-US partnership to fight the Russians in neighboring Afghanistan.

Nearly all Muslims of the Middle East know the recent history of US involvement with unpopular and illegitimate regimes throughout the Arab and Muslim world. So thirty-five years after the US sided with Saddam — as President Obama stood before many of the same unrepresentative regimes that had cooperated in the long war against Iran (1980-1988) — little mention was made of Iran. And after nearly one hundred years of Islamic hatred, war, and terrorism directed against Jews and Israel, Obama praised the vast majority of Muslims who (he said) condemned terror. This was a true distortion of reality. It would’ve been like the emperor of China telling a pre-civil-war white American audience how good they’ve been in opposing black slavery. But when it comes to Jewish history, especially as it concerns Muslims, Obama knows little. Then to make matters even worse, the president had the audacity to speak to these same representatives of autocratic majority-Muslim regimes, of human rights and democratic legitimacy. After about five minutes, the rhetorical emptiness of the occasion became as clear as the White House crystal.

Obama is the same president who apologized to the Iranians over the CIA’s involvement in the overthrow of a democratic Iranian government back in 1953. He knows recent history (at least from a left-wing perspective). He certainly understands the concept of regional hegemony and neo-colonialism. He opposed the American invasion of Iraq. And because of this opposition, he never bothered to develop a coherent policy on Syria. But ISIS is embedded in Syria, and it is because of Obama’s failure to aid the original democratic forces opposed to the dictator Assad that ISIS was allowed the space to develop a second wind. The al Qaeda brand had been defeated by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, in Iraq. But because of Obama’s inaction in Syria, they found a new home and sprang back to life.

Political Islam and pro-American illegitimate Arab regimes are the only two political spaces open in the modern Middle East. Other than a regionally isolated Israel (living with two very shaky peace treaties and a very cold people-to-people peace), democracy is nowhere to be seen in the entire Levant. But without a full and total commitment to democratic structures, political Islam will continue to grow. Rhetoric aside, what is needed is a truly moderate democratic revolution in the Arab world to bridge the gaps between tribes, ethnicities, sects and religions. Obama gives a pretty speech, but where is the substance of his policy? The fact of the matter is that the US is incapable of accomplishing this vast task alone. The US needs a real coalition, and this coalition needs to be at the highest levels of international cooperation and coordination. Weak and illegitimate Arab states, along with peripheral NATO allies, might sound good to inexperienced observers, but such a so-called coalition is empty of either commitment or firepower.

Obama can’t risk going into Syria without a Russian partner. That has been this president’s reality from the beginning of the Arab Spring. But closer cooperation with the Russians in the Middle East is impossible without an alternative US policy on NATO European expansion. Obama and company (ex-Secretary of State Clinton included) never went that far. So from the beginning the president has been stymied over a fear of superpower escalation in Syria. And the situation remains the same today as it did in the summer of 2013. That was when Obama wavered and hesitated over Syria, causing his allies to doubt his word. Although Obama has been strong with the spoken word, simple rhetoric is not a replacement for coordinated action. Obama needs Putin for a UN Security Council directive to establish a military presence in Syria. Only UN blue helmets can defeat both Assad and the Sunni Islamist forces poised against him. Only the UN can defeat the growing threat that ISIS and al Qaeda pose to the entire region and world. The Sunni-Shiite proxy war in Iraq and Syria can only be stopped through concerted international action.

It is in America’s best interest to forge a foreign policy that protects minority populations throughout the region, Shiite as well as Sunni. This policy must be seen throughout the Muslim world as powerful, inclusive of all the world’s major powers (with at least G5 and G20 backing) yet not be perceived as imperial. It must be linked to Russia and China and also include India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey (perhaps many others). But a permanent UN presence in Syria is not the answer either. Syria must be rebuilt both physically and politically. But so must the failed region of the Middle East. Yes, the American president is correct that democratic structures and economic dynamism will play significant roles in any reconstruction effort. But most important of all, the policy must address the future military dimension of the entire region. It must include all nuclear facilities, non-state actors, and the hegemonic designs of all potential Middle East states. What is needed is a broad international peace plan for the Middle East and not another NATO-only military invasion. A separate nuclear deal that leaves the region at Iran’s feet would also be a big mistake and could cause a regional nuclear arms race.

What is needed by the President of the United States is a real blueprint for international action. The world is falling into chaos, and empty rhetoric is not a solution. On May 9th in Moscow, the leaders of Russia and China will be celebrating the seventieth anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. Barak H. Obama must not boycott this event. It is urgent that he attend. And in the aftermath of the celebrations, an all-important summit must occur, where all the leaders of the UN Security Council can develop that crucial blueprint together. Speeches are nice, but they are never a replacement for a lack of policy and action.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).
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