Getting the US elections out of proportion

On the eve of the US elections the Arab media has been full of analyses and forecasts about the consequences of the results and their potential impact on the turbulent Middle Eastern area with its conflicts, crises and revolutions.

Many of their arguments are wishes disguised as forecasts, and others reveal the grudge and skepticism behind their thinly-veiled rhetoric. In both cases, and other cases too, Arab media analysis often strays away from the reality of what goes on in the different political kitchens in America. Just as some believe that the elections will have all the answers and solutions to the numerous problems existing in the Middle East, topped by the Syrian tragedy, others argue that these will further exacerbate the ongoing crises, conspiracies and conflicts.

This close observation of the elections is not confined to the Middle East.  If you look at the international media you will find the same lurid interest and avid attention, but with a different analytical framework. The Arab reception of such political events reflects the political trauma inherent in Arab political culture, which often resorts to blaming what is distant and unavailable instead of facing up to local and regional responsibilities.

In the past it has been common for Arab publics to detect the "Italian finger" or sometimes the "English footprint" behind every political development, a role which has more recently fallen to "the Americans". For a few decades now popular minds and elitists alike have accorded the US a weight and influence over events that fills authoritarian Arab literature with imperialistic conspiracy  theories in general, and the conspiracy of American imperialism specifically. And this conspiracy has been very beneficial to a crowd of tyrannical authorities which aimed to consolidate the basis of oppression in the countries which they took over, with no legitimacy.

I am not arguing that we should underestimate the political, economic, intelligence or military roles which can be attributed to America's superpower status, which had no sooner been relieved of their Leviathan struggle with the Red Soviet Star than they found themselves once again locked in confrontation with the corruption and ambitions of the Russian bear.  We cannot, in analyzing this power trajectory ovelook the importance of a history littered with coup attempts, support for military dictatorships in Latin America, or in the Middle East, in particular.  We can’t just turn the other way from the great economic influence that has been exerted through pumping money and weapons to the State of Israel, a state that occupies Arab lands and metes out tyranny and death towards its people.

The two candidates, in fact, vied with each other over who could gain more of Israel’s trust and even that of the extreme wing of the Israeli administration, from the speech of Barack Obama before the General Assembly in September in which he devoted a significant part of it to talking about the Iranian nuclear programme from the perspective of the safety and security of Israel, to the last debate on foreign policies in which neither candidate was shy about their unconditional support for the State of Israel. But this amount of documented knowledge is not enough to hide the truth that the US state - no matter if it is represented by Obama or Romney – is, like many other economic and military superpowers, going through a difficult economic phase and facing several huge challenges that divert its leaders away from the pursuit of influence in terms of military might. Many complex domestic policy concerns that Americans -"government and people" - consider as a priority are drawing them away from the affairs of other nations. Subjects that once were of world interest are now ranked below the set of day to day concerns of the American street. The belated entry of the US into World War II inevitably springs to mind.

On the contrary, despite the fact that many Arabs are keen to obtain a visa to travel to the "Land of Dreams" and to acquire that green card or even American citizenship, the ratio of hatred and suspicion of the vicious policies of this country by Arab governments and peoples does not seem to diminish. Totalitarian and tyrant governments can safely blame all of the crises and the institutionalized impoverishment of their people on Uncle Sam, and his ‘satanic’ projects with his regional allies.

Worn out Leftist “pavlovian” ideologies have fuelled the intimidatory hate speech towards the unknown/known US, turning the attention away from discussing their own failures in theory and implementation. Religious ideologies take the same route but are more pragmatic and intelligent in the way that they sometimes welcome the role of the US, justifying it with ideological arguments that are equally worn out.  Few indeed are those who look at the American factor in the Middle East as part of a larger combination of factors differing in size and significance, and sometimes intersecting or sometimes clashing. Moreover, the Americans, either out of ignorance or knowingly, like to be looked at in this way: they like to feel big, important, and feared.

Keeping up the hopes of decisive action once the elections have been decided, for Syria and its people especially, is part of the political, moral and humanitarian illusions we are dealing with here. And it is an indicator of the amount of ignorance there is of the political and institutional processes taking place in America, which only dreamers would regard as like a magician who comes out of Aladdin’s lamp to reward him with whatever he craves.

Instead, we ought to have reckoned that the first term of office as president is one long presidential campaign, and this would have been the case had Romney won. As for Obama, he will at least be free from this burden, which may help him to follow a policy more in line with what he once promised in his early speech in Cairo University.

Then the other thing to bear in mind is that all external factors and forces "imperialist and reactionary, colonial and even outer space", no matter how powerful and influential they are, are not able to change the will of the Syrian people. Syrians know well deep down that the solution to their humanitarian and political tragedy will be a product of societal awareness and synergy between the forces seeking change in our country, and that here and here alone lies our salvation and the chance to walk towards a dignified and free life.

About the author

Salam Kawakibi is deputy director of the Arab Reform Initiative