American perplexity on Mideast trends

By Rami G. Khouri, The Daily Star, Lebanon

After an extended stay in the United States that allowed me to speak with Middle East specialists and interested citizens in many cities, I sense a new theme that broadly defines American attitudes to developments in the Middle East: perplexity. Of course, there is neither a single view among the diversity that comprises the United States, nor is there a single focus to the Middle East, which includes among its main issues the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran, oil, terrorism and the ongoing Arab uprisings and citizen revolts for dignity and democracy.

Many Americans – officials and ordinary citizens alike – seem slightly confused about how to react to these new realities across the region, because they emphasize two phenomena that had always been largely avoided in American eyes: the true values and sentiments of ordinary Arab men and women, and the persistent contradictions in U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The ongoing Arab citizen revolts have forced Americans to reconsider how they had viewed the people of the region, now that hundreds of thousands, even millions, of Arabs are out in the streets fighting, and in many cases dying, for their liberty. Americans pride themselves on being in the global vanguard of societies that value liberty and democracy, and in the Middle East a mainstay of American policy and Israeli propaganda (the two often coincide) has been that Israel is the only democracy in the region, and therefore it enjoys unquestioning U.S. support.

The first level of American perplexity is how to respond to Arabs who are willing to risk their lives for freedom and democracy. There is no clear consensus on this across the U.S. On the one hand, Americans instinctively are attracted to support subjugated people who fight for their freedom, whether in Kosovo or Benghazi; on the other hand, free Arabs are likely to express views, make demands or adopt policies that go against prevailing U.S. positions.

The reality of more free and democratic Arabs shatters the Zionist line of Israel being the only democracy in the region, which takes away from those lazy or ideologically terrorized American politicians the easy excuse they had to be blindly pro-Israeli. Americans find themselves forced to define their support for Israel in more nuanced and realistic terms, which is a challenge that they are not used to.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

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