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Scene: A nightclub in Morocco.

Abdul: “I’m sorry, sir, this is a private room.”
German official [from the Nazi-controlled DeutschBank]: “You dare not keep me out of here!”
Rick: “Your cash is good at the bar.”
German official
: “What! Do you know who I am?”
Rick: ‘I do. You’re lucky the bar’s open to you.”

–“Casablanca,” (1942)

By Barry Rubin

First it was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the Iranian revolution.

Hey, he said in effect, Yes, I’m a Persian, Yes, I’m a Shia, but I hate Israel and want to destroy it! And besides we’re all Muslims. So let me lead the Middle East. I know the way to kick the Americans out of the Middle East, too. By force! And the blood spilled and behold, Iran was popular for a while. But the Arabs and Sunni eventually found other heroes, and some became frightened of Iran’s power.

Then there was Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi dictatorship.

Hey, he said in effect, I am an Arab, I am a Sunni. True, I am a Godless atheist who kills believers. But I not only hate the Americans and Israelis but I also hate the Shia and those Shia heretics. So let me lead the Middle East. I know how to defeat them! By force! And the blood spilled and behold, Iraq was popular for a while. But then he led Iraq to disaster, and was defeated and then killed.

Then there was Usama bin Ladin.

He said, I am an Arab, I am a Sunni. True, I am no trained cleric. But I hate the Americans. What? Oh, yes, forgot about that one. I also hate Israel. I know how to defeat them! By force! So let me lead the Middle East. By force! And the blood spilled and behold, Usama bin Ladin was popular for a while. And then he was killed, too.

Then there was Muhammad Fadlallah of Hizballah.

He said in effect, I am an Arab, though a Shia. I am a cleric! I have it all. I hate the Americans (though many of them don’t even realize it) and Israel. I know how to defeat them! By force! See, I won the war! Oops! Spoke too soon, heh! And the blood spilled and Fadlallah was popular for a while, Lebanon was in ruins though, still, Hizballah seized state power there. But he sided with Iran and the Syrian dictatorship so the Sunni Arabs waxed wroth.

And now, there is Yusuf al-Qaradawi and the Muslim Brotherhood and they can say: We’re Arab! We’re Muslim! We’ve got it all, including the most respected Sunni Islamist in the world as our guide! We don’t need no stinkin’ Persians or Shias! (Film reference: “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”)

Soon we will take over Egypt. We hate the Americans and Israel. We know how to defeat them! By force! True, Egypt lost in 1948 and 1956 and 1967 and, ultimately, in 1973, too. Still, a few Allahu Akhbar’s will take care of that. True, if we were aggressive we might lose all that U.S. aid but what’s money compared to the Will of Allah and the prospect of heaven? Besides, America is collapsing; Israel is losing its support—the more concessions, the more aggressive we will be. And we have our Hamas friends.

There is something different this time, however, since there is still another savior of Islam in the field: Turkish President Recep Erdogan. He says: True, I’m not an Arab but I’m Sunni. And I hate the United States, though I don’t say so in public. And I know how to defeat them: by force! Let’s go and fight! And the Arab League leaders erupt in cheers and chant his name. Then the Muslim Brotherhood discovers he is too subtle for them, he wants to keep the Islamism secret until all power is seized and they disagree with that strategy.

Still, Erdogan is making his leadership bid. Here he is at the Arab League foreign minister’s meeting: “It is time for us to take responsibility for our common future….We are entitled to meet the righteous demands of our people using any legitimate means.”

Note two phrases: “our common future” means forget about Arab nationalism. All us Muslims got to stick together. Seeing Turks as Europeans is an obsolete notion for him. Ninety years of secular, Western-oriented nationalism is over.

“Any legitimate means” means the right and need to go to war against Israel. Of course, the U.S. government still acts as if nothing has changed, that Turkey is not just a reliable ally but an especially honored role model, star ally.

Incidentally, don’t waste any time on the lies and denials, here’s Turkey’s foreign minister explaining the new policy of Turkey being leader of the Middle East as he secretly expressed it to a meeting of high-level ruling party officials and as made available to us by Wikileaks.

And let’s not forget Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser; and Syria’s Assad dynasty; and, of course, Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasir Arafat. All of them also had the same basic program. All of them failed miserably and left their people worse off.

I keep thinking of George Costanza of “Seinfeld” explaining, “You think sickness like that grows on trees? Nobody is sicker than me, nobody….I’m disturbed! I’m depressed! I’m inadequate! I got it all!”

There were some others—King Abdallah of Jordan; Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt; Bashir al-Gemayel of Lebanon. They were all murdered, though, by other locals. King Hussein of Jordan isn’t around any more. So let’s see, demagogues who back terrorism and violence, hate the West, and refuse compromise fail miserably and become heroes. Moderates who want to focus on economic progress (including here Husni Mubarak) and peacemaking are jeered and killed or deposed by their own people.

Might there be a pattern here?

Meanwhile, like Bart Simpson, President Barack Obama and other Western leaders keep writing on the blackboard one hundred times: Now, if only we prove to them we’re their friends they’ll like us.

Maybe, say the Europeans, if we recognize a Palestinian state they will like us! Maybe if we say enough things about Muslims they’ll like us! After all, it is all our fault, or Israel’s fault, that they are angry. They couldn’t possibly want a revolution based on a radical ideology followed by a repressive dictatorship because that’s what they really want!

Reminds me of the lyrics to “I Hope I Get It” from “A Chorus Line”:

“I think I’ve got it.
I think I’ve got it.
I knew he liked me all the time.
Still it isn’t over….What does he want from me?
What should I try to be?”

In other words, Western leaders aren’t protecting their interests. They’re auditioning for the role of Middle East hero against those who can say they are a Muslim or even an Arab. Guess who’s going to get the part? Are they going to persuade the producers that they hate Israel more than Qaradawi or Erdogan or Fadlallah? That they will promote Islam as well as people like that? That they will kick the West (that is, themselves) out of the Middle East?

In contrast, a Gulf Arab, who hates all this stuff, gave the alternative in a private conversation: “I don’t want an American president to behave like an Arab. I want an American president who will behave like an American.”

The United States and Europe should be preparing to audition for a very different part in a very different production. How about “Casablanca” or “High Noon”? Obama might be better advised (and it would be less of a stretch) to go out for the Noel Coward role for “In Which We Serve.” Or even “The Four Feathers” in which a coward finds his inner hero.(Warning: Watch only the 1939 version.) Funny, they don’t make films like those any more.

They better start making politicians like that very soon!

The good news: If you are reading this you have already learned. Explain it to everyone you know.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

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