By Barry Rubin
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech justifying Obama Administration Middle East policy changes everything. True, it isn’t surprising. I’ve been writing for almost three years about how the current U.S. government thinks these things.
Do not underestimate this speech’s importance. It isn’t a reluctant acceptance that Islamists might win elections and take over countries. It is an enthusiastic endorsement of that idea.
But now there can be no doubt that Obama’s Middle East policy is engaged in what might be the biggest blunder in the history of U.S. foreign policy. Millions of people will bemoan it as delivering their countries into the grip of repressive dictatorships.
The speech can be summarized as follows:
Islamist regimes—at least those whose “behavior” is proper–are good. If Islamists exercise political power they will be moderate. Thus, the United States will not merely tolerate but will actually support Islamists taking power.
The Obama Administration is now on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizballah, and the Taliban (“moderate” wing). It is the equivalent of an American government telling you that Communism and fascism are no threat because they can be tamed by participating in elections and being in power
Thus, the Obama Administration has openly sided with Israel’s enemies. I don’t mean the Palestinian Authority (PA) or Saudi Arabia. That would be tolerable. We’re talking here about openly genocidal, antisemitic groups.
It has also sided with the enemies of the PA, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. It has sided with the enemies of democratic forces in Iran, Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon. Indeed, the U.S. government is working to empower the most dangerous enemies of democracy in the Middle East.
What’s especially remarkable is that this strategy is based on no evidence. All Clinton can cite is a single case—Turkey—that proves the exact opposite of what the Obama Administration claims.
Here are five examples on the other side: The Oslo peace process was based on the belief that the radical nationalist PLO would be moderated by being given power, guns, and money. Has the result been peace and moderation?
The U.S. government favored the participation of Hamas in the Palestinian election. It won and then staged a coup. Today Gaza is ruled by a radical regime that foments war on Israel and openly proclaims its intention to commit genocide on Jews.
Hizballah participated in the Lebanese elections, won, and while it cannot institute a Shia Islamist regime in a country where 70 percent aren’t Shia Muslims and its opponents are armed, it is doing all it can to make that country a dictatorship that will attack Israel when it thinks the timing is right.
In Egypt, we have seen the descent into anarchy and violence; the persecution of Christians, the unleashing of fanaticism. Where is the debate in the Muslim Brotherhood to indicate moderation? Where is the renunciation of past extremism? Where is the reinterpretation of Islamic texts to justify a totally different worldview? These things don’t exist.
Turkey, the great role model, is seeing democracy wane as the Islamists arrest their enemies, take over the media, and adopt an anti-Western foreign policy that backs radical Islamists elsewhere.
March of folly indeed. This is a sprint.
“Not all Islamists are alike. Turkey and Iran are both governed by parties with religious roots, but their models and behavior are radically different. There are plenty of political parties with religious affiliations—Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim—that respect the rules of democratic politics. The suggestion that faithful Muslims cannot thrive in a democracy is insulting, dangerous, and wrong. They do it in this country every day.”
True, Not all Muslims are alike but all Islamists are alike.
- By the same token, not all Russians are alike but all Communists under Lenin and Stalin were alike.
- And, not all Germans were alike but all Nazis were alike.
- Not all organizations composed of Caucasians are alike but all members of the Klu Klux Klan are alike.
- The fact that European Christian Democratic and Israeli religious parties respect the rules of democratic politics has no connection with whether the Muslim Brotherhood will do so.
Is that clear?
What’s striking about the administration’s position is the lack of the most basic logic. True, a political party with religious affiliations might “respect the rules of democratic politics.” But that doesn’t mean parties favoring a Sharia state in which, say, Muslims who convert to another religion are sentenced to death, fall into that category. There is no proof that Islamist parties “respect the rules of democratic politics” except their willingness to run in elections. The Nazis and Communists also ran in elections. So what?
And what is a moderate Muslim? He might be a conservative traditionalist; liberal reformer; Kurdish or Berber nationalist; tribal loyalist; etc. But that doesn’t apply to an Islamist, someone who wants to fundamentally transform the existing society into one governed by Sharia law under a hardline interpretation, wiping of Israel off the map, subordinating Christians and women; and driving Western influence out of the region.
Winning an election and forming a government is only the first step. What does that government do? It passes laws that enforce an Islamist conception of society; puts its people into the bureaucracy, rewards imams who are radical and fires those who are moderate; rewrites textbooks and what appears on the media, chooses judges and the commanders of the armed forces; and sponsors terrorism against other states.
It would be something else completely for the U.S. government to say: We will accept the Muslim Brotherhood in government if it takes power in an election, but we will do everything possible to stop that from happening. That would be a proper U.S. interests’ policy.
Clinton did set some conditions but in no way hinted that any Islamist party might violate them:
“Parties committed to democracy must reject violence; they must abide by the rule of law and respect the freedoms of speech, religion, association, and assembly; they must respect the rights of women and minorities; they must let go of power if defeated at the polls; and in a region with deep divisions within and between religions, they cannot be the spark that starts a conflagration. In other words, what parties call themselves is less important to us than what they actually do.”
Where to begin?
- The Islamists do not reject violence. The Muslim Brotherhood supports terrorism against Israel, Americans, and Iraqi Shia. It will soon be backing violence, at least covertly, against Christians, secularists, and others. That is their doctrine.
- Abide by the rule of law. Well, they will democratically change the law into a repressive dictatorship. The Communists and fascist regimes also had laws that they enforced
- Freedom of speech. No speech that criticizes Islam, their interpretation of Islam, or themselves, as we already see in Turkey where a former general was just sentenced to prison on the charge of having criticized the judgment in conversation with a villager.
- Freedom of religion. No building or repair of churches, no equality of treatment for Christians. In Turkey a great historic church is now being converted into a mosque.
- Association and assembly. Even now, look what happens if Christians try to demonstrate in Cairo
- Respect the rights of women and minorities. Laws will be changed to take away women’s rights because Sharia will govern.
- And what will the U.S. government do if these democratic practices don’t happen? Might it not be too late?
- “The suggestion that faithful Muslims cannot thrive in a democracy is insulting, dangerous, and wrong. They do it in this country every day.” Can you really be that dangerously stupid? There is a difference between non-Islamists and Islamists; a difference between a group that is a tiny minority in the United States and that is—in Egypt—90 percent of the population. Clinton is suggesting that to say Islamists are not moderate democrats is to be an Islamophobe and a racist.
That paragraph is thus full of careless and ignorant rhetoric. The U.S. government seems to be defining a “faithful Muslim” as someone who supports the Muslim Brotherhood. Who do you think is going to be filling the prisons of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Gaza, and Lebanon? Faithful Muslims, that’s who.
She continues, “In Tunisia, an Islamist party has just won a plurality of the votes in an open, competitive election. Its leaders have promised to embrace freedom of religion and full rights for women. To write a constitution and govern, they will have to persuade secular parties to work with them. And as they do, America will work with them, too, because we share the desire to see a Tunisian democracy emerge that delivers for its citizens and because America respects the right of the Tunisian people to choose their own leaders.”
Notice that she says “as they do” and not “if they do.” She assumes moderation. A proper approach would be to say: If they do we will work with them and if they don’t we will work against them. Moreover, she assumes that the Islamists “share” America’s desire for Tunisian democracy. They don’t have to prove anything or pass any tests.
Who is writing these speeches?
The premise Clinton employs toward the Islamists is the exact equivalent of Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize before making any peace. They are certified as moderate democrats without doing anything democratic except for participating in elections.
There are so many problems with this speech that I will continue this discussion in a second article discussing Clinton’s answer to her question, “Why does America promote democracy one way in some countries and another way in others?”
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 http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com