Hisham Melhem writes: Former President George W. Bush bequeathed to Barack Obama a precarious and partially broken Arab World. A spectacularly ambitious imperial attempt at remaking the region, beginning in Mesopotamia, crumbled mightily in the inhospitable desert of Iraq.
The dream of planting a Jeffersonian democracy in the land of the two rivers, metamorphosed into an unprecedented sectarian bloodletting. Bush’s freedom agenda, coming after he admitted – correctly – that for more than fifty years U.S. administrations neglected human rights in the Middle East in the name of maintaining stability, the free flow of oil, and striking alliances against the Soviet Union, was ill-conceived, naively pursued, and badly executed.
Bush’s ‘War on Terrorism’ was equally flawed; Al-Qaeda was cut to pieces, but like the mythical Hydra it metastasized and produced the monstrous ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS). But hard as it is to conceive, President Obama will bequeath to his successor a breathtakingly pulverized – figuratively and, yes, physically – region, where in some states like Syria and Iraq whole communities have been uprooted and once great ancient cities have been ransacked, and precious cultural and religious jewels have been destroyed.
There are no more streets in some Syrian cities; The Assad regime turned them into shallow valleys of broken concrete, twisted metal and shattered personal artifacts indicating that they were once full of life. If hell has streets, they will surely look like the streets of Syria’s cities today. It shall be written, that the words of a sitting American President in the second decade of the 21st century justifying his inaction and his inane silence in the face of the staggering savagery of the Syrian regime – which repeatedly used chemical weapons, barrel bombs, medieval sieges and starvation against his own people – were stunning in their moral vacuity. The President of the United States will be judged as an accomplice in the historic betrayal of the Syrian people – and, to a lesser extent, the Iraqi and Libyan peoples – and in the creation of the worst refugee problem in the Middle East in a century.
Surely, the primary responsibility for the agonies of the peoples of the Middle East lies in the hands of the political and cultural classes that inherited the new political structures erected in modern times by the colonial powers over the remnants of old civilizations.
True, European powers drew artificial boundaries – most countries have such borders – not taking into consideration the wishes of the affected peoples, whose promises were rarely honored. This left behind wounds that have yet to heal. But in subsequent years, the ideologues of Arab Nationalism and Political Islam, the military strongmen who perfected military coups along with some atavistic hereditary rulers maintained the ossified status quo or destroyed nascent and relatively open, diverse societies and representative forms of governance in countries like Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Tunisia.
However, Western meddling and military intervention contributed to the rise of Arab autocracy and despotism. The American invasion of Iraq did not cause sectarianism in that tortured land; that dormant scourge was awakened by years of Ba’athist despotism and Saddam Hussein’s decision to invade Iran in 1980.
But the way the American invasion was conceived and executed accelerated Iraq’s descent into the abyss. Hence America’s partial political and moral responsibility for Iraq’s current torment. President Obama’s eagerness to disengage himself and his administration from Bush’s Iraq burden explains his reticence to push for a residual force after 2011, or to seriously and personally continue to engage Iraqis and help those forces willing to live in a unitary civil state, his deafness to repeated warnings that former Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki’s sectarian policies were deepening the sectarian fissures, makes him a partial owner of Iraq’s chaos. [Continue reading…]