Sunday, October 12, 2003

Arab US Relations: lecture in DC Presbyterian Church

Iraq Arab US Relations: October 12, 2003, Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church, Washington DC.

Outline of talk

Current crisis: Worsening tension between two political systems: Arab way and American way of doing things.
The two societies are facing one another through a vicious cycle of tension and conflict. On one side, you have 22 countries, divided, humiliated, fixated on tradition, insecure, yet very proud and very angry. On another, you have a political and economic super power behaving like an empire and not showing much sensitivity to region, politically (foreign policy), economically (foreign aid) and culturally (exporting ideas, products and militarism wholesale).

A. Against this socio-political backdrop the situation in Iraq is not good today:

1. Is Iraq turning into a quagmire? Budget deficit, security, climate for democracy building
2. Many Iraqis are unhappy, insecure and divided

3. The Arabs outside Iraq are angry and Americans are being killed daily

4. Americans are divided about interpretation of Iraq and Afghanistan occupation

5. The Palestinian/Israeli conflict is linked to Iraq in very unhelpful way, through violence rather than through social justice

We have two parallel problems; Arabs are too defensive about democracy and Americans are too self-oriented in foreign policy. Details below:

B. Arab Defensiveness: denial of failure and responsibility (Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajamy)
1. Recognition of responsibility: UNDP report (deficit in knowledge, freedom and gender)
1. Democracy not Palestine is first major problem of region. true but not so seen regionally.
2. Revive Arab tradition of tolerance characteristic of earlier times
3. All religions, including Islam, should be interpreted not applied literally;
4. Arab clarity on Israel’s security important psychological factor for shaping Israel foreign policy.

C. US unrealistic mind set in dealing with Arab problem: general framework of force and diplomacy: With the “carrot and the stick” US is the agent of political renewal in the Arab and Muslim World. This is a counterproductive path.
Why?
1. Change corrupt regimes theory: Democracy building has requirements. Credibility? (Remember cooperation with Saddam, Shah of Iran, and Saudi Arabia) Use of force to forge peace? Speed of operation?Unilaterism?

2. Wipe out terrorism?
a. You have to isolate terrorist systems: Terrorist are enemies of ruling regimes, especially Saddam’s; attacking Iraq has cemented terrorist leadership with people and diverted attention from war on terrorism
b. De-legitimize terrorists? Antagonizing masses and weakening ruling regimes gave terrorist a semi credible profile

C Deal with underlying causes: poverty, social justice, education etc. Most foreign aid went to Egypt and Israel and was tied to defense.

3. Liberate Islamic thinking
Media has failed the test of mediation? What is the role of conservative Christians in interpreting social justice in the region? How close are the conservative religious politicians from the current administration?

4. Create a favorable investment environment for oil and US business:
So far the style of doing business has been selling consumer items to Arabs. Can we shift the paradigm to creation of industry and jobs?

5. Set up models for democracy?
Turnkey democracy may be difficult to create. The climate must be friendly to western ideas. Prosperity and regional social justice are crucial. The paradigm may be successive approximation rather than instant models.

6. Broker peace between Israel and Palestine
a. Israel security is in lasting peace and good neighborly relations; we are not serving Jewish cause by a biased approach. International presence and comprehensive solution needed. A firm stand against settlement in occupied territories required. A gesture toward the refugee issues and a shared Jerusalem approach is a workable formula.

Conclusive remarks

1. Mindset change needed on both sides
2. Muslim nations should be allowed to experiment with democracy on their own
3. The Palestinian problem is a major barrier to regional peace; a regional approach to peace.
4. Religious reform must be reviewed from a perspective of respect on both sides
5. Foreign aid must not be too tied to politics.
6. Democracy follows shared prosperity
6. NGOs must become more vocal on issues of war and peace.

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