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al-Safir, Lebanon

America in the Middle East:
Interpretations and Possibilities

By Samir Karam

Translated By Jackson Allan

15 February 2013

Edited by Daye Lee

Lebanon - al-Safir - Original Article (Arabic)

34 days remain before the American president, Barack Obama, makes his trip to the Middle East. This is a long time if we consider what developments — mostly disturbances — are taking place in the region. The same is true if we consider that this is Obama’s first official visit as president to Israel.

Perhaps we can recall the famous picture of Obama wearing a Jewish kippah in front of the Wailing Wall in Israel. We might also remember the picture of him inside of the Holocaust museum. We know that Obama has visited Israel before. However, on this previous occasion, he was visiting Israel as a presidential candidate.

We wonder how it is that Obama hasn't made a presidential visit to Israel before. Similarly, what can he possibly gain from visiting Israel now that he has been elected for a second presidential term and Zionist support is no longer important to him? Perhaps his disagreements with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu have abated and he wants to use his connections with Netanyahu to reach a solution on the Palestine issue. Or perhaps he is trying to push Israeli public opinion in that direction for the benefit of the Palestinian National Authority, which has demonstrated a very strong tendency to side with America and the American president in efforts to find some kind of solution with the Israeli government.

Before even attempting to answer these questions, we must first understand how the American president can take a trip to the Middle East, considering all of the problems that the region is currently experiencing. To say that these disturbances are unprecedented is no exaggeration. Here, we are talking about the several different ways we believe America could be thinking about the problems of the Middle East and about its relationships with the countries there.

Firstly, it is possible that, regarding the president’s safety, America underestimates the turmoil in the Middle East while overestimating the control that the governing regimes have over security. This seems unlikely, even in light of what we know about the security procedures that accompany the president on his overseas trips. Whenever the president travels, he is preceded and accompanied by a large, highly equipped security team that paves the path that he is scheduled to take.

Secondly, it is possible that President Obama and the security team that guards him believe that he holds a special status inside the Middle Eastern countries — that the moment Obama appears in the cities, his popularity, as well as America’s popularity in the region, will make the roar of the internal disturbances subside. This is also unlikely; the turmoil reigning over the region is very closely connected to an opposition to American policies. This holds true whether we are looking at Egypt, which is a destination on the program for the presidential trip, or Syria, which, of course, is not.

Thirdly, it is possible that President Obama, along with his bodyguard and the intelligence services, believes that there is enough time before the trip begins for the countries of the region to compose themselves. This is also unlikely, to the extent that we can rule it out. The events occurring in the region are too grave for there to be any chance that they will peter out within a month. Furthermore, the turmoil is on the verge of embroiling Arab countries that were, until a short time ago, calm. The disturbances and the violence — or the revolution, as the people of the region call it — had barely come near them. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan, all of which are countries that are intimately connected to America and its hegemony, are now candidates for political, social, racial and sectarian disquiet. Even if, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, the president's program doesn’t include those countries, his visit to the region is still guaranteed to fuel more disturbances.

The fourth possibility is that the presidential trip will aggravate the existing situation further. This would cause security apparatuses in Washington and the Middle Eastern capitals to advise postponing the trip.

These hypotheticals aside, the Middle East, especially its youth, is dominated by a strong feeling that the U.S. is responsible for what happens here. The prevailing sentiment of the youth — particularly in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and Libya — is that the American administration and intelligence services don’t see these countries as sovereign homelands. Rather, they are regarded as subordinate territories, and those who govern over them are agents of the American administration. Whenever change occurs — as is currently the case in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya — America assesses the change using its own criteria to determine whether or not it is acceptable. Whether or not the changes benefit the people and help them to achieve their aspirations are of no importance. What is important in the eyes of American officials is that the changes benefit America, whether the benefits come in the form of oil or to affect its military bases and strategic situation. America’s behavior in the Middle East, more than in any other region, is based on the idea that it is always right and never makes mistakes. When the American government sensed that the people of Tunisia and Egypt were heading toward change, it hastily adopted religious authority, or at least the authority that claimed to be religious, as the foundation of the new governments. By doing so, the U.S. threw Tunisia and Egypt into the predicament they are in today. These disturbances are forcing Washington to revise its position on the Muslim Brotherhood’s authority within those two countries as well as on a broader scale.

The disappearance of social justice from the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood, which, with America’s support, currently governs Egypt, is an issue at the forefront of the revolution aiming to depose the regime. For the same reasons as before, America now seems inclined to replace the Muslim Brotherhood rulers with the Egyptian military establishment. During the many years of Mubarak’s rule, America and the military establishment became very close. The mutual understanding and general concord between the two seemed to be a good foundation for change. Perhaps what applies to Tunisia also applies to Egypt. The U.S. has always considered the military personnel in Middle Eastern countries to be the main and most ready alternative governments, able to maintain ties with America and preserve America’s interests. Thus, military intervention seems almost requisite when signs of popular revolution appear. If the Muslim Brotherhood government doesn't appear to be capable of resolving the popular revolution, America will go to great lengths to make it seem as though a military government is necessary. It is quite clear that America’s recent communications with Egypt have been almost exclusively with the military establishment. This can be seen in the recent meeting that the American military intelligence delegation held during its visit to Cairo with Egypt’s military leaders, headed by Colonel General Abdul Fatah Khalil Al-Sisi, the Minister of Defense and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

What this means is that President Obama’s visit to Egypt during his upcoming trip will aim to strengthen whichever political power can keep America’s interests inside the country safe and guarantee American domination over the government. Perhaps there is enough time remaining before the tour begins for the situation in Egypt to clear — that is to say, there will either be a decisive fall of the Muslim Brotherhood or an extenuation of current circumstances, which will lead America to believe that the problems will continue. From America’s perspective, the latter scenario would necessitate backing the military establishment.

In the eyes of the U.S., “army intervention” is necessary in the Middle Eastern countries that are gripped by their revolutions. Washington bases this difficult assessment on its idea that the army can guarantee unlimited support for America’s role and interests in the region. This idea would need to be factually investigated in order to establish the degree to which it is true.

Does the American administration realize, with all of its capacity to intervene both visibly and invisibly in the affairs of a country like Egypt, that the president may be exposed to demonstrations against America during this visit?

The possibility of demonstrations against Obama is real, whether the American security apparatuses realize it or not. But the American media's reports and broadcasts on Obama’s trip suggest only that it understands that the trip doesn't promise to bring about any results of great value. This applies equally to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to the situations in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and, of course, Syria, regardless of whether or not Obama's planned trip includes each country.

The American media expects that Obama will visit Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, although this list has not yet appeared in any official statements. Official sources have refrained from confirming or denying the schedule. The reason for this is clear. At the moment, Washington doesn't know where the revolutions will flare up or which of the regimes that America supports will fall.

The only thing that has been officially confirmed is that John Kerry will precede Obama with a visit to Israel as part of a broad tour that marks the beginning of his overseas trips as America’s new secretary of state. Therefore, we can be sure that Obama will visit Israel, where, given the nature of the regime there and of the country itself, there is no turmoil or revolution. The first piece of advice to Kerry regarding his upcoming tour is not to harbor high hopes. There is no basis for such hope, considering realistically what America can and cannot do.

The first thing that has been confirmed about trip concerns its objectives. It will focus on the Iranian nuclear issue, a move intended to appease Israel. This agenda includes the potential trajectories of the situation in Syria, which continues to puzzle Washington and has actually prevented it from taking a clear stance, with the exception of showing support for the Israeli raid on a location not far from Damascus. America now expects that more Israeli raids into Syria will occur.



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