Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, recently presented the state department’s 2015 Human Rights Report.
When asked why some oppressive regimes would not be singled out for criticism and how he would describe American reaction to the toppling of Mohamed Morsi, the elected president of Egypt, he said, “These are difficult questions.” He stressed that human rights was not the only matter that concerned U.S. foreign policy.
Mr. Malinowski’s defense of America’s differentiated criticism of countries with poor human rights records, rendered the Human Rights Report meaningless. When we cherry-pick whom we accuse and where we look the other way in the face of violations of human rights, we lose credibility.
An example of America’s selective application of its criticism of human rights abuses is the Arab world. The preservation of the status quo in those countries has been the preferred American policy and the U.S. has always been supportive of conservative Arab leaders, regardless of how they treated their people.
During the Cold War, when the Free World faced an existential threat from the Soviet empire, this policy was understandable. But after the Soviet Union disintegrated and communism collapsed, America’s support of dictators became unnecessary and, as the carnage in the Arab world demonstrates, counterproductive.
The policy favoring corrupt rulers no longer works. Foreign affairs must focus on the well-being of the populace and have an active diplomatic approach. The people are the majority. Stability is theirs to bring about and preserve.
The Arab world’s evolvement into continually rising fanaticism is the consequence of decades-long political, social, and economic stagnation. The growing extremism is the result of a region-wide struggle for popular participation in those countries’ political, social, and economic benefits, the fruits of which presently belong exclusively to small elites.
The responsible people for this carnage are the Arab world’s rulers who, for seventy years, have oppressed their people and exploited their countries’ resources for their personal gain. They have angered the increasingly educated Arab populace and shuttered the door to peaceful reform.
Arab masses have concluded that only the annihilation of their elites could free them from subjugation and exploitation. The ruling elites in those countries have also realized that they have waited too long to initiate reforms. They understand that change now would not only lead to the loss of their power and privilege; it would also mean the end of their lives.
Finally and inevitably, the Arab elites and populace have stepped onto the path of violence, which initially will cause enormous destruction and great numbers of deaths.
This tragic process is the result of the lack of reforms over a long period of time. Long-delayed change has engendered pent-up anger that is now exploding with devastating force and effect.
The changes that are descending upon the Arab nations are a historic part of their socio-political development. After World War II, when the colonial nations left their colonies, the new local leaders began constructing their own institutions and governing structures.
In order to modernize their administrative machinery, they adopted an abridged version of Western systems. Since they neither intended to democratize their countries nor did they care for the social and legal aspects of Western democracies, they cut off such democratizing elements as human rights, pluralistic institutions, freedom of expression, and an independent judiciary.
They wanted to adopt Western governing systems as management tools to strengthen their grip on power. The truncated structure served their purpose. It centralized decision-making in their hands, tightening their bureaucratic grip over the people. They let loose a vast and violent secret police on the citizens. In cases of large-scale disturbances, they unleashed even the army upon the people. What Syrian President Assad does is nothing new in the Arab world.
To further fortify their hold on power, Arab leaders introduced central economic planning. By centralizing economic decision-making in their own hands, they amassed enormous fortunes for themselves.
This indisputable authority exercised by a few has given rise to nepotism and pervasive corruption, leading to political, social, and economic stagnation and dividing the rulers from the ruled into two hostile camps.
Angered by the West’s support of their ruling elites, Arab regime opponents turned to socialism for guidance and the Soviet Union for political and material backing. When the Soviet Union disintegrated and Russia lost its ability to offer political and material assistance, most Arab oppositions chose religion as justification and guidance for their actions. The longer their struggle lasted the more extreme became their religious orientation and sectarian hostilities. ISIS is the latest and most extreme manifestation of this progression.
While Islam is used as unifying factor, it is neither the main cause nor the final goal of the rebellion. The aim of this progressively lethal conflict is opening the political system to the wider populace and assuring an equitable distribution of the area’s economic wealth. In short, it is a civil strife with all its savagery and excesses that seem to be a part of civil wars.
Washington should stay out of the mayhem that has engulfed the Arab world and cease helping dictators to survive. They are not America’s friends. They neither believe in the values America stands for, nor do they care for the well-being of their own people.
American policy makers should learn not to be fixated on military solutions for every hostility that flares up somewhere. They should not always conclude that all unrest is directed against the United States.
Continuing its present policy, America will find itself fighting a host of ISIS-like phenomena for years to come and unnecessarily making itself a party to the conflict and inviting terror attacks on Americans and U.S. interests.
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