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The Arabs, US Midterm Elections and Iran Sanctions

The Arabs, US Midterm Elections and Iran Sanctions

Tuesday, 13 November, 2018 - 13:30

Those are very tense, exciting times, filled with ambiguity and obstinacy.

Last week, the re-imposed US sanctions against Iran took effect. A day later, American voters went to the polls in the midterm elections, which were virtually a referendum on President Donald Trump’s policies and approaches to global political and economic issues.

As far as we, the Arabs are concerned, it is business as usual, as we have grown accustomed to watching and hoping, as a result of our decades old failure to build a proper “Arab Lobby” that would anticipate and interact.

To be fair, there may well be valid excuses.

It would very difficult, if not impossible, to build a single Arab vision, or develop unified Arab priorities abroad when the domestic scene in the Arab world is divided and disorientated, with conflicting readings and contradicting interests; where spite overtakes farsightedness, a strategy of the “necessary minimum agreement” is confused with tactics of the “acceptable margins of disagreement”.

So, if we are unable, within our own homeland, to find the required consensus to arrest our decline and establish a dialogue based on common interests, how could we ever reach the stage of building understandings and plans to deal others?

Just the opposite is how our regional competitors for supremacy in the Middle East are conducting themselves. They are quite active and maneuvering well; indeed, even, after approaching the precipice, they always manage to turn back, and thus, avoid falling. They do so for two important reasons:

1- Their decisions are centralized, controlled and coherent, so they efficiently send the desired message, and then haggle and barter efficiently in order to, at least, avoid losing when winning proves impossible.

2- They understand the strengths and weaknesses of democracy. So, on one hand they skilfully invest in the media, public relations and others instruments of “soft power”, and on the other, they know how to wait and ask, and when to insist or retreat; as they know that the ruling parties in western democracy do not govern indefinitely, but remain in power as long they win elections.

Israel, thanks to its western political traditions and culture, is pretty aware of this fact, and has mastered the game impressively.

In Iran too, despite the ruling elite’s ultra-conservatism, hawkish provocative rhetoric, and its flagrant aggressive policies has “digested” the “Israeli know-how”, and blended it successfully with its traditional “cultural dissimulation”.

This is why, it has three different discourses: the first, directed to Iranian interior within the context of its “police state” apparatus; the second, to the Arabs with the help of its sectarian militias and sponsorship of extremism and terrorism, and divisive agitation under fake “liberation” slogans; and the third, to western democracies, whereby it sends its western-educated “moderates” to reflect the desired gentle, civilized and glossy image.

Even Turkey, which feels it has every right to reclaim some of its former regional power, that was lost after the Ottoman defeat in WWI, is gradually learning from its mistakes in dealing with the West. Currently, it is playing tough and soft with Russia, its old nationalist and religious enemy; and with western Europe in the thick fog of history and repercussions of immigration; and lately with America, the former “Cold War ally” and current “uneasy partner” in the days of rising “political Islam” and “western populism”!

Barack Obama’s Middle East policies were, without doubt, totally disastrous as far as the Arabs are concerned. His policies led to freeing Iran’s hands, while destroying Arab entities through deceptive Utopian promises, that were soon undermined by immoral principles. Indeed, regardless, of appeasing Iran and favoring it at the expense of the Arabs of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, the former Democrat administration in Washington did virtually nothing for the Palestinians.

Thus, when the Republicans won the presidential elections two years ago and Trump declared his intentions to change Washington’s policies towards the Middle East, many Arabs were happy. They did, despite the new president’s hardline positions towards Muslim and Arab communities in the US, which were later implemented in a series of restrictive measures. Then, they were followed by Trump’s decision to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thus, not only serving the interests of extremist Israelis, but also the fake justifications for Iranian intervention in the region.

It is true that Trump’s rhetoric against Tehran’s “mullahs” has been tough and aggressive, and has led to the re-imposition of sanctions, but it is also true that many senior figures in his administration have repeated that its intention “was not to bring down the regime, but rather change its behavior”! In fact, during the past days, despite Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s reminder for the Iranian leadership of the 15 points he had made preconditions for settling the ongoing conflict with Iran, the decision to exempt several major importers of Iranian oil from sanctions has weakened them significantly.

On Iran too, the official US “tough” talk has not been reflected in the “soft” western stance towards Yemen’s Houthis, who are very much an integral part of Iran expansionist regional project. The same applies to Syria, where the few bombardments of regime targets soon gave way to a fluid political situation that differs little from how things were during the Obama years, augmented with tacit regional, Arab and international “normalization” with the pro-Tehran Assad regime. In the same vein, one would also deal with Washington’s passive reactions to what is happening in both Iraq and Lebanon, where pro-Iran militias dominate the scene, define and decide security strategies, and prevent at will the formation of governments.

With regard to the US midterm elections, Trump warned about the likelihood that the Democrats may win the House of Representatives. This, surely means weakening his “anti-Iran” policies, and undermining any effective measures against Tehran. If we recognize that European positions have been open against the sanctions, we need to prepare ourselves for a difficult period in the Middle East, one which would include another round of the blackmail-intended psychological war.

So, we must be aware of the clear-cut international collusion with the pro-Iran “forces of the status quo” in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, as well the intentional ignoring of Tehran’s direct responsibility in the post-Houthi coup tragedy in Yemen.

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