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The Soloist and the Orchestra Conductor

The Soloist and the Orchestra Conductor

Monday, 2 November, 2020 - 11:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Tomorrow, the Americans head to the polls. The event is nearly as exciting as the FIFA World Cup. The whole world is eager to know the name of the man who will reign in the Oval Office.


People around the world have the right to impatiently wait for the results. America is not far, despite the oceans that separate it from other continents.


Every country feels that it borders the United States. Maybe because this gigantic country is not just present through its embassies, but also through its fleets and satellites. It is capable of capturing every movement and hear any whisper. Its military machine is able to reach the most remote targets and turn them into mere rubble and ashes.


For months, the world has been wondering who will be the master of the White House. Studies and speculation have spread about the meaning of President Donald Trump remaining in office and the cost of Joe Biden’s victory. Wise leaders know that the best way to cope with the US elections is to well maintain their homes especially if they are affected by the results.


It is the constant maintenance works that are essential for the maps to avoid ageing and falling victim to old-new diseases. Maintenance begins with consolidating national unity by listening to the people, understanding their demands, fears and aspirations, and providing conditions for stability. In fact, economy is the key and prosperity is the guardian of such stability. Economy means good management of resources, development of human capabilities and improvement of education within well-studied and transparent plans.


Your ability to deal with the master of the White House begins with the good management of your home. America is not a charity and its president is not Santa Claus. Before going to appointments, be prepared. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know the importance of the cards you have, what you need and the chances of meeting the US on the bridge of mutual interests. The language of interests is the most persuasive. It persists when names, moods and tendencies change.


In the past decades, the region paid the price for having the decision in the hands of men who failed to understand the world and the United States.


Saddam Hussein, for example, could not understand how Washington would not deal a devastating blow to Iran when it saw Americans held hostage in the US embassy in Tehran. One day, Saddam told his office manager, Hamed al-Jubouri: “What historic or major decisions could a man take just because he won the support of 51 percent of the electorate?” He meant that an exceptional leader derives his power from history, not from the voters, and should not acknowledge the presence of opponents. It was difficult for a soloist like Saddam, a descendant of the Baath and the cruelties of Iraqi history, to understand how America could be both strong and weak.


Ali Abdullah Saleh believed that America could not understand the complexities of our region. I told him once that there were increasing security incidents in Yemen, and he replied that the situation in Sanaa was better than in New York. I asked him about the escape of prisoners from the Al-Qaeda organization. He said he expected some of them to return to prison because they were “in contact with security officials.” I told him that America would not accept that, and he replied that the US could not understand the complexities of our societies. He joked that America was like a beautiful and strong woman, and it was better not to fall in love with her, just as it was healthier not to be hostile to her.


Moammar al-Gaddafi was looking at the White House from his tent or the Bab al-Azizia barracks. American presidents would come and go, and the leader of the Al-Fateh Revolution was amassing Soviet weapons and attracting groups that were trying to set America on fire. He was mocking the Western leaders because they were unable to establish the rule of “the palace or the grave.” He got scared when he realized that the US could reach him in his hideout in Bab Al-Azizia barracks. He was terrified by America when he saw its army uproot the regime in Iraq. He was frightened when he saw the noose around Saddam’s neck. Saddam, who misunderstood America when he assumed that he could invade Kuwait and address Washington from a position of strength, or be its strong partner in the region.


Hafez al-Assad was more careful. He did not hesitate to ally with Moscow, but without becoming a Soviet agent in the region. Even when he was sitting in the Soviet lap, he always made sure to keep an open door with Washington.


Today, we live in a different phase. The world has changed, so did the US. The Middle East itself is witnessing a clear shift in priorities and ranks.


Trump’s role in the Middle East was not simple, neither in the war on ISIS nor in confronting Iran’s nuclear ambitions and punishing the widespread attack it is waging in the region. His mission on the Arab-Israeli front was also important, so were the changes he brought about and that are here to stay.


We are in the final meters of the race that many hope will be settled quickly and without America being dragged into chaos, confrontations or paralysis. American interests are the reference in policy-making, regardless of the changes in administrations. The difference is in the way these interests are understood and the best means to secure them.


There are those who see that the main US institutions, especially the departments of foreign affairs and defense, are tired of the soloist, who manages world affairs via Twitter, avoiding multilateral cooperation. There are those who believe that America needs an orchestra conductor more than a soloist. An orchestra that involves the European Union, NATO, allies and other friends in containing the Chinese rise, fighting terrorism and leading a world that will emerge from the Covid-19 test poorer and more anxious.


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