The Anti-Arab Western Conspiracy: Fact or Fiction?
by Suliman Mustafa
Some in the Arab World have always proclaimed that the proverbial West, with the US spearheading the pack, is on a mission to undermine any resurgence of Arab unity and power. What is often cited as an example is the seemingly unending US intervention in the Arab World with its various incarnations: political, military, economic, and cultural intervention both over and covert. One can argue that at any point in time, the US is engaged in an ongoing propaganda or economic campaign against one or more Arab countries be it Sudan, Libya, Iraq, Syria and even Saudi Arabia.
Is this a malicious Western plot as the conspiracy theorists claim? Or do allegations of conspiracies signify gross political immaturity and inability to grasp and deal with modern-day realpolitiks as the pragmatists explain later in this article?
The conspiracy theorists will quickly point to the Western colonial legacy and its present day manifestation of seemingly perpetual border conflicts, pro-Western authoritarian regimes, and a status quo of cheap oil which seems to serve not the Arab World but the West. And since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, this arrangement has survived until the present day, it is argued, with the US playing the role of the hegemon succeeding but safekeeping traditional Western interests.
And given the West's strong advocacy for the democratization of the former communist countries in Europe, some Arabs find the West's steadfast support for authoritarian Arab regimes to suffer from a serious case of the double standards. It is this form of double-dealing that leads these Arabs to question whether there is a Western conspiracy to hold back development in the Arab world.
What motivates the West's alleged drive to thwart Arab progress? Some would argue it is religion and oil. The West is a Crusader at heart regardless of the secular and enlightened facade it loves to flaunt to the rest of the world. And the Crusades, we are reminded by some Western scholars, were both a religious and economic enterprise: to spread the word and reach of the Roman Pope and to plunder the legendary riches of the Orient. Well, not much has changed since then. While winning Arab converts is no longer desirable, keeping the Arabs at bay while plundering their coveted oil at a very low price is the real objective.
What about investing Arab oil profits to develop the Arab World you ask? The West ensures that most of the oil profits are re-invested in Western economies through massive defense budgets incurred by warring Arab countries and nonessential import expenditures for high-ticket luxury items that keep Western factories churning export goods and jobs while it reduces Arabs to a class of hapless consumers until the time comes when oil is non-essential to the West and then the ax of reality falls with full force. When that time has arrived, we shall be reduced to the status of impoverished nations.
But wait a minute. Does everyone agree with this assessment of the West's historical and contemporary role in the Arab world? Not exactly. The pragmatists camp argues that conspiracy theorists have abdicated their responsibility to chart their destiny by handing control over to often exaggerated or imagined forces they have already deemed beyond their control and dubbed conveniently as foreign conspiracies. Conspiracy theorists, they say, are simply a fatalistic lot.
Yes the Imperial West did draw the map of the Arab World often to its detriment. And yes the West does contribute to the maintenance of some existing power structures to ensure the stability of the West's most precious commodity: cheap oil. But no it is not a conspiracy. It is the politics of self-preservation practiced by all countries including Western and Arab countries.
Desert Storm was no conspiracy, it is claimed. The Iraqi president miscalculated his strengths vis-à-vis the West's crucial need for the unimpeded flow of cheap oil and the price it is willing to pay to ensure it. By challenging the World's vital interests in the region, Saddam invited calamity upon the Arab World. That was simply a gross error in judgment.
The pragmatists state that in this world of overlapping interests and uneven powers, it is unwise to make enemies out of countries that you may depend on for your technological and economic development. Old fashioned notions of bombastic national pride have to take a back seat to critical national developmental needs.
Had Japan continued to resist after the dropping of the nuclear bomb, Japan would be no more. Had Germany resumed its campaign of aggression after World War II, Germany would have been divided further and reduced to a pastoral economy as was the original plan. Today, Japan and Germany who have suffered crushing defeats, don't seem to cry conspiracy every time the US attempts to impose its will. They become creative at discovering workarounds and alternatives since they need the US and know its ability to enforce its will. Is this capitulation? No. It is interdependence. You get some and you give some and it is not always 50/50 at any given point in time.
What about former communists and die-hard communist groups? They are clamoring for Western technology and investments. If anyone on this earth should cry Western conspiracy, it is the former communist countries who have been brought to their knees by the Western campaign to discredit communism. Even the Vietnamese with their massive war scars have jumped through hoops to re-establish ties with the US and France - former arch rivals and fellow occupiers. Why? Because it is good for the development of their country and ensures their national survival.
The pragmatists' point is: we must rid ourselves of the anti-Western siege mentality. We are not being singled out by the West nor is there one coherent Western front.
To imply that the West is one coherent entity acting as a unit is naïve at best, the pragmatists suggest. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century and, indeed even before, the West's most lethal adversary was the West. More Western blood had been shed at the hands of other Europeans than any other adversary. World Wars I and II, including intermittent revolutions, have claimed more lives, laid waste to so many cities, and almost ruined complete generations of young men in Europe and the New World pitting Christian against fellow Christian and European against fellow European.
A brief look at US foreign policy in Latin and South America in recent history shows clearly that when US interests are at stake, US intervention becomes a likelihood. US Marines have landed on many foreign shores to protect US interests in Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, Panama, Granada, Mexico and other neighboring countries. Add to the equation the various successful attempts, bloody or peaceful, to topple regimes unfriendly to Washington. The duration of such adventures and the Vietnam conflict makes US interventions in the Arab world pale by comparison both in quantity and magnitude.
The Monroe Doctrine and Theodore Roosevelt's Corollary, right or wrong, were no conspiracy on the United States's southern neighbors; they were publicized foreign policies aimed at protecting US vital interests. Had Britain or France threatened American vital interests, the boys in uniform would be ready for action. Remember who the Americans fought against during the struggle for independence and territorial expansion: the British, French and Spanish, to name a few. All fellow Westerners.
So the alleged Christian Western Religious Front is pure nonsense, the pragmatists insist. Such a coherent religious front never existed then and does not exist today. This is a world of competitive foreign policies with diverse and dynamic interests that may on occasion coalesce to seem united and conspiratorial to the uninitiated. But most of the time these foreign actors are at varying levels of perpetual conflict or competition with each other.
And never be fooled by this facade of harmony surrounding the developed world. For more often than not, Western powers, or Eastern ones, have been at odds with each other resulting in bloody conflict. The last few tranquil years since the demise of the Soviet Union is but a microscopic slice of the history of nations hardly representative of what transpired before and scarcely a harbinger of what may follow.
As for the present state of Arab disarray, the pragmatists maintain that if Europe with its historical baggage of vicious ethnic and religious wars and revolutions can come to terms with its past and persevere to build a fragile but steadily enlarging economic and political union, surely the Arabs have little excuse for failing to do so. If South-Eastern Asian Tigers can rise from the ashes of post-War ruins to forge strong economies and varying levels of political and social reforms, surely Arab countries, which at one point had a leg-up on education and economic development, can deliver comparable performance. But the indicators tell a different story so far.
The absence of Arab political and economic successes, the pragmatists argue, signals an urgent need for reforms in education and government. Arab regimes draw upon their citizenry for the human resources needed to staff their bureaucratic institutions both civilian and military. It is these governmental institutions with their hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats where critical policies are made and enforced. And it is the thoughtful planning and honest enforcement of these policies that will contribute to the advancement or stagnation of a country. Hence the need for better education and higher moral standards for government bureaucrats in the Arab World.
The bottom line, according to the pragmatists, is that we Arabs must hold ourselves accountable to our successes and failures. No more pointing the fingers of blame at the West or the East. The buck of progress, or lack thereof, stops at the foot of every Arab in a decision making or decision influencing position no matter how high or low in the social or political hierarchies. So when some Arab regimes cry conspiracy, chances are it is an excuse for ineptness.
Both camps admit there is no shortage of Arab talent as indicated by the success stories of Arabs in foreign lands who have risen to the top in their adopted countries. Take that same Arab and put him or her in the Arab World and the story could be different. The main difference is the system.
Regardless of which school of thought you lean towards, there is a need for urgent solutions to stimulate economic growth and social equality in the Arab World and help it claim its place amongst the rapidly developing nations of the world.
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