Since assuming office, it would appear that President Obama has tried to close the growing rift between Muslims and the West, an effort highlighted by his Cairo Speech. But in the wake of the Arab Spring, the White House risks throwing any and all improvement down the drain and damaging U.S.-Muslim relations as never before.
Historically, while espousing democratic values, Washington supported dictators who did the White House’s bidding, whether in Latin America, the Middle East, the Far East or for that matter anywhere in the world. But it is in the Middle East where this janus-faced policy has been most apparent, most enduring and most problematic. And although U.S. support of Middle Eastern dictators has made America unpopular with ordinary citizens in the region (interestingly with a reversal in Iran after the Iranian Revolution and the hostile relations with the clerical regime), in the future these might look like the good old days.
In the past, tyrants, whether or not supported by Washington, ruled in every Muslim country in the Middle East-North Africa region. As a result, U.S. support for a tyrant, while a force of oppression, was not seen as the only reason why countries languished under tyrannical rule. But today U.S. support to keep its favorite dictators in power in the Persian Gulf can only be seen as the force that robs citizens of their basic rights since people all over the region are rising up and overthrowing their unrepresentative rulers. Even President Obama may have a hard time keeping a straight face admonishing the mullahs in Tehran, the Mubaraks in Egypt and the Qaddafis in Libya while saying almost nothing about atrocities in Bahrain and in Saudi Arabia, and sparing Bashar al-Assad from the harsh criticism that he deserves. If he continues on such a course he will not only blemish America’s image, he will also give those that oppose the United States unparalleled propaganda material to turn more and more Muslims around the world against America.
It is high time for this administration to list the transgressions of the al-Sauds in Saudi Arabia and their lackeys, the al-Khalifas, in Bahrain where citizens have been arrested for providing medical services to injured protestors, tried in military courts, sentenced and even given death sentences as ‘terrorists.’ If the administration continues to turn a blind eye to al-Saud abuses and excesses, US relations with the new generation of Middle Easterners—those sacrificing their lives in the hopes of a better future for themselves and for their children—will flounder.