Monday, July 16, 2018
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America's Mistaken Policy toward Arab Nations

By Nasir Shansab
On December 9, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on how to defeat ISIS. Most arguments were centered on military solutions. ISIS is an internal response to purely homegrown problems. An American military incursion may destroy ISIS militarily. However, the source of its birth will remain and other ISIS-like organizations will crop up with the same anger and brutality. An active political and diplomatic approach to the problem is missing.

Public discontent in the Arab world is the precursor for major transformations to visit those countries. The process will be violent, destructive, and long-lasting, and the carnage will also engulf the oil-rich Arab nations. That is what happens after long periods of oppression.

The Arab countries' evolvement toward continually rising fanaticism is the consequence of decades-long political, social, and economic stagnation. This growing extremism is an upshot 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 changes that are descending upon the Arab peoples are a historic part of their socio-political development. It was the end of the colonial era after World War II that set in motion the forces for today's situation. When the colonial nations left their colonies, the colonists helped to power local leaders who had served them. With the colonial security apparatus gone, local leaders had to construct their own power structure. They decided to modernize their governing systems. They did not aim at the democratization of their countries.  Human rights, pluralistic institutions, freedom of expression, and an independent Judiciary were abhorrent to them. They wanted to adopt modern systems only as management tools to strengthen their grip on power and help them permanently keep their peoples under control. And they discovered that a truncated modern system of government was ideal for their purpose. They separated the socio-political and legal elements of the Western democratic system and employed this truncated conception merely as management tool. This mutilated structure helped centralize decision-making in the hands of the governing elites and tightened their bureaucratic grip over the population.

To fortify even further their hold on power, Arab leaders introduced central economic planning in their countries. Besides preventing private enterprise from spreading among larger sections of the population, economic centralization concentrated economic activity in the hands of small elites, making the ruling classes enormously rich. But their fabulous fortunes did not benefit national economies. Lacking confidence in their own future, they deposited their wealth abroad.

For decades, small elites controlled the political and economic life of their nations. This unquestioned authority exercised by a few brought about pervasive corruption and nepotism. In time this led to political, social, and economic stagnation, dividing rulers and the ruled in two hostile camps.

As troubling as the religious aspect of this deadly fight is, religion is neither its main cause nor its ultimate goal. And the sectarian divide is a side effect of the rebellion for political and economic access. Searching for the right philosophical model, Arab oppositions, angered by Western democracies siding with their elites, turned to communism for guidance. When the Soviet Union disintegrated and lost its ability to offer political and material support, the partnership ceased.

Having abandoned the secular world for acceptance and assistance, Arab oppositions turned to religion for justification of their actions. The longer their struggle lasted the more extreme their religious orientation and sectarian hostilities grew. ISIS is the latest and most fanatical manifestation of this process.   
The Arab Spring has shown that the internal political situation in the Arab world is locked in a sequence of violence and counter-violence. The rulers unleash their uniformed forces upon their own people to hold on to power. The opposition pushes for change regardless of cost and means. In this process, the opposition has increasingly retreated to radical positions. The brutality ISIS displays is the most savage form of this deadly and destructive progression.

Before sending combat troops to that region, American policymakers should think in historic terms and try to find the root causes for what transpires in the Arab world. Otherwise, the dilemma will endlessly repeat itself in one form or another, in one country or the other.
America has always preferred the preservation of the status quo in those countries. This policy was justified during the Cold War, when the Free World faced an existential threat from the Soviet Union and the two super powers vied for support among the rest of the world. But after communism collapsed and the Soviet Union disintegrated, America's near universal support for Third World dictatorships became unnecessary and-as the situation in the Arab world demonstrates-counterproductive.

As a global power, America has no choice but to engage with the Arab world. However, a better way would be to combine military plans with a proactive political and diplomatic approach by establishing channels of communication with the oppositions in those countries, steering them toward democratization and a conduct more inline with ethical norms of the 21st Century. Such a policy may also help alleviate sectarian differences that have surfaced under the stress of this deadly contest.  

In the absence of such a policy, the U.S. will find itself fighting a host of ISIS-like phenomena for years to come, thereby also making itself a target for terrorist attacks.     

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Nasir Shansab is often called on by leading media outlets worldwide to give his unique, boots-on-the-ground insight into the ever-changing landscape of Afghanistan/U.S. relations. Considered "deeply dedicated to the Afghan people," Shansab has lived in the U.S. for over 30 years, while still maintaining a residence and various business interests in his home country.  Nasir is often very critical of the rampant corruption of the Afghan government and supportive of U.S. efforts in the country, working tirelessly to improve the plight of the Afghan people, especially their children. The Shansab name is one of the most respected in that country, comparable to the Kennedys or Rockefellers in the U.S. Silent Trees, touching among other things, on the impact of a corrupt regime on personal relationships, is Nasir's second book on Afghanistan.

To find out more about Nasir and his novel Silent Trees, visit his website at or search for Nasir Shansab on Facebook.


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