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America’s iron fist in the Middle East


July was quite a month in America. After the ugliness of the Trump-led Republican National Convention, the Hillary-Bernie fest at the Democratic National Convention was a relief. Finally we got front row seats, listening to some of the most extraordinary public servants – from Bernie Sanders who was the symbol of grace, authenticity and decency to Michelle and Barack Obama, who helped us imagine what we still can do; Bill Clinton, who reminded us of his sheer genius, his humanity and now his humility; and the ever-wonderful, always humane Joe Biden, who spoke of the very essence of the best of American-ness.

It is hard not to get swept up in the emotions, the optimism and still the innocence, that America is good and great. But the reality check cannot be too far away. This is also the week that The Nation published an article titled “The Obama Administration Has Brokered More Weapons Sales Than Any Other Administration Since World War IIThe U.S. is responsible for 33% of global arms sales. Middle East is the primary destination of most of U.S.-made weapons with Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates topping the list and Iraq and Egypt making the top ten. In other words amidst, the tears and cheers and banner waving, the military industrial complex is alive and thriving in this country. While Americans angst over gun violence in our cities and communities, it is the rest of the world that bears the true brunt of this American industry dedicated to the art of killing.

As one living in the U.S., but working on issues of war and peace globally, I’ve often felt frustrated and saddened that America does not apply the lens and the values it holds so dear at home, to its interactions with the world. Bill Clinton once said whatever is wrong in America can be fixed with what is right in America; simple, eloquent and true. If only that principle guided their presence in the world.

So here are my thoughts for the next president: Please don’t go out into the world – especially into the Middle East –where I originate from – with your weapons, sanctions and misguided understandings of who we are, what our history has been and what our aspirations might be. The world’s oldest civilizations were born in that region. We had secularism and human rights etched in stone 2500 years ago. Diversity was taken for granted in the ancient and old societies of the East. This is why Egyptians, Persians, Iraqis, Turks and Syrians get frustrated when they see the United States cozying up to authoritarian regimes for its own benefits, claiming that the values of human rights and democracy are not compatible with their ‘cultures’. Go forth with respect that human rights principles are indeed, universal.

They aren’t ‘hating the U.S.’ for its values of freedom, equality, opportunity and justice. They are angry that those values are left outside the negotiating rooms when the U.S. chooses to sell billions of dollars worth of weapons to President Sisi of Egypt, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, or Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, knowing full well that those weapons, will be unleashed against ordinary Egyptians, Yemeni kids and Palestinian teenagers. It is the hypocrisy and double standards they object to. So why not heed Joe Biden’s words: it is not the example of power that makes the U.S. extraordinary. It is the power of acting by example.

Don’t go out to extract the minerals and pump the oil of other countries while polluting their rivers and soils, take the best of U.S. natural resource management and the example of the national parks. Don’t shell out billions to private security companies to train foreign armies and police forces in counter-terrorism, when the trainers themselves are not teaching the basic essence of why national security forces exist: to respect and protect citizens. Instead our tax dollars have gone towards training security personnel, who have then been implicated in raping women and sodomize children, who shoot tear gas canisters and rubber bullets into peaceful protesters. These practices would be unacceptable in the United States, so why do we not care about this abroad? If you need help, appoint that amazing Texas Sherriff, Lupe Valdez to head up U.S. programs for training the security personnel of other countries. I imagine she would make sure that ‘to serve and protect’ would be the air that any U.S.-trained security and police officers breathed around the world.

Don’t take the worst of American politics – the corrupting money and the divisiveness to the rest of the world. Take the parts of American politics which fundamentally rests on compromise, collaboration and coalescing around a common national identity and interest, playing by the rules of the game and listening to the people. If only the U.S. would listen to women’s rights advocates, social movements and journalists who are deeply committed to bettering their own countries, instead of treating countries as monoliths represented by one leader, and dismissing value-based diplomacy as idealistic. This is the reality of today’s complicated world. It’s the realpolitik model that is increasingly idealistic and anachronistic.

Share with the world the better parts of societal life in America too: the daily living experiment that we see across the country of pluralism, decency and the fight for equality and justice. Here, diversity is not tolerated, it is accepted and celebrated. I’ve seen it every day in my children’s schools: like how their public elementary schoolteachers welcomed us to class to speak about Persian New Year and Hindu Diwali; and how new kids from abroad are given English Language coaching to help them integrate more quickly.

Go with the economic practices that made America’s middle class, not those of neoliberal theorists. So lets not tell widows in Liberia to set up micro-enterprises that give them subsistence living and rocket-high interest rates, or extol the virtues of private business to Iraqis after bombing them to hell, when in the United States the government is a major subsidizer of many sectors domestically. In the U.S. we take pride in offering our children the opportunity to become firefighters, social workers, or even dancers and musicians. If we want to engage in overseas development, why not support these public sectors too.

Don’t let the crass Reality TV shows and violent video games take the best of your story telling. If you can’t imagine what, just focus on making Sesame Street and Clifford the Big Red Dog available in all the languages imaginable. Those programs do more good in teaching teamwork and respect than you can imagine.

Don’t take privatized health care and education. Share the model of Medicare and the standards of public education like Berkeley, UCLA, UVA and all the other fabulous state schools that exist in America.

Don’t assume that America has all the answers. Every country, every people has their own share of innovations: take Iran, a country drowning in oil but always short on water, its people developed the most sophisticated underwater canals (qanats) thousands of years ago. They know about water management and preservation. The people of the Arctic know a thing or two about environmental insulation: they can burn fires in their icey igloo, without melting the house down. We all have things to share and learn from each other.

Because America is a nation of immigrants, a country founded on universal human aspirations, it has the best of all of us: of our nations, religions, values and cultures. It is ironic really, but it’s this noisy colorful togetherness, striving for equality, that makes it exceptional. And, as Hillary Clinton said, in America we don’t accept one man who says “I’ll fix the problems”, but “we fix them together”. Take that approach with the world too. Reach out to the fixers, who aren’t interested in power, but are taking the responsibility for their communities. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that often below the radar, it is women everywhere who are doing so much of this.

It is simple: America has a lot of good to share and a lot to learn. If it engages the world with all that it has gotten right at home, it will go a long way towards solving all that it has gotten wrong around the world.

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini is the co-founder and executive director at the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), and the 2016 Greeley Peace Scholar at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

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26 Responses

  1. just on August 1, 2016, 12:14 pm

    Yes, yes, and yes! Thanks for this superlative essay of truth, Sanam.

  2. MHughes976 on August 1, 2016, 1:46 pm

    The claim that secularism and human rights were etched in stone or on clay tablets in the ancient Middle East is extremely questionable. It is true that there has always been much to admire about the United States but also, from the foundation, some much more disturbing things. Nations of immigrants must be to some degree problematic for universal aspirations – what after all is to happen to the pre-immigration inhabitants? I don’t see any analysis of how the good and the bad things mentioned relate to each other. Come to that, I don’t see any argument, rather than assumption, that the regimes that the United States supports are not better than any available alternative. I don’t see any special relevance to the Palestine problem, which is not just another example of excessive export of armaments or of excessive intervention in the wider world.

    • RoHa on August 1, 2016, 9:56 pm

      I recall two clay tablets in the British Museum.

      One was a letter to a local governor asking the governor if he could find a job for the writer’s son.
      The other was a letter to a governor asking why the writer’s three previous letters had not been answered.

      Scrabbling for government jobs and trying to get some response from the bureaucrats is civilization as we know it.

  3. alfa on August 1, 2016, 6:46 pm

    MHughes. Check out the Persian religion Zerostoasterism which is based upon the individual’s right to choice between right and wrong, thus Human Rights. A clay cylinder called the Cyrus Cylinder exists outlining Cyrus’ defeating Babylon and releasing people held in bondage and protecting their right to practice their faiths and to own property, considered the first Human rights charter. It’s part of Jewish history.

    • RoHa on August 1, 2016, 11:09 pm

      Zerostoasterism is the religion that forbids making toast by any other means than over an open fire, isn’t it?

      • jd65 on August 2, 2016, 12:20 pm

        Yeah. That’s right. It’s a smaller denomination of its parent Church of the Holy Roastatarians.

  4. RoHa on August 1, 2016, 11:07 pm

    An F35 actually flying? Must have been a warm, sunny day.

  5. RoHa on August 2, 2016, 12:02 am

    ” our tax dollars have gone towards training security personnel, who have then been implicated in raping women and sodomize children, who shoot tear gas canisters and rubber bullets into peaceful protesters. These practices would be unacceptable in the United States,…”

    I thought they were standard in the US.

    “Share the model of Medicare…”

    You mean Australian Medicare? Not bad, but some European countries have better health systems that would act as better models.

    “Because America is a nation of immigrants…”

    Most Americans were born there.

    • silamcuz on August 3, 2016, 5:31 am

      Most Americans were born there.

      So what? That’s how settler-colonialism work, by permanently planting your roots on the stolen land through procreating the next generation on it. How many present Israelis are born in Palestine? Most of them as well, but that doesn’t magically change the fact on the ground, that the land is still Palestine and they are not indigenous to it.

      • RoHa on August 3, 2016, 9:33 pm

        Being born there makes you just as indigenous as the people whose ancestors were born there. I do not advocate expelling Israelis. I advocate equal rights for all.

      • silamcuz on August 3, 2016, 11:58 pm

        I disagree, the term indigenous carry specific meaning that goes much deeper than merely marking a person’s place of birth. I don’t advocate shipping out Israelis myself, but I do advocate for them to acknowledge that they are settlers on the land of Palestine, and Palestinians, be that Muslims, Christians, Jews or any other faith, are the true natives on the land. As such, as settlers it’s on them to assimilate into the indigenous culture and lifestyle, not the other way around.

      • echinococcus on August 4, 2016, 12:07 am


        Most commendable sentiment: of course being born here, there or beyond makes you indigenous of anywhere that is.

        It just cannot by itself and necessarily confer citizenship of the country though, no matter how generous the impulse: there are varying principles for that and the owners of the country have not spoken. Yet. We don’t know which system they’ll prefer.

      • Mooser on August 4, 2016, 3:52 pm

        “but I do advocate for them to acknowledge that they are settlers on the land of Palestine”

        Oooh, that will inspire Israelis to turn themselves out of their own homes, investigate and send themselves to jail, and voluntarily pay reparations to the Palestinians, who, BTW, all get to return.

        You go ahead and “advocate” for this.

      • silamcuz on August 4, 2016, 10:42 pm

        Oooh, that will inspire Israelis to turn themselves out of their own homes, investigate and send themselves to jail, and voluntarily pay reparations to the Palestinians, who, BTW, all get to return.

        Well yeah that’s how being accountable for your actions supposed to work. It must be voluntary and done under their own free will, else it will incriminate the Palestinians or anyone else in forcing justice down the throat of the criminals. We must strive for restorative justice, not vengeance or getting even.

      • Mooser on August 5, 2016, 10:08 am

        “Well yeah…/…getting even.”

        But “Silamcuz”, I thought an “effecient” and “effective” “good old fashioned slap” is the best way to “remedy injustice”?

        You go on for a foot or two about what a great thing violence is to solve problems. Why can’t we apply it to the Zionists?

      • annie on August 5, 2016, 10:14 am

        It must be voluntary and done under their own free will

        oh yeah — because there’s such a long history of oppressors willingly giving up their power.

      • Mooser on August 5, 2016, 11:05 am

        “oh yeah — because there’s such a long history of oppressors willingly giving up their power.”

        Exactly, “Annie”! As “Silamcuz” says If violence is what it would take for justice to prevail, to preach non-violence would be act of dissent against God himself.

        “Silamcuz” knows all about it:

        “Violence is a perfectly natural, God-given right… I have yet to know of a better way than to set a person straight through a old-fashioned slap, which is infinitely more efficient and effective compared to modern liberal techniques of preaching and explaining morality, right and wrong etc.” “Silamcuz”

        Good ol’ Slap-happy “Silamcuz”! His quotes on the necessity beating children so they won’t grow up to be ‘perverts’ or rapists are very instructive, too.

      • annie on August 5, 2016, 11:32 am

        mooser, speaking of the necessity beating children, did you hear israel just passed a law lowering the age of child imprisonment to 12 years old. maybe if they just slapped them around a little instead….. oh, they already do that — and worse.

      • Mooser on August 5, 2016, 12:22 pm

        “maybe if they just slapped them around a little instead….. oh, they already do that — and worse.”

        I can’t think of any other way to produce the Zionists Israel needs except by forms of child abuse. Adults can be too resilient, but children are more easily brutalized and blinkered.

  6. oneangrycomic on August 2, 2016, 8:11 am

    Just a clarification: The US SELLS things to Saudi Arabia and others. The US does not SELL anything to Israel – it GIVES weapons, etc. to them!

  7. MHughes976 on August 2, 2016, 9:04 am

    Well, Alfa, what do you make of para. 26 of the Irving Finkel (Brit Museum) translation of the Cyrus Cylinder? ‘I freed them from their bonds’, in reference to the population of Babylon, may well mean no more than ‘I removed my hated predecessor and have ruled in a kindly way’. The older translation by Leo Oppenheimer , in James Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts, thinks it refers to a cut in the demand for compulsory public service by the Babylonisn middle classes. But there is no reference anywhere to a right not to be enslaved, to individual freedom of religion or to private property. – or to any list of rights.
    Around 1970 the Shah induced U Thant to endorse a forged version in which the Cylinder was made to look rather liberal and which made Cyrus into a Zoroastrian worshipper of Ahura Mazda, whereas in the genuine text he avows no influence from Zoroaster and is devoted to the Iraqi god Marduk. Mazdaism certainly appears a few decades later in the Behistun Inscription, but it very hard, surely, to see liberalism or secularism in the Kingdom as it appears there.
    Cyrus’ liberation of the Jewish exiles – well, that is a conventional but extremely loaded description of what happened – is indeed often celebrated but we also find in the Bible, per Ezra and Nehemiah, a picture of a great Kingdom in which the central authority is quite interested in regulating religion, even if it does so by commissioning trusted members of the religious group to impose their will.
    If we are to oppose the mythistories of Zionism we need to be very careful about myths and forgeries from other sources.

    • echinococcus on August 4, 2016, 12:14 am

      Not so totally off topic, I loved the excellent use of “mythistory” by Hughes. Its use in Greek has fittingly developed to mean “novel / fiction”.

  8. inbound39 on August 2, 2016, 11:47 pm

    All I have witnessed and learnt in my lifetime with regard to conflict is when people back the true aggressors of the World it eventually turns on those people and bites them fair and square on the butt. America’s moment of reckoning is coming. The Vietnam War was a warning shot. The direct attack on the Twin Towers was a declaration of war. Libya and Benghazi and the aftermath of Iraq was a statement that America is in trouble and the closer and tighter it gets to the criminal regime of Israel ensures that because it backs the largest nefarious aggressor against Arabs in the region that America is soon to get its comeuppence for walking so blindly roughshod over peoples lives. It’s fall is guaranteed unless it makes some rapid changes. The battlefield has changed and its superior weaponry rendered incapable of solving human issues and innovation.

  9. traintosiberia on August 6, 2016, 7:58 pm

    After corrupting and destroying a great many societies in the East by forcing drugs ,selling drugs,cultivating drugs,and making billions out of drugs both England and USA have undertaken global fight against drugs ( while it is debateable if US has actually stopped taking advantage of drugs production in distant lands ) . Hopefully one day US and UK will undertake similar fights against arms production, sales of arms,and making most of the foreign revenue out of arms .
    Meanwhile students and common folks may learn how to detest an arm manufacturer and peddler the way they detest the drug peddlers and producers.

    Yes I am sarcastic here but I see this moral gap in the thinking of those who hate drugs but endorse ,condone or simply love the sale of the arms which end up killing and destroying countries that even the drugs can’t .

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