It’s Not You, American Muslims, It’s Me

He seems confused, indecisive, and uncertain.  And is that what he wants his legacy to be?

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President Obama has one shot left at a foreign policy milestone.  Things haven’t otherwise been going his way.  Something beyond pretty speeches and decisions he cannot justly claim responsibility for, like withdrawing from Iraq. And that something is Iran. If Obama can get a deal, he’ll go down in the history books.  He’ll change America’s relationship to the Middle East.  He’ll open up a new market like few left in the world: Iran’s the only country in the region, after all, that can coordinate military campaigns in three neighboring countries.

You can be sure the cost alone is hurting Iran.  But the strategic dexterity that requires doesn’t go unnoticed.  Here’s a country of some 75 million who haven’t purchased Starbucks, need to buy new airplanes, and will want for American technology and gadgets.  And if you think that’s ridiculous, that there’s some permanent and unchangeable enmity between Islam and the West, well, imagine if someone told you fifty years ago that Mao’s China would be the darling of consumer capitalism.  You’d laugh in my face.  Or consider it a slap in the face.  Which–cue terrible segue–is what some American Muslims thought of last week’s Iftar.

Speaking before an audience of many American Muslim leaders, but also (and frequently going unnoticed), ambassadors from Muslim countries, Obama underlined Israel’s “right” to defend itself.  Now, I found the comment insensitive, and inappropriate.  But Obama doesn’t care if he offends American Muslims, for the same reason that he doesn’t need to step foot into a mosque: We’re not his primary audience.  We can’t hurt him or his party electorally (does anyone think we’d vote for Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or Jeb Bush, aside from the wunderkinds who brought us the 2000 bloc vote and eight years of George Bush?)  And we can’t help him financially or strategically.

Obama wants a deal with Iran.  He knows that the best way to extend America’s declining power is to partner with the most powerful government in any given geographic neighborhood, and in this case, that’s Iran.  In order to do that, however, Obama must have America’s allies–not really so much his allies anymore, considering the circumstance–on board, satisfied that they will not be abandoned.  This explains why Obama has so robustly backed Israel, even though it’s pretty obvious to anyone who is watching that his administration doesn’t particularly like Netanyahu, and blames him for the collapse in the peace process.  Israel is increasingly irrelevant to America’s posture in the Middle East.

And supporting Israel costs America precious moral capital.  But for fear of jeopardizing a deal with Iran, he will not criticize Israel over Gaza, not just because that reassures Israel, but because it reassures Israel’s major regional allies, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, who are perfectly content to watch Gaza suffer.  No, scratch that.  They want these 1.8 million Palestinians to be punished.  How dare they vote in democratic elections, and elect an Islamist, Brotherhood-influenced movement?  The Palestinians are a thorn in the side of Arab authoritarianism, an ongoing reminder of how little they have accomplished, of how weak and globally irrelevant they are, of how Persians and Turks have become the bigger champions of allegedly pan-Arab causes.

But Obama doesn’t care about that, either.

These “moderate” regimes expect America to robustly endorse Israel, otherwise they will become convinced of something they already suspect, or at least fear: that they are being abandoned. What American Muslims think is a distant second, or third, to Obama’s articulation of America’s national security interests and foreign policy priorities.  It’s a profoundly morally compromised calculation, but we shouldn’t imagine that, addressing a room full of ambassadors, Obama was talking primarily to American Muslims.  As American power declines, countries that had relied on America are left looking and feeling vulnerable, and countries that defined themselves in opposition sense the possibility of striking a more independent line, or simply reaching out to America, feeling themselves far less threatened.

This doesn’t do anything for the Palestinians, let alone Syrians and Iraqis suffering Iran’s brutal sectarian calculus–note, after all, that regimes Iran supports have killed far more Arab and Muslim civilians than Israel has.  But then again, America’s Middle Easte policy has never been particularly concerned with morality.

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  • About the autor
    Haroon Moghul

    Haroon Moghul is a co-producer at Avenue M, a widely published writer and a popular public speaker.

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    • Selma Salih Al Maria

      Are you serious? First of all, your whole article is a joke! I will put the lack of erudition aside here but the fact that your article has been written without any support to justify your random thought wondering with a healthy dose of hatred towards Iranians. You blame Iran for sectarian violence when indeed, it is a Saudi sponsored agenda and propaganda that not only pits Muslims against Muslims with catastrophic consequences but also, promotes and masquerades bigotry as faith. Arabs need to take responsibility and learn what it means to be accountable for something, instead all of Arab governments, although, this word here is being used very liberally have one thing in mind: ensuring they stay in power. Next time you write, please save us your random thoughts and present us with facts and arguments, otherwise, I am considering this aimless pondering a joke!

      • Jasmine Smith

        Haroon is simply speaking about political realities.

        Perhaps all Muslims, regardless of political stance, should take more of a moral responsibility rather than, as you put it, the “all of Arab governments.” We are, after all, the ummah. The community of the Islam. Why is the ummah doing nothing? Whether Muslim by tradition, family or practice, those political leaders should be doing something that is moral and pragmatic instead of strictly strategic and beneficial for their modern understanding of an “Islamic State.”

        And why so harsh against Arabs? Some Arabs are Muslims too. Is this what you mean by pinning me, a Muslim, against other Muslims, i.e. Arab Muslims?

      • Rin

        Saudi’s not killing Syrians, Iran is.

    • Selma Salih Al Maria

      Jasmine, I am really not sold on the whole Ummah thing. My firsthand experience when coming in contact with Muslims from all over the world is that of utter shock, why you might ask because the culture takes precedence over Islamic values and that does not sit well with me. So, I will stick with the country I live in which although, not Muslim country has more Islamic values and practices than any of the Muslim countries I have lived in. Secondly, the author here is promoting sectarian divide which is also very much against Islam. I am not pinning Arabs or you in particular but Arab culture is that of blaming others for centuries of corruption, greed and love of power. Therefore, it is up to them to wake up from the stupor they live in and recognize that blaming others is clearly not working. Their leaders are the ones keeping their own people in the dark, starving and without any dignity. It is easy for you to imagine ummah while you are sitting in US where you will not experience or go through any of the hardships that majority of let’s say Egyptian women go through on a daily basis. Lastly, I don’t like articles that just ponder without any reference or argument, that is his opinion and he is clearly not big on Iranians. That is the problem with Muslims today, everyone is saying something but really without any impact. Wishing you Eid Mubarak!}

      • Farhana Qazi

        Sadly, culture trumps religion — a key point I make when I lecture.

      • Rin

        What do you know about revolution? You think it’s as simple to overthrow dictators with drones, tanks, and jets as clicking one’s heels and wishing them gone? I’ll thank you not to talk down to Arab people, since you don’t know anything about it.

    • Iman

      you should only look to the shia being slaughtered in pakistan by hundreds to know whether the iranian regime exports its ideology/religion to other countries. if that’s so why isn’t it arming the sipah e muhammad? you can say ‘but hezbollah!’ but hezbollah came out of israeli occupation. why does the iranian government funnel arms and aid to the liberation struggle of a sunni majority people, that is palestine? i concur with the first commenter, this article is disappointing. just last friday shia hazara in afghanistan were massacred by taliban, the same taliban fostered by saudi-exported religious ideology. iran wasn’t there to save them.