What is Behind the American Fiasco in the Middle East?

May 29, 2014

Most likely future historians will be amazed by the size and the endurance of the wall surrounding the truth about the disastrous results of the errant strategy applied by American diplomacy in the Middle East.

The first brick in the foundation of this wall was laid personally by the President of the United States, who from the very beginning of his mandate explicitly forbade the use of the term “radical Islam”. Let’s remind ourselves of the simple truth that the name of the biggest threat hanging over the United States is precisely the radical version of the Muslim religion. Consequently, the decision of the President of the United States raises some interesting questions no one has ever tried to answer. Maybe the most important among them is: Why did Mr. Obama decide to impose a ban on the only possible term applicable to the ideology and the strategy of the enemy?

It could be argued that given the circumstances, the president spent part of his childhood in a Muslim country where he attended a Muslim school which provided Mr. Obama with a unique experience and knowledge as far as Islam and the Muslim world is concerned. At least theoretically, it could be assumed, that Mr. Obama entered the White House well familiar with Islam and its extreme variety, and consequently able to deal with the Islamic challenge.

At a practical level, however, the reality turned out to be very different. Mr. Obama’s view seems to be that Islam is just a religion. In other words the Muslim belief system is devoid of any political dimensions except for its use by a relatively insignificant group of “extremists.” The multitude of failures brought about by this approach is enormous. Let’s pay attention to the most important of the disasters.

It was in 2011 when the administration became blinded by the brouhaha around the so-called Arab Spring. Given that the denial of the existence of radical Islam was already a firmly established pattern, the White House and the Department of State failed to recognize the danger represented by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. As a result, in July of 2011, the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not only recognized the legitimacy of the largest Islamist organization in Egypt, but also made public the decision of the U.S. Government “to work with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

To a large degree, the victory of the Islamists during the presidential elections was predetermined by the passivity of the White House and the mistaken actions of Clinton’s Department of State. Let’s disperse from the very beginning a possible misunderstanding: there was no need for any form of direct involvement of the American administration in the conduct of the Egyptian elections in 2011, and no one is recommending it for the future either.

What constituted a huge gaffe for President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton was that both of them assured the Muslim Brotherhood of unconditional American financial and military assistance after the electoral victory of the Islamists. This shocking failure of judgment was symbolized in the word “unconditional.” In order to understand the logic of President Obama, we have to go back to his major perception of the Muslim religion. It is worthwhile to follow the practical implementation of Mr. Obama’s concept. To start with, Mr. Obama’s perception of the Muslim religion as a purely spiritual phenomenon is incorrect.

The distinguished scholar of Islam Bernard Lewis offered an excellent description of Wahhabism, which is the extremist variety of Sunni Islam. In his attempt to explain the essence of radical Islam, Dr. Lewis asked his readers to picture a situation where the Ku Klux Klan obtained full control over the oil wealth of Texas. Based on the income derived from the oil, the Klan launched a worldwide propaganda campaign that proclaimed its ideology as the only true version of Christianity. It would be logical then for the Klansmen to accuse the Catholics, Protestants, and the followers of the Greek Orthodox Church of being heretics and apostates from the only true variety of Christianity represented and propagated by the Klan.

This incorrect interpretation of the essence, the purpose, and the strategy of radical Islam by President Obama made inevitable the conduct of a mistaken policy dutifully executed by Department of State under Hillary Clinton, and currently under John Kerry. The same factor determined the disastrous American approach to the crisis ravaging Egypt. For all practical purposes, the U.S. sided with the hard-core Islamist Morsi. The former President of Egypt encouraged by the warmth of the friendship unconditionally offered to him by Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton, embarked on a course leading to the establishment of an Islamist dictatorship along the lines of the system that emerged in 1979 in Iran.

What happened next was even worse: the administration that lavished Morsi’s regime with a billion dollars’ worth of financial assistance and military supplies turned a cold shoulder on the Egyptian military who extracted their country from the merciless grip of the Islamists.

There are events in politics when a politician should make his voice heard when the given event affects his principles or beliefs. At the same time, there are facts and situations the leader should keep within his private domain. In some strange way President Obama acts in contrast to those very basic requirements. The world still remembers the blood of the young protesters shed on the streets of Teheran in the aftermath of the rigged elections that brought about the second mandate of President Ahmadinejad in Iran. The majority of the world’s statesmen expressed their condemnation of the Iranian regime and their support of its victims. Regretfully, the White House and the Department of State under Clinton remained silent.

At the same time however, the president spoke about his positive feelings towards the Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan, whom Mr. Obama, according to his own words, counts as one of his five best friends in the realm of politics. Shall we remind the President of the United States of Erdogan’s record? Erdogan is a hard -ore Islamist who supported Morsi, still supports Hamas, crashed the protest demonstrations of the students, and imprisoned a score of Turkish journalists. In addition, the Turkish statesman has an entirely negative attitude toward Israel.

On a different subject: what does President Obama think about Benghazi? There was an intense moment when his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, assumed full responsibility for the calamity that took the lives of four American diplomats. What was the punishment for her role in the murky and bloody affair? Well, she has been enthusiastically pushed forward as a leading candidate for the presidency of the United States…

Georgy Gounev PhD teaches and writes on the ideology and strategy of radical Islam. Among his books”The Dark Side of the Crescent Moon”is to be released in 2014.The book explores the impact of radical Islam on American/Russian relations.

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Putin’s Crossroads

May 29, 2014
By Georgy Gounev First published by American Thinker on April 7, 2014

Many years ago when Russia and Ukraine emerged from beneath the rubble of the Soviet Union, the Western experts were trying to outguess the shape of the future political system of  Russia.  Those assessments turned out to be wrong. The only opinion that survived the test of time was the prediction made by Richard Nixon. What the disgraced President had advised the American policymakers to do was to observe what kind of policy the future leaders of Russia would conduct with regard to Ukraine…

The president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, firmly believes that his actions are always correct. At the same time, however, the Russian acquisition of Crimea brought about a rather serious international crisis. So what is the truth behind the dramatic events that shook Russia and Ukraine directly while not leaving the rest of the world indifferent?

Let’s examine at close range President Putin’s explanations, largely supported not only by his powerful propaganda apparatus, but by the majority of Russians as well. In addition to the attitude of the majority of Russians, there is an opinion quite popular around the world. It would be enough to mention in this respect substantial components of the Chinese and Indian media, and the public mood amongst the Christian population of the Balkans.

According to the representatives of a vastly different, but quite a large group, the American bombing of the Serbian capital of Belgrade during the Clinton administration and the proclamation of the independence of Kosovo during President Bush’s mandate violated international law.  This opinion holds that the actions of the United States during the Clinton and Bush administrations violated the same principles that Russia stands accused of breaking today.

Before the seizure of the Crimea, Vladimir Putin had the reputation as one of the most effective leaders in the world. According to a large number of polls, he got the highest ratings for leadership. It would be enough to recall events dating back to the late summer of 2013, when American leadership was contemplating a military action against Syria. It was Vladimir Putin who saved President Obama from a tough decision he was desperately trying to avoid by suggesting the elimination of the Syrian stockpile of chemical weapons. It was due to this demarche that the ratings of President Putin went sky high while the ratings of President Obama went precipitously down.

Currently the president of Russia probably thinks that the acquisition of Crimea has elevated his prestige in Russia. As far as the rest of the world is concerned he is very wrong. If Mr. Putin doesn’t reconsider very carefully his next move, the Ukrainian crisis is about to place him on the first step of a downward slide. Vladimir Putin

Let’s focus first our attention on the analysis of the referendum which according to the President of Russia convinced the world of the legitimacy of his actions.

There is some complexity in this issue which deserves additional clarification.  Beyond a shadow of doubt, the Russian population of Crimea voted enthusiastically to reunite with the country they feel part of.  At the same time however, no one with even a superficial idea about the demography of Crimea will buy Putin’s claim that 95% of the peninsula’s population voted to join Russia. There is a score of rather inconvenient questions for which the pro-Putin propaganda apparatus has no answers.

For instance, how could 95% of the Crimean population have supported the Russian annexation of Crimea, given that 12% of the residents of the region are Tartars who, due to past grievances dating back to the Stalin era, are ferociously opposed to the idea of becoming subjects of Russia? There is another problem as well: How could the Ukrainians who comprise 35% of the Crimean population manage to vote in favor of the Russian occupation of the peninsula?

Not incidentally, the General Assembly of the United Nations refused to recognize the legitimacy of the referendum that on the top of all other irregularities was conducted with lightning speed, without any discussions of possible alternatives.

The president seems not to care. The experts seem to agree that the level of the popularity of Mr. Putin has reached a staggering 71.6%. Even the last Soviet leader, Michael Gorbachev — who was never particularly fond of the present regime — expressed his strong support for the Crimea-related moves of Vladimir Putin.

The powerful support President Putin enjoys in Russia conceals the fact that there are prestigious voices of dissent whose message is designed to issue a strong warning about the dangers lurking in the murky waters of international politics. Those voices of protest are trying to warn their compatriots about the danger stemming from the almost unanimous support for the actions of one single individual. 

Boris Yakunin, for instance, who is the most popular writer in Russia today, has already told the Russians that the country is bracing for a sudden and rough awakening in the aftermath of the nationalistic and patriotic delirium. According to Yakuninin, in the long-term (or maybe not so long…) perspective, Russia will face a huge internal crisis that could end up in a revolutionary upheaval having the potential to bury the currently triumphant autocratic regime.

On March 1, the prestigious Russian newspaper Vedomosti published an op-ed entitled “This Has Already Happened.” The author of the rebellious article is one of the most prestigious Russian historians, Andrei Zukov.

His warning one day will be remembered as one of the best proofs for intellectual brilliance and high moral values: “Our politicians are dragging our people into a terrible, horrifying adventure. History tells us we will not be given a free pass. We should not buy this as Germans bought the promises of Goebbels and Hitler.”

A few days later Professor Zubov was fired for “immoral conduct of an employee of a pedagogical institution.” The public outcry forced the leadership of the Moscow Institute of International Relations to reconsider the dismissal of Dr. Zubov.

The fact that a newspaper dared to publish the rebellious article, and that people dared to protest the actions of the government bureaucracy, shows convincingly enough that Putin is not Hitler, and that Russia of 2014 is not Nazi Germany of 1938.

At the same time there is undoubtedly a clear-cut danger stemming from the violation of some of the most important provisions of international law. At the same time however a fact that should not be forgotten is that Russia and its Western rivals are threatened in equal degree by the advancement of radical Islam.  We should not overlook the important fact that Jihadism aims to destroy both countries.

Finally, last but not least, Richard Nixon was right — the attitude of the Russian politicians with regard to Ukraine can make or break the international order established in the aftermath of the victory over Adolf Hitler and his Reich.

Georgy Gounev teaches International Relations in Southern California.  He is the author of The Dark Side of the Crescent Moon due to be published in late 2014  by Rutgers University publishing house – Transaction Publishers..