First Published: October 2, 2006
Memo: To Arabs and Muslims Re: The Middle East
It’s your own fault. That’s right, the Bush administration can’t be held responsible for the mess they have made of the Middle East. You Arabs and Muslims are to blame.
How can anyone be expected to develop a policy for this place? It’s all just too darned complicated.
Senator Trent Lott summed it up the other day after a group of Republican senators met with President Bush: “It’s hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what’s wrong with these people,” he told reporters, referring to Arabs and Muslims.
Lott then went on to ask a series of trenchant questions that demonstrated the incisive intellect that made him, for a time, majority leader of the United States Senate, an important figure in the formation of U.S. foreign policy:
“Why do they hate the Israelis and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me.”
See the problem? Why don’t you people wear armbands or something?
Lott’s confusion is understandable. President Bush had the same challenge. Well, actually, it isn’t so much that Bush couldn’t tell the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, it’s that he didn’t actually know they existed. According to a new book by Peter Galbraith, The End of Iraq, the president became very perplexed during a briefing a few months before the invasion, when his guests kept talking about the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!” the president declared.
To be fair, plenty of others around Bush knew all about Iraq’s religions. Take, for example, Paul Wolfowitz, the key architect of the Iraq invasion. Asked before the war about the danger of a Muslim backlash, he told a reporter, “The Iraqis are … by and large, quite secular.” And unlike the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia, he added, “They don’t bring the sensitivities of having the holy cities of Islam on their territory.”
Good thing, too, or the place could have ended up in some kind of religious conflict. Of course it is pretty confusing, as the president told another group of visitors over the summer, that tens of thousands of Iraqi Shiites should have rallied in support of Hezbollah. Why don’t these people mind their own business? (Don’t even start me on Lebanon. Who can blame successive U.S. administrations for relying on the Israelis to tell the good guys from the bad guys? You can’t really expect them to sort through all those players without a scorecard, can you?).
And what about this whole Iraq thing, anyway? What’s the big deal? Why do I keep seeing stories about it on front pages here in the Middle East?
Sen. Lott said the war didn’t really come up in his meeting with Bush last week. After all, Iraq is only claiming an average of 45 lives and $300 million a day. What’s there to talk about? I know he was certainly speaking for me and all of us here in the Middle East when he told reporters, “You’re the only ones who obsess on that. We don’t and the real people out in the real world don’t, for the most part.”
Sure, the conflict might have become a “cause célèbre” for global jihadis, according to a new assessment by America’s intelligence community, but I sleep secure in the knowledge that, as the president told an audience the other day, terrorism “is not our fault.”
So back to my original point, if the mess isn’t “our” fault … well, you can guess the rest. Oh, and by the way, for those of you reading this that are scheduled to meet Condi Rice on her pre-U.S. election Middle East publicity tour this week, you might want to give serious thought to my suggestion about those armbands.