Well, now at least the debate is in the open and we can see just how questionable are the talking points of those who claim the United States has nothing to fear from Islamists.
The New York Times publishes an article with the promising title of “Fast-Changing Arab World is Upending U.S. Assumptions,” yet sadly, the article shows that certain assumptions are not changing at all. Indeed, are not even discussed. To summarize the article’s thesis: before Obama’s election, the United States thought that pro-American regimes were good and radical Islamists were bad — but now we know better.
For decades, Obama’s predecessors supported a number of Arab governments, including those in Egypt and Tunisia but not Syria. Obama put the emphasis on engaging Syria, but did not directly challenge the Egyptian and Tunisian governments until uprisings began against them in January 2011. Then he threw those two under the bus as fast as possible. But that policy did not apply to anti-American Syria, which he abandoned only in August 2011 after four months of full-scale revolt and massacres far more intense than those which made it abandon the Egyptian and Tunisian governments during the first week of demonstrations.
What makes the effort to talk seriously about the Middle East nowadays so frustrating is that the “mainstream” debate, as illustrated by the Times article, devotes no space to suggesting the following: perhaps the rapid rise of Islamists might be bad for the United States, and the outbreak of violence from Salafist groups, two armed cross-border attacks on Israel, or other events suggest that the threat had been underestimated.
No, not at all. When talking with “experts,” and in the journalist’s own editorializing, the only theme is that the United States used to overestimate the Islamist threat, but now it knows better.
I was fascinated by a remark by State Department spokesperson Victoria J. Nuland:
It’s a new day in Egypt. It’s a new day in a lot of countries across the Middle East and North Africa.
True, it is a new era but it is an era when radical Islamists are seizing power or threatening to seize power in lots of countries. That’s not a sunny good morning in the Middle East. In addition, Nuland’s is a very kind of American-style suggestion that whatever went before doesn’t matter. The history of these radical groups and their ideology is of no importance. We’re all starting over with a clean slate.