Recently some of the republican candidates in the presidential campaign spoke about withdrawing from the ME. USA pays unbearable price, in human lives as in US dollars, for its involvement here, they say. And they are right. It does. But can America simply go away?
There is an old Bedouin tale about a stolen chicken. Once, a tribe lived in the big desert. One morning an old man discovered that his chicken disappeared. He took his sword and went to his sons’ tents. “Ho, my sons!” cried the old man. “Follow me and we will return the stolen chicken and save our honor!”
But his sons were lazy and spoiled. They had other things to do and didn’t care much about one missing chicken. “Ho, our father,” they answered, “go back to your tent and have some rest. Why should we waste our time? It is just one chicken. You have more, and we can always give you another. Don’t worry about that…” And the old man walked back to his tent.
Few weeks after, a sheep disappeared. The old man, with his sword, ran again to his sons, but they said the same thing. “Don’t worry, father, you have more sheep. We are busy and have no intention to waste our precious time!” And again he returned to his tent and put his sword away.
A month went by and one night a terrible thing happened. The old man’s daughter was kidnapped. And now his sons wore their swords, now they prepared their horses, now they gathered their friends. And when all was ready they went to their father.
“Ho, father,” they called. “Lead us and we will rescue our sister!” But the old man didn’t move. So they tried again. “Father, take your sword and mount your horse, for we have to return our sister and punish the villain!” But he didn’t take his sword. He looked down at his sons and said: “Ho, you dishonored men! I will not come with you and I will not lead you. It is your fault that your sister was taken and I blame no one but you! For if you have acted when they took the chicken, it is not the stolen bird you would have saved, but the stolen honor! And so when they took the sheep! But you let them take our honor, and you brought that on us. So if you are looking for someone to blame, don’t look around but look at each other!” And the old man went back to his tent and drank his coffee in silence.
In another post we will speak about why there is such resentment towards America in the region. Here we will point out that in the ME honor is valued above all. And today, the US lost much of its. First there was the Bush administration, charging ahead, guns blazing. Then there is the Obama one, apologizing and pledging eternal love. And both are signals of weakness. The Iraq war was seen as an overreaction, an act of an angered, hurt and unconfident bully. The Obama speech – as weakness per se. “The US is tired,” thought the ME. “The US is weak.”
You see, politics in the ME is something between an Arab market and a Bedouin tribe going to war – and sometimes there is not much difference. Aggression is not negative by itself, but you have to show control. Or else you are perceived as someone who can’t control his power, hence – has no power, hence – has no honor. And is a legitimate target.
For example, when US army was in Somalia in the early 90’s, its presence actually gave the other side a feeling of superiority. An American patrol was too armored, too armed. Helicopters flew above it. And the Somali insurgents saw that and thought: “that is because of us. They are afraid. They are weak!” Strength, my friends, is not only a matter of physical power.
And, on the other side, proclamations of affection are not always in place. If you are strong and you propose friendship, you are respected. If you hesitate to use your power, if you restrain yourself, then again – you have no power. And who needs a friendship of a weak player?
It even looks funny. Think of a tourist coming to a market and wanting to buy a souvenir. The trader asks for ten dinars.
“I think that we share common values!” says the tourist. The confused trader, expecting some bargaining, asks again for ten dinars.
“I want you to know that we had our differences, but from now on we will take another path.”
“Great,” says the shopkeeper. “Ten dinars.”
“Our people can flourish together,” declare the tourist.
“Can you just give me ten dinars?”
“I’ll be glad to give you the ten dinars, and I’ll even give you two more, because it is important to build our friendship on a firm basis!”
What do you think feels the shopkeeper while the tourist slowly walks down the alley? Does he want an everlasting friendship? He is probably glad to have the 12 dinar, and will be happy to have more, but this is no grounds to relations. And if there is a group of robbers hiding in the shadows and watching the conversation, what will they think?
In the 60’s there was another major player in the ME – The Soviet Union. And they were loved among the Arabs, because they didn’t asked them for a group hug all the time and they couldn’t care less about feelings. They dealt with actions. Yes, they spoke about friendship, but they also had a huge stick, which everybody knew they are willing to use. And so they never had to use it.
And today – Libya on the one hand and Syria on the other. The Libyan leader is alone, and the west acts. The Syrian is backed by Iran, and the west pretends nothing happens. It is all noticed here, and what do people think? That’s right. “They are afraid. They are weak.”
Iran. This is the greatest mistake of those republican candidates. As it often happens, people can’t see tomorrow, being too busy with today. Yes, the US went to war and for some reason stayed there. Yes, soldiers are killed and money is lost. Yes, it was the wrong war – but this is exactly the point.
The Iranian regime is not just a government. They have an ideology, a vision of a perfect world, a perfect society. Just like Nazi Germany, just like the Soviet Union. They have their vision and they want it to come true – they know it will, because it is a religious vision. It has to. They keep pushing, they keep running their nuclear program, and, while the US president is speaking of love and brotherhood, they wage a cold war against the entire region and openly speak about the destruction of another country. Maybe you will be surprised, but in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and many more, the worst enemy, the greatest threat, the biggest problem, is not Israel. It is Iran.
And now the republican candidates are speaking about leaving everything and going home, as do many in the US. “We don’t want to fight Iran,” they say. But friends, you don’t get to decide that. Because Iran very much wants to fight you. If anything, you can choose the time, place and method. Meanwhile.
You see, dear candidates, they stole your chicken long ago. Your sheep just went missing. Will you keep waiting?